When Ohio-based doula Hollie Lau gave birth to a baby girl last year, she knew she'd need lots of love and support by her side. The birth team that helped through labor included a surprising member: Lau's young son Charlie, who was just 9 years old at the time.

Lau says the idea actually came from Charlie himself. "It was actually my son that asked," she explains, and she happily agreed. She says she thought it would be a wonderful thing for both Charlie and her other son, 7-year-old Hank to witness.

"Boys don't seem to be given the same space in our culture to do nurturing things. We believe in normalizing birth and breastfeeding to them and if they asked to be there, we really supported that idea," she said. "There is so much wisdom to learn from birth and we didn't want to waste the opportunity."

Obviously, there needed to be a lot of preparation for the boys for what can be an overwhelming experience. "We would lay in bed together at night and watch birth videos on Instagram. We would then talk about what they saw and focused our discussions what birth looks like, sounds like, and smells like, Lau says. "They also took a mini childbirth education course. This helped them to have a deeper understanding of what my body was experiencing as I progressed through the stages of labor."

When it came time for the main event, Lau says Charlie was beyond thrilled. "He was incredibly excited and looked the most surprised during crowning. To actually begin to see his sister and the top of her head after I worked so hard in labor was exciting for him. To begin to see the person we had been preparing to meet for months was finally here, he was absolutely giddy." Once her little girl arrived, Charlie and his brother snuggled up to their mom and their new sister as she began to breastfeed, capping an experience that Lau says was simply "magical."

The birth of the Lau family's new addition—and brother Charlie's special role—was captured by photographer Hannah Spencer. She says she's grateful she got to be on the other side of the lens. "Witnessing the bond between a mother and child inside a birth space is magic. There is this vulnerability and newness that comes with experiencing something so big and new together, and you can see it changes both their relationship, and each of their respect and admiration for each other while the process moves forward." Spencer says that while the coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for families to have these types of experiences, she says she believes all moms should be able to have whoever they need by their side, including their other children.

Lau says she knows that not every laboring mom would want their child in the delivery room, but she can whole-heartedly recommend it. "Overall it can be a very positive experience with the right preparation," she says. "Our children deserve the chance to witness and experience new life come into our families."