Kara asks: I am wondering what you do when a father is not very supportive of the labouring mom, and even goes as far as to judge and try and make decisions for the mom? How do you keep mom empowered?
Relationship dynamics are often difficult to navigate. This is especially true when we, as doulas, are present for a only short time with people who were together before we came on the scene, and will be in relationship long after we are gone.
First – check yourself. Where might you be in judgement of this couple? We all judge others. There’s no sense in pretending that we don’t. Simply being able to honestly say to ourselves, “Wow, I’m judging that. That pushed a button for me, and I’m having some feelings about it” can prevent us from letting our own judgement spill over into the doula/client relationship. Thinking to ourselves, “That’s different than what I’d prefer for myself. This isn’t my relationship. That’s ok” can help us let that go.
Then, consider the culture. Does this family come from a tradition in which men are not typically involved in childbirth? In getting to know the couple prenatally, ask her what she thinks of when you say the word “support”. What does support look like to her? What support does she expect from you? How does Dad see his role? Consider, too, what Mama thinks support from her husband will look like. Does she seem to expect that he will be affectionate and hands-on, or do they seem to be ok with his being on the sidelines, involved in his own way? Sometimes, the couple expects that the doula will be there for the intensive hands-on physical comfort, and the affirmative emotional encouragement. Other times, they expect that the dad will be the one in this role, and the doula will be on the sidelines offering occasional suggestions while sitting on her hands. Both of those options are do-able, as long as we know what the expectation is. What is it they want, need, and expect?
It’s important to understand what she thinks empowerment means. While some families make decisions by what Mama desires for herself, others seek mutual agreement, and in others, it’s the man who has the final word for his wife. She may be expecting that he will be the one to make decisions. As strange as this may seem to doulas who may come from another way of thinking, if that’s the family’s comfort zone, it is up to us to accept them for who they are, and honor that. We may need to work within this dynamic by presenting information, and talking through decisions together. Or, it might be true that he thinks that his role as protector/defender means that he has to know the “right” things to do or say, even when he really doesn’t. One way to help a dad through this is to talk about it. Let him know that you want him to be involved to the fullest extent that he is comfortable. Ask him if he’s ok with your making suggestions, or modeling a comfort measure (such as hip squeezes) and handing it over for him to do. Sometimes, he may feel less lost and more supportive if he knows he has a specific job to handle.
And lastly, we have the scenario in which Mama knows what’s best for herself,she knows what she wants and needs, and he’s just not willing to provide it. The only power you have as doula in this case is to decide what you will do. You can only do your best to offer support. You can’t make him not be a jerk. She chose to have a baby with him. She chose to have him there for this birth. You are not responsible for their relationship. The best you can do is show up. Give her encouraging words. Make suggestions for her comfort. Mentally zip a teflon shield around yourself, so that his annoying tendencies don’t get to you. Brush it off as much as you can. Letting him know that he’s getting to you may give him a greater sense of power, and make his jerkiness even worse. Seek out your own support people and vent as much as you need to. Be gentle in your expectations of yourself. Don’t expect yourself to fix something that you didn’t cause – just know that in being there and doing your best, you’re making a difference. That’s enough.