Four-year-old Amelia knew her mother was expecting another baby right from the start, so why shouldn't she be there for the birth, too?
This summer Amelia Buchanan-Taylor witnessed the birth of her brother Jamal in the family living room. She has just turned four.

What does she think of the experience? "It was nice, it was lovely," she says, dancing around the room in a glittery toy tiara. What does she remember? "There was a lot of blood." Anything else? "The blood dried."

Her mother Jane Buchanan and father Stuart Taylor try prompting her further. They remind her that she wanted to hold the baby soon after he was born, and that she had been keen to take Jamal to nursery school with her on his first day. Unfortunately, this distracts Amelia into talking about what she will do when she goes to "big school". She is already preparing for the next major event in her life.

To many of us, the idea of a child watching their mother give birth is rather unsettling. After all, it's only during the past couple of decades that fathers have braved the delivery room. What would a child make of an event that to most outsiders seems messy and traumatic?

Yet to some parents, nothing could be more natural than to share those first moments of new life with the whole family. For Jane, 29, a former dancer, and Stuart, 34, a multi-media producer, there was never any doubt that Amelia would be there at Jamal's first breath.

Stuart says: "There aren't many opportunities in life for profound moments. For Amelia to have the experience at this stage in her life is such a rich beginning to her relationship with her brother."

Jane agrees: "It never occurred to us that Amelia wouldn't be there. She was involved with the pregnancy right from the beginning. We had already discussed with her how she would feel about having a baby brother or sister. She had even chosen the name Phoebe Florence if it had been a girl."

She adds: "I am not this big earth mother. I just thought this will be easier, I'll be happier, Amelia can stay and it will all be OK. We wanted her to feel more involved with what was going on rather than her going away somewhere and then mum's tum has gone and here's a baby."

Amelia joined Jane and Stuart at all the antenatal checks and saw the baby on a scan. She had got to know the midwives and was fully briefed about what to expect.

"She is at that age anyway when she is curious about bodies," says Jane. "She watched a Caesarean birth on the telly, but I had to explain the baby wouldn't come out of my tummy but my fanny - as she knows it.

"She and her buddies were playing games about giving birth to their teddies. They were just letting the teddies fall out of their dresses. I said it wasn't that easy so then they were lying on the floor making groaning noises to `push' their teddies out. It was quite funny to watch."

Amelia was born in The Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, three minutes' walk from Jane and Stuart's flat. The birth was without problems, with Jane's labour lasting just two hours. But there were several reasons why they thought a home birth would be more suitable next time. Stuart recalls: "An hour after Amelia's birth, I had to leave Jane because it was the policy of the ward. It felt wrong. You're still in the epicentre of this beautiful magical moment and you have to go home and be on your own."

They were also concerned about how Amelia would react to an unfamiliar environment. But at least if anything did go wrong, they felt reassured that the hospital was close by.

On the evening of 15 June, Jane and Stuart had been for a long walk and had then spent the evening "doing a burst of DIY". They had gone to bed exhausted at 1am. An hour later Jane's contractions began.

She lay in a warm bath until 3.30am when they called the midwife team. At 4am Amelia woke up and joined Stuart, Jane and the midwife in the living room where the futon had been laid across the floor. She placed her own little bean bag at the base of Jane's feet and got Stuart to sit next to her while she bombarded him with questions.

"They were of the nature: `Why isn't mummy pushing the baby out? Why is it taking so long? Why is mummy breathing fast?'," remembers Stuart. "I was able to explain what was going on. Throughout it Amelia was fully at ease. There was never a moment when I doubted the rightness or appropriateness of the situation. It was a calm, relaxing experience."

At one point when nothing much seemed to be happening, Amelia even fetched her own facts of life book, Mummy Laid an Egg, a simple, illustrated explanation by Babette Cole, for the midwife to read to her.

This was no surprise to Jane. "We knew Amelia wouldn't be upset. Some of our friends and family voiced concerns that the experience might be psychologically damaging to her, and I could appreciate why they were saying this. But every child is different. Amelia has never been a shrinking violet. She is very confident, which helped us in deciding that she could be there. And we checked with the midwives who said they had known other examples of children being present at the birth.

"We also knew how I laboured. I am quite quiet and having Amelia there made me quieter. I didn't want to frighten her. If I had been really noisy the first time it might have been a different issue."

Jamal was born at 7.40am, without complications, and weighed in at 8lbs 13oz. Amelia's readiness to bond seemed evident at the outset. Jane says: "I'd only been holding Jamal a few minutes when Amelia was saying: `You've had your turn, Mummy. It's my turn now."

Her level of care and attention towards her baby brother has stayed fairly constant during his early weeks. When Jamal cries, Amelia rushes to his side to either comfort him or carry him to Jane or Stuart.

"She has been brilliant," says Stuart. "I can't imagine a more positive outcome"n

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Ros Foulds, child clinical psychologist:

`I would be cautious about letting a child watch the birth. There are all sorts of things that can go wrong and there's a risk that a child would see this. They might become quite preoccupied by the whole blood business. It's not an area you can be in control of. I would also be concerned that it would spark off inappropriate development. There's the whole issue of where the baby comes from and this might lead to experimentation. There's no evidence that being at the birth means a child would bond any better with their younger brother or sister.'

Ruth Stevenson, head of midwifery for Brighton Health Care NHS Trust:

`It's not common for parents to want their children at the birth. Those who do have usually thought it through in detail and have prepared their children for it. It is best done without coercion and should happen because the child wants to be there. Whatever the age of the child, they will take it in at their own level and see what they want to see.'

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