Recently a few skeptical Dads-to-be have scoffed at the notion of using a doula. Given that I was once a (very) skeptical Dad myself, it seemed pretty reasonable that I could provide some perspective, so my wife asked me to pen a few thoughts. The elephant in the room here is that, at present, your wife (or baby-mama) is presumably giving some consideration to utilizing my wife’s services as a doula. If, because of this, you think my opinion is too tainted to provide an objective opinion, you might as well stop reading. Seriously, just stop now. I won’t be offended (I also won’t know).
If you’re still here, it means you’re willing to accept the fact that I can give an unbiased account from the guy’s perspective of what utilizing a doula is all about.
An important item to acknowledge is that before we used a doula for the birth of our second son, I had only an extremely vague idea of what a doula was. I pictured someone who would push herbal remedies and be against modern medicine assisting with my son successfully navigating his way into the world. Basically I pictured someone you couldn’t even pay ME to have at my son’s birth, let alone the other way around.
With that said, I conceded a meeting to my wife with the doula she wanted. While this was to placate her, to a degree, I also admittedly was coming to the process with an open mind (despite what I wrote above). To understand the full story (and understand why I even gave consideration to my wife’s request that we use a doula), you need a little context. This was our third pregnancy, and it would be hard for the first two to have gone much worse.
In 2010, we had our first son, Owen. His arrival was more than a little rocky. A few months into the pregnancy, we had a pretty major scare. We had to rush to the hospital, and really weren’t sure if he was going to make it. Fortunately, he was ok and we trudged on.
Things really came to a head when she went into labour. The day was seemingly going according to plan, but once she delivered we were missing that expected sound of a crying baby. They whisked him (and me) away from my wife and began fervently working on him with some emergency measures.
It was a total freaking whirlwind. I had absolutely no idea what was going on and nobody was telling me anything. It was pretty clear that the umbilical cord had wrapped around his neck and had seriously inhibited his breathing. Looking back on it, they clearly didn’t have high hopes for our little man pulling through. At one point all the doctors stopped their work on him and just asked me to stand with him, hold his hand, and wait. At the time, I seriously had no idea what was going on. Looking back, thinking about what they were having me do, I can’t even type the words.
After that, things started to go downhill (you think I’m kidding, just keep reading). For the first few months of Owen’s life, my wife battled pretty severe post-partum depression (PPD). Her biggest “trigger” at that point was the (ever controversial) topic of breastfeeding. She couldn’t do it. Given that this is completely out of her control (maybe her physiology wouldn’t do it, maybe Owen wasn’t latching properly, etc.), this seems like something you’d try to have roll off your back. But for so many women, and my wife in particular, there’s a huge amount of guilt associated with not being able to successfully breastfeed.
Add it all up, and first 6 months were just brutal.
Flash forward now to the summer of 2013. My wife had been trying for quite some time to convince me to have another kid. For so many of the reasons above, I was skeptical. Why would I want to do that again? The only (not-so) logical answer was how amazing a person our little guy had turned out to be. It was all “worth it” goes the cliché (clichés don’t become clichés without being true).
So I agreed to give it a go (the process of bringing the baby about was also a drawing card).
My wife got pregnant pretty quickly (my boys can swim!) and we excitedly began to picture our lives with two little ones. In late August, we had a scare very reminiscent to the one we had during Owen’s pregnancy. Perhaps because we had pulled through the first time, I actually didn’t think much of it when we went to the hospital. I assumed everything would be fine. Well, it wasn’t. We lost the baby. Essentially all of the fears that I had going into the process had been realized. So that was nice.
All of that brings us to pregnancy #3. A few months after the miscarriage, we tried again, and again my obvious baby-making proficiency came through in relatively short order. By the winter, we were through the first trimester and things were well on their way.
That’s when my wife introduced the concept of utilizing a doula. I did a little bit of research (ie. Wikipedia) to understand what a doula was, asked my wife a few questions, and agreed to the previously referenced meeting. My wife was convinced that using a doula would help to alleviate a number of the aggravating factors that had challenged our first birth experience. I was less so convinced.
But I attended the meeting nonetheless, and much to my chagrin, the girl was super nice and not at all weird. She spoke at length about providing support for both parents through the process to ensure everything went off without a hitch. It became clear to me that a GOOD doula (at least by my definition) does not push their own views on the parents, does not fear-monger about breast feeding, and certainly does not add another stressor to the process.
A good doula takes stress off the table. A good doula provides support in whatever size, shape, or form you need.
My wife became fast friends with our chosen doula and our interaction with her was very comfortable. We built a strong rapport very quickly (which was good, given that she would soon be there to witness my wife passing a human out of her vagina).
Our birth experience with Graeme was night and day different from that with Owen. It was stress-free. It was positive. I dare say it was easy.
Through the labour with Owen (just under 13 hours from when we arrived at the hospital to when he arrived), I was the only resource available. Anything she needed, any comfort measures, any complaining, it was all me. I was the gopher, the sounding board, everything (which is fine, because it’s what you do).
Through the labour with Graeme? Umm, well basically I had a 3 hour nap while our doula stayed up with my wife. It was glorious. I think they woke me about 20 mins before Graeme was coming (enough time to shake out the cobwebs and fix my hair). He arrived happy and healthy, without any issues.
I realize if you’re a skeptic you’ll (fairly) note that the doula’s presence had nothing to do with us avoiding the trauma we had during Owen’s birth, but in truth the biggest misgiving I had about the first experience was how little of an idea I had of what was going on. I’d never done any of it before, didn’t know what I could ask, or what I was allowed to do/say. A doula reminds you that you’re the ones having the damn baby and have a right to know what’s going on. Believe me, I’m very much of the mind that we should get out of the way and let the very-well-compensated doctors do the work that they’re so well-compensated to do – but communication is nice, and having a voice there to help us through the first process would have been huge.
This experience has been totally different. I’m sure a big part of it is that having a second kid comes without the shock factors of being a new parent, but this experience has been so much easier, and I’m certain that part of the credit for that goes to us having worked with a doula.
To be clear, this is not a blanket endorsement for doulas. This is an endorsement for expanding your support system with someone that you are comfortable with, someone that will improve your personal experience (and that of your wife/baby-mama) with the crazy, challenging, amazing, insane process of bringing a human into the world.
So if you’ve read this far, you might as well at least agree to sitting down with my wife to hear what she has to say, to see if you think there’s a fit, and to see if you think she might bring a positive element to the process for you. If after that, she’s not for you, no hard feelings. The best thing you can do right now is at least have an open mind. Having a baby is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, and you don’t even have to physically HAVE him/her. The fact that you’re reading this tells me that you’re a logical, sensible person at least willing to consider all angles of something before passing judgment. I’d encourage you to give this some consideration as well.