By Adrianne Gordon, CD(DONA), MBA
“There was a time when expectant fathers were portrayed as anxious, floor-pacing, cigar-smoking men who were tolerated in hospital corridors until the long-awaited moment when a nurse or doctor would announce they were the proud father of a daughter or a son. Today’s expectant fathers, loved ones and families are different.”
This is the opening text to the DONA International topic sheet, “Dads, Partners and Doulas: Key Players on Mother’s Labor Support Team” and illustrates how much things have changed about the role of fathers in childbirth. Today’s dads are (thankfully!) active participants in pregnancy, childbirth and parenting. Doulas sometimes encounter questions or even resistance because the dad-to-be, or even the mom-to-be, are concerned that a doula will somehow replace or diminish the father’s role in labor and the postpartum period.
Penny Simkin, one of DONA International’s founders, shares three myths about doulas and partners in a widely circulated article addressing concerns about the doula/partner relationship. Her full article can be found here: http://health.ucsd.edu/specialties/obgyn/maternity/facilities/doula/Documents/simkin.pdf
MYTH # 1 – Role redundancy. There may be concerns that the roles of the doula and partner are so similar that only one is needed. The doula’s role is unique because she is not going through a personal transition like the father is; she is there simply to provide support to the mother AND father. The doula’s training and experience allows her to bring a wider perspective to the birth or postpartum period, tips and tools for coping with labor, recovery, newborn needs and breastfeeding in addition to information to help the couple make decisions. A doula cannot provide the same level of emotional support and connection a partner can, just as the partner cannot bring the same objectivity a doula can, including partners with extensive training and experience in birth or breastfeeding. Fathers are sometimes the ones initiating the conversation about hiring a doula! Doulas may find that some fathers, while they want very much to be involved and supportive of their partner during birth and the postpartum period, feel a great deal of pressure to remember everything from childbirth or breastfeeding class. Doulas bring a fountain of knowledge with them to the birth and postpartum period and this knowledge is available to both parents.
MYTH #2 – Doulas displace partners. Having a third person involved may raise concerns that doulas will come between the parents. Doulas are, in reality, a support person for fathers as well, ensuring that the partner’s physical and emotional needs are also met. Just as doulas see to the comfort, hydration, nutrition, and calm of laboring and new mothers, they also see to these needs for fathers. When doulas and partners work together, they are a very powerful support system combining knowledge of birth, labor, breastfeeding and newborns, with intimate understanding of this particular mother and her needs, desires, communication styles, and emotional responses. The doula’s training and knowledge are available to fathers and are shared via suggestions, examples, or referrals allowing the partner to be a greater participant in providing support and decision making.
MYTH #3 – Doulas bring agendas. This is a typical concern of families who are planning for the birth of their baby. Parents, understandably, want to craft their own plan for their labor, birth, and early parenting. Education on the role of the doula, to provide objective support for the couple’s wishes, can go a long way to dispelling this myth. A father may be concerned that he will have to be in the role of peacekeeper between his partner and the doula to ensure that what the couple wants remains paramount. For fathers who are already feeling anxious about being able to meet their partner’s needs, this concern may be exacerbated. Doulas can help dads feel more confident in supporting their partner since the doula is likely to be more familiar with the medical system and the process and typical behaviors expected during labor and postpartum by mothers and babies alike.
While a doula’s primary focus is the mother, supporting and partnering with fathers is key to serving the entire family’s needs. Understanding his needs and perspective allows the doula to expand her skills and impact on her clients. Below are a few resources that may be helpful to doulas supporting expectant and new fathers. These resources may also be useful to share with dads you are supporting as well. Please note that inclusion here does not suggest an endorsement or relationship with DONA International. Consider doing additional research to identify resources in your local community, books, videos or classes.