Week 38 ~ October 11, 2004
~ Charon at the Birth?
We got our first delivery of cloth diapers this last week. My mom is giving me four weeks of diaper service as a gift, and I'm really looking forward to starting out right away using cloth with this little one. (When Charon was about 10 months old, we switched to cloth, and I loved them so much I wouldn't go back to disposables.) Charon helped me unpack the soft diapers, fold them, and put them on the changing table shelf. Then she decided she wanted to practice diapering a baby, so I had her get her Steve of Blue's Clues doll, who is goofy-looking but about baby-size. I showed her how to fold the diaper and put it into the cover, and then how to wrap the diaper around Steve's bottom and use the Velcro to fasten it.
Then I needed to run and answer the phone, so I told her the baby was tired now, and asked if she'd rock Steve until he fell asleep. She went to the rocking chair, and soon I heard her singing. She always ends Rock-a-Bye Baby with "And down will come baby into the mama's arms." So sweet! She rocked for quite awhile with Baby Steve in her arms.
This fascinates me because she's never been very interested in playing with baby dolls or in other babies. Now, when she sees a baby being carried about anywhere, she exclaims, "Look at that baby, Mom! Isn't s/he cute?" She is asking me a lot of questions now about Penguin's arrival, and about what we did with her as a baby. I was starting to get worried that we hadn't talked enough about this, but suddenly she is very interested.
I checked out some materials at the library to help with our discussions. The Sears books for kids have been great, plus I found a few more about how babies are made, how babies "come out," and what babies do. I leave them around the house and wait until she finds them and asks me to read them to her.
We've also watched a couple of videos of childbirth. One was a Reading Rainbow episode, focusing on the picture book, On the Day You Were Born. It's a beautiful book; my aunt gave it to me just before Charon's birth-day. After the story, the video goes on to a maternity ward at a hospital where a baby is about to be born. When they showed some children in a siblings class visiting the nursery to check out the babies, Charon said, "When are we going to the hospital to pick out Penguin?" I laughed and said, "We've already picked Penguin out, honey. Penguin's right here," and pointed to my belly. She smiled. She knows. I explained what a nursery was, and then told her that our baby would stay in the room with us as long as it was a healthy baby. I told her that Penguin would decide when it was time to go to the hospital.
She then watched the whole birth with me, and that brought up some good things for us to talk about, too. I explained what contractions were, and told her how you could tell when a woman is experiencing one. The mother in this video was only shown laboring in bed, and I made sure Charon knew I planned to be more active in labor, moving around, leaning against things, hugging Daddy. She said, "You can hold my hand when it hurts. That will help you feel better." I also explained that where we are going, they have a birthing tub, and I will probably be spending lots of time in the water because that helps the pain a lot.
When the baby in the video was born, Charon asked about the blood on its head. "That's good blood," I explained. "It's not coming from inside the baby; the baby isn't hurt. It's the blood that helped the baby grow inside the mama. Now that the baby is coming out, that blood isn't needed anymore, and it can come out, too." "They need to clean that baby up," she decided. "They will give the baby a bath eventually. But first, it's important for the baby to be held and cuddled, to be welcomed into the world and to hear the voices that are familiar to her. We will do that with Penguin. Maybe you'd like to sing Penguin a song when you first meet him or her."
Recently, I got together with a couple of friends I hadn't seen for a while. They asked about our plans for the birth, and I explained that we would let Charon decide whether or not she wanted to be with us to see the birth, and that my parents would be caring for her during that time, reading her cues. One of my friends felt strongly that a child couldn't handle being at a birth, at least no child under age ten, especially when you don't know what scary things might happen. I explained that my parents would be there to help her through it, and take her out of the room if necessary. "What if you don't want her there?" I told of the code word we created so that others would know if having Charon in the room was too distracting to me in labor. They could then gently guide her out of the room. "What about all of the blood?" At this point, I gave my philosophy of birth: it's a natural process, and it's important that we teach our children that the things that happen in birth are most often okay, are normal. Charon definitely needs to be prepared, so that she knows what is happening and why. I want her to understand that it's okay if she decides she does or doesn't want to be there, and that she can change her mind at any time. Gramma and Grampa will be there to take care of her.
Before we started talking about the birth, I expected that Charon would have little to no interest in witnessing it. I thought she'd much rather have all of Gramma and Grampa's attention, and that she'd be pretty bored in the birthing room with us. And that might end up being the case. But during one of our conversations where I described how Penguin would be coming out of my body, she looked at me and said, "I want to see the baby come out."
I've heard some lovely stories about children being present at the birth of a sibling, but I haven't felt determined to have Charon there with us. Not all kids want to see it, but some do, and I think children can understand the process of birth, perhaps even better than we grown-ups. I feel strongly that birth should not be portrayed to them as something mysterious; I don't think we should hide it from them If we are honest with them and answer their questions, we take a lot of the secrecy and fear away, and this is good for us, too.
Children deserve to play a role in the birth process, whether it be just in talking about birth, in having a special thing to do while the baby is being born (maybe planning a Birth Day party with grandparents), or in actually being present for the birth itself. They need to be listened to carefully so that we can discover the role they are ready to play.
Note: After writing this entry, Charon and I had another conversation about Penguin's birth. "I just want to be at home to meet Penguin," she told me. I explained that she could definitely stay at our house with Gramma and Grampa while Pete and I were busy with the birth. "But when Penguin's born, we'll call you, and you can come to the hospital with Gramma and Grampa to meet Penguin, okay?"
"No. I just want to meet Penguin here at our house."
A little bit more probing helped me to figure out that it is the unfamiliar setting of the hospital she is worried about. I am going to try to take her there for a visit in the next week or two, if Penguin gives us the chance!