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Mom Makes Kids Watch Home Birth

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Guest blogger Ronda Kaysen: It turns out there is such a thing as TMI when it comes to childbirth and older siblings. But home-birthing mama Madeline Holler didn't figure that out until she was well into hard labor.

girl covering her eyes

In a hilarious and honest essay on Salon.com, Holler writes about how her good intentions went terribly awry when she insisted that her young daughters -- ages 3 and 7 -- watch her give birth at home.

"I wanted [them] to know everything. And they did," she writes. "I told and retold their birth stories, I read them other people's birth stories. We looked at books, talked mechanics. I described the pain, the emotions, the little things (like Beatrice's hangnail at her birth) and the big things (like crapping on the floor during Frances')."

Holler asked her daughters if they wanted to watch their brother being born. They both answered with an emphatic "No!" So, rather than come up with a reasonable childcare arrangement prior to her delivery, she just avoided the issue altogether, chalking it up to poor planning on her part.

"I'm not exactly Type-A, and planning doesn't come naturally to me," she writes. "Added to that, this was my second home birth. It was easy not to get worked up over the details. Where to send the girls while I labored and birthed their younger sibling was even lower on my list of urgent tasks."

For some reason, Holler convinced herself that once her daughters heard her moaning and pushing and grunting and doing all the other very intense -- and often loud -- things a woman does when she births a baby, they'd love it. It didn't occur to her (at least not until her 7-year-old had locked herself in her bedroom and was sobbing) that maybe it wasn't such a bright idea after all.

"Each sound I made took her further away from the idea of a sweet baby and closer to the idea of losing her mother," Holler writes. Hindsight is 20-20, isn't it?

It all worked out in the end, though. The baby was born. The girl came out of her room. Everyone held the new baby. But still, you'd think that the mom would have paid attention to the cues her daughter was sending and known that she wasn't up for the event.

Of course, everything is context. A century ago, at-home births were the norm, and many children had no option but to watch (or at least hear) their mothers give birth. Now that we've removed birth from the home, the idea seems totally outrageous. But it didn't use to be.

As much as Holler hoped that the experience would open her daughters' eyes to the beauty of childbirth, it might have done just the opposite, terrifying them instead. Holler chalks the whole thing up to life experience. "Maybe they'll thank me later," she writes. 

Or maybe they'll schedule a C-section.


next: Today Only: Eat Out with Your Family for $1!
31 comments so far | Post a comment now
ashley September 30, 2010, 5:02 PM

I had originally intended for my 3 year old to see her younger sister born at home. Luckily, she slept though my overnight hard labor and when I decided it wasn’t a good idea prior to having her my mom took her to the park for an hour. She came home to a beautiful sister and crawled into bed with us to love on her. I’m glad she didn’t see it, hell my husband seemed scared, lol.

TheFeministBreeder September 30, 2010, 5:25 PM

And after they recover from the pain of the c-section, they’ll understand why their mom chose a homebirth.

Christina September 30, 2010, 5:47 PM

Anyone else see that PBS special showing a live birth? I think it was some time in the 70s (of course). Best. Birth. Control. Ever.

KS September 30, 2010, 7:50 PM

So you have an issue with women home birthing. OK got that loud and clear. Chastising this woman as if she were a school child is inappropriate and should be beneath you. The child did what she felt comfortable with and the mother had no problem with her older children finding their own comfort zone. Where in the world does anyone find fault in that?

At the end of the day they realized the joy of birth and labor may look and sound scary but it’s truly a natural normal life event. why would you or anyone else assume her daughters would then go on to schedule a C section?

I wonder would you have spoken to this woman the same way if you were face to face.

Carrie October 1, 2010, 5:04 AM

That woman is probably one of the WORST mothers I’ve EVER heard of! Seriously, way to scar your kids for life. They said they didn’t want to be there, and honestly, what adult in their right mind would have even ALLOWED or wanted small children there. As a woman who has been through childbirth I know there is nothing pretty or pleasant about it -especially for a young child. It’s gross and messy and embarassing and certainly not anything a child needs to see.

Amber October 1, 2010, 5:06 AM

Please tell commmenters agreeing with that insane woman who forced her children to witness this are kidding! Seriously?!?! I have 4 lovely boys and I can attest to the fact that there is nothing “miraculous” or “beautiful” about childbirth -it’s pretty disgusting and not something for young children to see.

Agree with the author -these girls will definitely be scheduling c-sections!!

repocars3656 October 1, 2010, 5:18 AM

Thank You For This Blog, was added to my bookmarks.

Rita October 1, 2010, 5:38 AM

I’m a pretty laidback mom, more of a go with the flow, let the kids learn from their own mistakes kinda mom…but c’mon. Kids shouldn’t watch childbirth unless they request to watch, and even then I’d make sure they would know exactly what they were getting into!

Poor baby, I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on the birth if my 7 year old locked herself in her room and was sobbing.

At least you know they won’t be having sex until they’re damn well ready!

Courtney October 1, 2010, 8:13 AM

What adult in their right mind? Me.

My daughter was present at the birth of her brothers when she was 4, and all three of them were present at the home birth of their sister last year. They were given the option of being in the room or not, and all chose to be in the room. We talked about it before and after, and they were well-prepared and excited to be there.

It was a precious time as a family for them to see their sister enter this world. It was definitely miraculous.

To each his own- but stop judging others for their decisions.

Maria October 1, 2010, 12:32 PM

I agree with Courtney. Here we go again with the judging. My daughter was 2 when her sister was born and present for the entire birth. She was not “scarred” and although she was a little frightened in the beginning, my husband was there to explain things and held her during the most part.

Birth is natural and can be a beautiful and bonding experience. Unfortunately, our society treats this natural experience almost as though it was a complicated sickness.

I’m not saying all children should be present during childbirth, but don’t judge those who choose to do so. And do yourself a favor- watch Ricki Lake’s The Business Of Being Born.

Anonymous October 2, 2010, 7:45 PM

Ha! Trying getting a scheduled c section in Canada! Didn’t happen for me and I almost died during my second delivery just like I did the first.

Hillary October 4, 2010, 1:32 AM

How dare anyone critisize a mother for wanting her child to see their sibling come into the world! With my next child I’m having a home birth and my daughter is very excited to see “mommy have a baby”. To those who say birth is not “miraculous, wonderful, and beautiful” and is “disgusting and embarassing”, I don’t understand you. As soon as my daughter came out and they laid her on me and I held her and welcomed her to the world. She was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. So there was blood and body fluids, so what? That’s not embarassing or disgusting, it’s the most amazing that will ever happen. I guess some women say “ewww, wash it off first”. To bring a child into the world isn’t miraculous? Obviously you have no regard for life’s miracles and no idea what beauty really is. Many women who have home births are surrounded by family, including their older children. Before we entered the era of planned c-sections (a HORRIBLE practice unless ABSOLUTELY medically nessesary), this is the way children were born, naturally with their family. I love Courtney’s comment about judgement, it’s not your place to decide if this women was right or wrong, and Maria’s comment about the film “the business of birth”, however women this closed minded may not benefit from it.

Anonymous October 4, 2010, 5:24 AM

Completely inappropriate and disgusting. ESPECIALLY since the children told their mother they did NOT want to see it. All these crazy folks sticking up for that out-there mom - I bet all of your opinions would be different if the article stated the children did not want to watch a terrifying, bloody, violent horror movie and the mom FORCED them to - that’s pretty much what a child birth is to a child! Seriously I question some mothers’ logic and actual care for their children.

Jackie October 4, 2010, 5:52 AM

Come on people if you think birthing a child, is gross or disgusting you need to evaluate that. Giving birth is one of the most beautiful things a woman can do, so what if her child watched it, i bet a lot of you people who have 7 or 8 year olds let them watch TV right? what do you think they are watching on that, far worse things, murder, violence, sexually charged situations, this is the birthing of a child here one of the most beautiful things in the world. some people really need to get a grip on reality here, and think about they real damage that children are exposed to everyday, and its not the birth of a child.

Kara October 4, 2010, 8:00 AM

Havig given birth 3 times I can assure you there is nothing “beautiful” about it -especially to a 7 year old. I think that is INSANE to subject a young child to that.

To an adult who has CHOSEN to give birth the experience is of course miraculous (still nothing pretty about it!!) but to a child forced against their will to see a very gory incident - that is abusive.

anonymous October 5, 2010, 3:48 PM

I know a woman who dragged out graphic bloody pictures of her homebirth. She tore from top to bottom and all that I could wonder in shock was why she did not run to the hospital to have the tears repaired. I now know why she bullied other mothers about their c-section births. I think she experienced major damage from tearing and she was too proud or too fearful to simply go in to the hospital and get sewn up. It’s very sad because this was all preventable or manageable.

WriteAboutBirth October 29, 2010, 2:22 PM

I totally feel that any siblings attending births should have the option to leave any time. The replies have been a bit judgmental, however. I find myself wondering what kind of births the moms who said there is nothing beautiful about childbirth had. Mine were certainly beautiful. And is childbirth traumatizing for a young child to watch? My four year old must have missed that lesson, because she loved being there when her little brother was born.

Kids Watch November 12, 2010, 12:42 AM

Interesting blog. It would be great if you can provide more details about it. Thanks you.

bama belles December 7, 2010, 5:09 AM

Many a little makes a mickle


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