Partners & Doulas

by Jane Weideman

Are doulas and partners mutually exclusive? Read on and then you can decide…

It is true, that the birth of your baby is a very private event, so you might be wondering if a doula will replace or exclude your partner and his (or her)* role.

I think, especially first time moms, have a concern that their birth will not be the intimate and bonding affair, they have dreamed about, if there is a doula present. However most moms having their second or more babies understand that they are actually more likely to achieve that intimate and calm birth with the help of a doula.

So while it is common for partners, and mothers-to-be, to be concerned that a doula will be a “third wheel” or will exclude the partner from sharing in the birth, in reality the opposite usually turns out to be true. A good doula knows how to support your wishes and help the two of you to maintain your physical and emotional resources to share the birth together.

The doula is not meant to sideline or replace the partner – unless no other partner is present. The role of the partner and doula are similar, but the differences are fundamental. The partner may be very emotionally attuned to the mother, but may be distressed by ‘seeing the mother in pain’ and unable to stay calm through, what is to him a new and frightening expereince. He may be well prepared and able to provide good continuous support, but typically has little actual experience in dealing with the often-subtle forces of the labour process. Even those partners who have prepared well are often surprised at the amount of work involved (more than enough for two people) – the process isn’t called “labour” for nothing! Even more important, many fathers experience the birth as an emotional journey of their own and find it hard to be objective in such a situation. Studies have shown that partners usually participate more actively during labour with the presence of a doula than without one. A responsible doula supports and encourages the partner in his support style rather than replaces him.

According to studies, rather than reducing the father’s participation in the process, a doula’s support complemented and reinforced the partner’s role. Partners felt more enthusiastic and that their contribution to the labour and birth was meaningful and helpful. Not only did partners report higher levels of satisfaction after the birth, but mothers reported feeling more satisfied with their partner’s role at birth too.

– 71% of moms were satisfied with their partner’s role in birth – with a doula present
– 30% of moms were satisfied with their partner’s role in birth – without a doula present

 

The partner and doula are complementary to one another in providing optimal support to the labouring mother. A doula can never love the labouring mom as much or in the same way as her partner can. He knows her and loves her intimately, he is the father of the baby she is working to birth, and he is one of the main figures in the event taking place – his role is vital. However, her partner has never given birth, nor is he usually very experienced in providing labour support in the same way a doula is.

Through the presence of a doula, the partner is freed from needing to remember every idea mentioned in childbirth class. The doula is able to help him to help his beloved. He can relax into experiencing his journey into parenthood, because the doula is there to support both parents. Working together, the father’s knowledge of the mother, and the doula’s knowledge of birth, can give the ultimate level of comfort and support to the labouring woman and best provide her with the opportunity for a birth experience she will remember with joy for the rest of her life.

As Penny Simkin states, “While the doula probably knows more than the partner about birth, hospitals and maternity care, the partner knows more about the woman’s personality, likes and dislikes,and needs. Moreover, he or she loves the woman more than anyone else there.”

If you and your partner feels unsure about having a doula, talk about it together. Be honest about what you are feeling. If your partner wants to be your only birth companion, he may feel that if you want a doula, it must mean you don’t think he will do a good job supporting you. Usually that’s not at all true, but it helps to talk it through. As mentioned many partners actually find they are more actively involved in the birth when an experienced professional supporter is present.

If, however, your partner feels uncomfortable about being present at the birth – he may be squeamish or just plain scared – a doula’s presence means you will have continuous support while your partner is free to respect his own limits and be as involved as he can manage, but will be free to take a break if he needs to – and you won’t have to worry whether HE is ok.

When you first meet with your prospective doula, discuss any specific expectations you have for the birth, or things you want her to do or not to do. Be clear about what you want her role to be so there are no misunderstandings on the day. This is your birth and you are paying for a service. Make sure it is what you want!

During the birth, if you see something the doula is doing that you want to be able to do — maybe massage or a pressure technique, ask her to show you how. She will gladly involve you as much or as little as you like… don’t feel timid.

Don’t be afraid to ask for some privacy if you would like, at any time during your labour. Privacy and intimacy helps labour progress! And a good doula respects your needs and won’t feel put out in the slightest.

Some of the ways that doulas can help partners:

  • Stepping in to help when the partner needs a short break. Labour is hard work, not just for the woman, but for those supporting her!
  • Offering suggestions, when asked, about strategies that might be comforting or helpful during labour and possibly role-modelling or demonstrating these.
  • Freeing the partner to take photos, or taking photos for the couple while the partner supports mom.
  • Providing reassurance to the partner as well as the woman giving birth. If a partner has never seen a woman in labour before, it can be very reassuring to have someone focused on his needs to answer questions, give an encouraging smile, and put everything into context! This is an amazing journey for partners too!
  • Providing information and an objective sounding board when you have questions or decisions to make.
  • and more.

The choice is yours to make but doulas and partners can and do work very well together.
*Note that this article refers to the partner as he, for simplicity sake, but the partner could of course be female too.

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