Several people have written on this topic lately, but rest assured that I am not trying to plagiarize anyone - I have been thinking of writing on this topic for a long time and am just now getting around to it. I'll keep it brief.
So... Siblings at birth. What do you think? If you'd asked me about it a couple of years ago, I would have listed it as gross, revolting, inappropriate, developmentally stunting and possibly even morally wrong.
If you ask me about it nowadays, my response would more likely be, "Of course! What else do you think we'd do?"
What occasioned the change in attitude?
Well, I can't say that I really know - it's probably the end result of watching a plethora of birth videos in which siblings are present and in which they do just fine with observing birth, plus all of the testimonies that I've heard and read in which parents tell how much easier siblings accept a new baby when they've seen the birth personally. One way or another, by the time we became pregnant with our current baby, whether or not to have our 3-year-old son present wasn't even a question to consider - it was a confirmed "of course!"
Why do most people not want their children at birth? Unfortunately, the most common reason seems to be "Because it's so gross! They shouldn't see something so revolting!" That's just sad.
If you want to have siblings present at birth, therefore, I would say "Go for it!" But here are a few caveats and/or conditions to consider:
(1) If you want your children to be present at your birth, they need to be prepared.
Natural or not, birth is both unexpected and possibly unsettling. There's blood, noise, yelling, etc. - all stuff that mama does NOT normally do! Kids may or may not take to the birthing scene naturally, so it's best to be prepared. How? Basically, by watching birth videos, talking about birth, and reading children's books about birth (try "I Watched My Brother Being Born").
Our son has been watching birth videos for years, and he's quite used to them. He even has a basic birth vocabulary - "Doppler," "heartbeat," "umbilical cord," "placenta," etc. We also give him lots of reassurance - "The mommy has to make lots of noise to make the baby come out," and "Look! There's the new baby! Hurray!!" It has worked beautifully. Whether or not he'll want to be present when it actually comes around is another story, but he's as prepared as we can make him.
(2) Younger children need caregivers.
One of our midwives' requirements is that any younger child must have a designated caregiver whose role at the birth is to do nothing but look after the child and his/her needs. This is eminently sensible. Your child will need someone to play with him, reassure him, supervise him, give him snacks and make sure his needs are met, and be close to him at the birth in case he has questions, needs reassurance or wants to leave. It's not fair to ask the daddy or doula to do this, and not safe to distract the midwife by asking her to do this. We have two babysitters lined up for our son, and that way we know that DH and I will be able to focus on the birth process without interruption or without neglecting our son's needs.
(3) Don't force it if they don't want to.
With older children (teens) there are modesty boundaries to consider, and I don't believe that they should be pressured to attend if they're unwilling. I know that I would have been very unwilling (and probably traumatized if it happened!) to attend a birth of my mom's once I passed the onset of adolescence. It's not that birth is gross, but that kids may not want to take down the boundaries of modesty once they are erected. Totally understandable.
Any additional thoughts and/or corrections, everyone?
And so.... First I got the weird looks and awkward silences for talking about having a homebirth. Then I got the weird looks (and, oddly enough, much weirder looks) for talking about extended breastfeeding. Now I'm getting them for talking about having our son at our birth!
Next on the menu of "things to do to get people to leave or change the subject".... placentophagy! Yup, you got it right! I'll write on that one soon.