When I went in to labour with daughter 3 and my ex rang the hospital to say we were coming in, they told him they were shut. Daughter 1 woke up and wandered in to the sitting room at the same time as he was replying to them: well what the fuck are we supposed to do? By now, I was sitting on the floor about to give birth. Things weren’t exactly going to plan, but then again, so many people had told me that number 3’s are always tricky, I wasn’t that surprised.
My ex put on the TV for daughter 1, who was 3 years old and she settled herself down on the sofa to watch Teletubbies – seemingly oblivious to the teletubbie who was panting on the floor in front of her.
The ambulance arrived before my sister, who was on call to look after daughters 1 and 2. The paramedics flew into action with me on the floor and all daughter 1 could say was: Daddy, can you ask them to move because I can’t see the telly.
Thankfully, a few minutes later my sister arrived and took her niece in to another room to play with her. When daughter 3 arrived a few minutes later, she wasn’t breathing. If the paramedics hadn’t have been there we were told she would have died. As it was they gave her oxygen, slapped her about a bit, she cried and was absolutely fine. My sister who was in the room next door, on the other hand, told us how awful it was for her and daughter 1, who had heard that she was born and then just silence, for what seemed, she said, forever.
For such a natural event, birth can be and so often is, traumatic. Every single person I know has a traumatic birth story. Why, oh why would you want to expose your other children to this event? Has the world gone mad? Have we seriously become so ridiculously child-centred that we actually think it would be ‘nice’ for a child, other than the one who is being born, to be a part of the birth story?
Daughter 4 was a straightforward home birth. No drugs, in the same sitting room – new carpet (insurance claim after the last birth), lots of plastic sheeting…we were prepared. It was wonderful. It was bloody painful, in fact both. It was beautiful for my other 3 daughters to come down to breakfast and to see their baby sister lying cuddled up with mummy on the sofa. Idyllic. They have such fond memories of this magical moment. Now, I can tell you for absolute bloody sure that their memories of their mother grunting and panting on all fours with her arse in their faces and a bloodied, mucus covered alien coming out of the place she normally pisses would not have provided them with the same thoughts to remember.
Every so often my daughters ask me whether giving birth is painful. I don’t even want to tell them that it is. I don’t want them to fear something that is hopefully inevitable. I don’t want them to have images that they can’t erase. I would not want them to experience being told for 9 months that they are going to witness a wonderful birth, only for it to go wrong and them having to be hurried into another room, with all the fear and unknowing that would bring. Like my sister told me: that was terrifying. She is an adult. We are talking about children.
So when I heard about Jools Oliver allowing her teenage children in to the birth of their baby number 5, I asked: why? Really? What are the gains? Why is this so important, when they would almost certainly not be asking to be a part of the experience. It would inevitably be the parents’ idea. People who are advocating this are seeing birth through rose-tinted specs. Whilst this is, of course, a lovely way to see it, if we are involving children in an event, then as parents we also have to account for less positive outcomes and evaluate their impact on the child. Without the luxury of hindsight, I would certainly be erring on the side of protecting them from potential trauma. Nowadays it seems that it is: children access all areas. I say that there are some areas that we should allow them not to access, for their own good, as well as ours.
Daughter 3 and her baby sister. No trauma. No blood. Mummy’s had a hair wash. All’s well.