By now, it has become pretty well known that doula care provides plenty of benefits for mamas and babies. Women who birth with doulas on their team have lower c-section rates, use less pain medication, are less likely to need pitocin or intervention, and feel happier overall about their births.* As well and good as that may be, it’s very normal for dads to wonder, “Ok, so what about me? I’ve read the stuff I’m supposed to, and went to the classes, and I think I’m going to do a pretty good job. What am I, a third wheel?” Sometimes, dads are a little embarrassed to even ask this question – it seems that many think it at least a little bit, and yet they all wonder if they’re the first to have this thought. Really, it’s ok, I get it.
The thing is, in the last twenty years, dads have become more involved in birth than ever (as in, more than ever in the history of “ever”.) This is a great thing – mamas need the comfort, companionship, and support of the partners who love them, especially in a time that’s as vulnerable as birth can be. Our current system is still figuring out what to do with this, and while the system has come a long way, the kinks aren’t quite all worked out yet.
There’s a pretty huge set of expectations for partners and husbands these days. You have nine months to learn to speak fluently the language of labor support – “surges”, “waves”, visualization, counterpressure, what will help, what will hinder, what to do and when to do it. Meanwhile, you are also learning to speak fluently the language of “Hospital” – intermittent monitoring, hep lock, cord clamping, Erythromycin. You’re in a strange room, with unfamiliar equipment all around you, each piece of which beeps and dings at random intervals (Is that a “this machine is out of paper” ding, or an “emergency-come-here-now” ding?) Chances are, the birth of your own child is the first (or maybe second or third) birth you will have ever seen. There’s a lot that happens in normal birth that isn’t very normal in any other context – there’s some pretty primal moaning going on, and hot flashes, and cold sweats, swearing, and blood, and fluids, and throwing up. The doctor or midwife and nurses will be there, but they’re usually only in the room for a few minutes at a time, with hours sometimes passing in between. You might be at the hospital for a very long time, and chances are that at some point you’re going to get tired or hungry. Let’s just throw into the mix, while we’re at it, that while her instinctive brain tells her body to go into groaning-baby-having mode, your instincts might be more inclined towards “Protector mode” (another human instinct, left over from the time when this meant standing outside the cave with a big stick, ready to keep away saber-toothed tigers).
So, putting this all together: On one of the most important days of your life, you are completely responsible for remembering everything you’ve learned, providing comfort and support to a woman in the intense throes of labor, communicating all of the important stuff your beloved wants you to remember, in a strange place, with unfamiliar faces, with a whole lot of potentially nerve-wracking stuff going on, ALL WHILE PREPARING EMOTIONALLY TO SEE YOUR CHILD’S FACE FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME. You’ve got one shot at this, and you’d better get it right. No pressure. Good luck. Not a very good set-up, is it?
Now, consider what having a doula will do for you. She knows all the labor support tricks, and will suggest the ones that are likely to work. She’s talked with you and the mama about what’s important for both of you for this birth, and will help you remember who to tell and when to tell them. She’s going to talk you through any of the parts that make you a little nervous. She knows the machines well enough to tell you which beeping thing is which. If she’s familiar with your hospital, she knows their rules, and she probably knows your nurse and your birth attendant. She knows where the vomit basins and the extra towels are. She knows when to say, “This is normal. You’re doing fine.” Your doula has no interest in being in the spotlight, or stealing your mojo. She’ll cover for you if you need to go eat, or make a phone call, or catch a power nap.
The love that you are able to provide for the birthing mama is immeasurable. The connection between the two of you is one of the most important things going on in the birth room. Your doula helps take the pressure off, so that you can show up and love your wife and your baby fully, in the way that only you know best. If the two of you need some alone time together, that’s fine. Your doula won’t mind. Likewise, she’ll probably also be pretty skilled at knowing when to gently step in for a little more support.
Dad, here’s the thing: I think you’re going to be fine. I have no doubt that you’re going to do a great job. I’m not there to watch and tell you what you’re doing wrong – I’m there to see that you don’t feel lost in the shuffle. We’re in this together, in a way that is going to benefit you, the mama, and your baby. Think of your doula as part of your tribe, your walking Birth Wiki, and the best wing-chick you will ever have.