Guttural screams, expletives, panic, panting and excruciating pain. The final stages of a long labour are probably the most exhausting and frightening moments of your life.

When I gave birth to my son Mckenzie it was no different. And although my husband stayed by my head throughout, his complexion was decidedly pale - and he did not wish to cut the umbilical cord, a daunting task routinely asked of fathers these days.

After all, the sight of your wife in agony can be deeply distressing for men. While I was fortunate to have a relatively straightforward experience when I had my son nine years ago, it would never have crossed my mind to invite my then 11-year-old daughter, Ayesha, to watch her sibling coming into this world.

However clever and responsible she was, there were still things from which I needed to protect her. The brutality of birth being one.


That's why I was shocked to read that Jamie Oliver's two eldest children, Poppy, 14, and Daisy, 13, were present when their mother Jools pushed their younger brother into the world. As bizarre as Jools' and Jamie's decision might seem, they're not the only ones making it. As former editor of the UK's Mother & Baby magazine, I became aware of a trend for mothers to want to involve older children in the birthing process starting about five years ago.

Jools shared an intimate snap of her new son. Photo / Instagram, Jools Oliver
Jools shared an intimate snap of her new son. Photo / Instagram, Jools Oliver

Many of these women reported wanting to have their children at the delivery to show them that birth is a natural, wonderful thing. I can't help but feel this is a deeply worrying decision, for both the labouring mother and the child witnessing it. Such monumental effort is required to deliver a baby that you need to feel free to let go; to shout, scream, swear with abandon. I can't imagine how inhibiting it must be to have your children there watching, agog.

As for the children, while many of them will have been shown birth videos in the run-up by their mothers, nothing can prepare them for the terrifying sight of their normally calm, composed mother enduring such pain.

Then there's the unpredictability of labour. There are few things more terrifying than the midwife pressing the emergency button when mother or baby is in distress - the room immediately fills with paediatricians, senior doctors, anaesthetists, extra midwives - a sight which would be terrifying for a young child.

In the Olivers' case, one can only assume their eldest girls were very keen on the idea. Admittedly neither Poppy nor Daisy looks at all distressed in the clan photo taken outside London's private Portland Hospital.

Indeed, had the baby been born in an NHS hospital the children would most likely have been banned from the delivery room - only the most progressive hospitals allow siblings to be present at the birth, and mothers have to request this in advance.

In my case, my daughter came to visit her new brother the morning after his middle-of-the-night birth. Oblivious to the blood, sweat and tears her mother had shed just hours before, she bounded into the ward, ready to cuddle her freshly washed baby brother. As far as I'm concerned, that's exactly as it should be.