Jacee Dellapenna couldn’t wait to meet her new brother.
That’s why the 12-year-old made the unusual decision to help with the baby’s birth.
You’re a superstar, Jacee!
Now pictures of Jacee’s incredible experience are spreading across the internet—where, this being the internet, they’re meeting lots of loving support as well as plenty of vicious judgement in the comments sections.
Here’s how Jacee ended up assisting in her little brother’s entrance into the world: Initially, the girl was supposed to be present, but she wasn’t going to take part in the actual procedure. According to Jacee’s mother, Dede Carraway, the idea of a more hands-on role for the 12-year-old came from the family’s “crazy doctor,” who decided on the spot that Jacee could “catch” the infant.
The family always intended to keep Jacee, in the room, even if they had to wait until the crucial moment to realize she’d be the first person outside of the womb to touch her baby brother.
Carraway told Babble that she made arrangements to allow her daughter to witness the delivery, adding that she knew Jacee probably wouldn’t have another opportunity; Carraway already has a 19-month-old in addition to the newborn, so she’d decided that the new child would be her last. That made this Jacee’s last chance to witness the miracle of her mother giving birth.
If that seems strange to you, you’re not alone.
A quick glance through the comments wherever these photos are posted will tell you that.
Children attending births has been happening in other cultures for many years.
But before you rush to judgement, consider the experience of Darby Morris, birth doula and owner/founder of Sweetbay Doula, which provides birth assistance to families in the San Francisco area.
Having siblings in the room during a birth isn’t such an exceptional thing, she tells HealthyWay.
“In general, other children attending births is a very traditional thing and has been happening in other cultures for many years,” Morris says.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone needs to invite their kids into the birthing process, no matter what. There’s no one-size-fits-all style of giving birth.
“I think it depends on the child and how the parents have prepared the child for the process,” Morris says. As in all things, individual results may vary.
In Jacee’s case, she was excited to join in, donning blue plastic scrubs and gloves for the procedure.
In the photos, she appears somewhat nervous at first, but when she sees her new brother, her expression quickly changes. She’s overwhelmed with emotion, and it’s difficult to see the photos without getting a little choked up.
That might be why family friend Nikki Smith shared the photos on her social media pages. Smith is a songwriter with a fairly large following, and her posts quickly went viral.
“Meet Jacee!” Smith wrote online. “This 12 year old helped deliver her baby brother and the emotions on her face is too amazing not to share! You’re a superstar jacee!”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, some comments on social media questioned the decision to have a 12-year-old in the delivery room. And some felt that the experience would be too overwhelming for a child. Jacee’s mom strongly disagrees.
There is no one-size-fits-all.
Birth is a natural experience, she would argue. It’s a beautiful thing to share with your loved ones. But does that really mean you want to subject a child to a miraculous experience that also happens to double as an intense moment of extremity?
Sara Chana Silverstein, a doula, lactation consultant, soon-to-be author, and mother of seven, knows a thing or two about the birthing process. As a doula, she has attended 469 births—and she doesn’t believe labor is an environment suitable for young children.
“Moms yell, scream, often throw things and say things they later regret ([which is] all part of a normal and healthy birth),” Silverstein says.
That said, Silverstein does believe all women 17 and older should witness a birth before they themselves decide to have children. Silverstein’s 19-year-old daughter happened to be with her when a client went into labor and called for Silverstein’s assistance.
The daughter ended up helping with the birth, and “it has made my daughter a stronger, more confident woman today,” says the doula.
Friends quickly jumped to the family’s defense in online discussions.
“I personally know this family and I have known Jacee since she was a baby,” reads one comment. “She is an awesome big sister and always been very mature, nurturing, and caring about her brothers and ANY other child.”
Smith also weighed in, providing some background for the pictures.
“I am so glad jacee is being seen all over the world!” she wrote. “Although some of you may not agree with her helping deliver her baby brother, this beautiful moment will always be remembered by both her mother and herself.”
“If you don’t like the post just keep scrolling, no need to comment and speak negative,” Smith continued. “Birth is a natural process and there is absolutely nothing wrong with allowing her daughter to witness this beautiful moment. It’s not for everyone but jacee was a rockstar and helped deliver a newborn! I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t have when I was 12! Mother and baby are being discharged home today and jacee is ecstatic about the feedback she’s getting.”
In many cultures—and for most of human history—birth is an essential part of the family’s communal experience. The idea of pulling moms out of the family and delivering them into the capable hands of the obstetrics department at the local hospital only arose during the 20th century, when it coincided with the growing dominance of Western medical science.
So the expression on Jacee’s face might not look so unfamiliar to the bulk of human beings who have ever existed. Perhaps her role in her brother’s birth is simply part of a long and natural tradition.
On the other hand, many mothers-to-be take the opposite approach.
There are plenty of moms in labor who keep family members out of the birthing room—and for good reason. Not every family member is helpful during the storm and stress of childbirth.
While those images of Jacee are powerful and deeply human, what if, instead of an awed 12-year-old, the subject of those photos was a bossy mother-in-law?
“My ‘high maintenance’ (aka boundary-challenged) mom insisted on being at the hospital when my DD [dear daughter] was born,” wrote an anonymous user on the DC Urban Moms and Dads forum.
“Even though she wasn’t in the room for the c-section after labor failed to progress, she was really overwhelming and as I was just fresh from delivering a baby, my DH [dear husband] bore the brunt of it.”
Too many moms out there can relate to this anonymous poster’s story. And that day with the mom in the hospital room has had lasting impacts on the family’s emotional lives.
“Two years later, he still regrets acquiescing to her being there, and he’s right—she intruded in our first moments bonding as a family,” the anonymous mom continued. “DH and DD are super close now, but I regret not doing everything in my power to facilitate their initial bonding as father and daughter.”
Others noted that the delivery room is an extremely stressful environment where anything can go wrong—and some issues can be quite traumatic for a young child. Meanwhile, some mothers can be traumatic for their pregnant daughters. Did we mention there’s no one-size-fits-all with this stuff?
But many mothers say that the birthing experience is profound enough that everyone should experience it.
Midwives and doctors generally agree, although they often recommend preparing family members by asking them to watch a few live births on videotape before the big day comes.
“There is no one-size-fits-all,” says author and doula Chaya Valier, backing up our main argument. “On the one hand, a child of any age might enjoy helping out with the birth, or even just being present. On the other extreme, it could be traumatic.”
Valier believes it’s best for pregnant moms to talk with their families about their “game-day” plans, but to also handle each situation as it comes. Crucially, families must be prepared for changes in their birthing plans.
“Feel out the situation at the time, and have an alternative caretaker in case it’s not suitable for the child to be present at the time the mother is going through labor/giving birth,” Valier says.
Still, only a mother can make the decision to invite family members to be in the delivery room (or, if need be, to kick family members out of said room).
We certainly wouldn’t second-guess Carraway’s decision. And from viewing these pictures, it’s clear that Jacee isn’t in any way traumatized. If anything, she seems to have developed a greater respect for the gift of life.
Carraway says that she hopes Jacee will remember the experience when she decides for herself whether to have children. She told Babble that Jacee will have a “different understanding” of birth than most kids her age.
In any case, Jacee’s certainly got an amazing story to tell her brother one day—and a set of beautiful pictures to share with the world.