I’ve always thought that my passion behind becoming a doula was for the mom. Some doulas just love the glorious and exciting miracle of birth, some do it for all the cute and amazing babies, I always liked to think that my purpose for entering any birth room was to support and empower the labouring woman. I would look at the labouring woman and hold space for her to get through all the hard work it takes to have a baby. When everyone was looking at the monitor, checking on vitals, or admiring a fresh new baby, my eyes would lay fixed on her. How is she feeling? Has she had water? When’s the last time she emptied her bladder? Does she need to sleep?
Then one day, after about 15 hours into a very intense birth, I take my eyes off the mom for a moment and look over to find the dad sitting in the chair removing his glasses and wiping the tears from his face. He looks exhausted and discouraged, like there was nothing more he could do to help, like he had hit his end. It reminded me of when women enter the transition stage of labour. In that moment, I could feel his pain. I looked at him and immediately wanted to support him in more ways than I normally support the partner.
I’ve always told my clients that doulas and partners make the perfect birthing team for the mom. We know how to support the mom by having knowledge in childbirth and because we understand what’s happening to a woman’s body in labour and have the skills to provide comfort. Partners have that history and intimacy with the mom and can offer that closeness and trust. I like to work together with the dad and in order for the dad to be fully present for the mom, I make sure he takes breaks, has something to eat, remind him to drink water, give him a chance to take a nap. And he can do all of this and know that the mom is fully supported. I know it’s essential to releive the parter and offer them a few breaks. But is it enough?
When people ask me what a doula is, I tell them that we provide physical, emotional and informational support for labouring families. So why have I not been providing the exact same support to the other parent in the soon-to-be family? When I looked over at this distraught dad, my doula eyes viewed him as a man in labour. I wanted to get him past this moment of fear, panic or pain. I wanted to calm him, soothe him, encourage him and comfort him. I walked over to him, put my hands on his shoulders and I reminded him of how much love and support he was giving his wife. I sat with him and just held the space for him to feel safe. With a few encouraging words he was able to trust that everything was going to be okay. That it’s okay to cry and feel discouraged and break down. And in that moment he knew I was there for them, there for him.
This experience was an eye-opener for me. I realized that I can have just as much of an impact on the dad as I do with the mom. I now know how important it is to support the dad as well. It’s their birth too. How women perceive their birth can make a huge difference on their entire parental journey. But we mustn’t forget about the dad’s birth experience.
I always like to thank all my clients for contributing to my doula experience and for allowing me to witness their beautiful birth. But a very special thanks goes out to this dad for reminding me how to be a doula for the entire family.
*Photo by Megan Boone