Children at homebirth; just whose needs are being met?

woman screaming

There is a disturbing homebirth photograph that is now circulating on the web.

You can find the photograph here.

Those posting and sharing the photo find it charming. I find it emblematic of so much that is wrong with homebirth.

What does the photo depict? It’s a picture of a young girl about four years old trying to provide counter pressure on her mother’s lower back during a contraction.

Why is it disturbing to me? Because it captures the overweening narcissism of homebirth, where the mother is the star of her little piece of performance art, everyone else (including the baby) is just a prop, and the mother is elevating her need for attention and validation above the needs of her own children (in this case the four year old).

Simply put, it is never appropriate for a small child to attend a homebirth. Childbirth belongs to the realm of experiences that are too intense and disturbing to be viewed by young children. Just as it is inappropriate for children witnessing their parents having sex, or scenes of graphic violence, and scenes of gore, it is inappropriate for a young child to witness a homebirth.

Moreover, it is never appropriate for a small child to provide care to a parent. It is not appropriate to ask a child to hold the basin when her mother vomits due to chemotherapy. It is not appropriate to ask a child to change her mother’s dressing after surgery. It is not appropriate for a child to console a mother in severe pain. It is the parent’s job to support the child, NOT vice versa.

All children, especially small children, need to feel that their parents are strong and can protect them. No child should be asked to witness a parent in severe pain or to provide the care that should be provided by another adult.

Rule of thumb: If your child will be disturbed by the movie Bambi, he or she should never be at a homebirth.

So why do women surround themselves with their older children at homebirth? Simple: to show off. This is Mom’s big moment. She’s the star and everyone should bend themselves to her need for attention, support and validation.

The truth is that it is an abrogation of parental responsibility to have a small child at a homebirth. It’s no different from asking your four year old to help you parse the details of your divorce or to confide the trauma of your sexual dysfunction to him or her.

Make no mistake: this has nothing to do with the inherent beauty of childbirth. And don’t bother to claim that small children witnessed birth in nature; they didn’t since most indigenous cultures segregate women in labor and do not allow men or children near them.

It is not charming for a little girl to support her mother through labor. It is developmentally inappropriate, and deeply, unforgivably selfish.