One of the questions that all birth doulas are asked by potential clients has to do with the partner’s role. “Won’t you take the place of my husband?” Or, “My husband is worried that he won’t get to participate if I have a doula.” I also sometimes hear, “My husband is afraid he won’t know what to do, so he wants me to get a doula.”
I always respond by talking about how I can improve the birth for both mother and partner. Ideally, my role weaves together with the partner’s role, giving the mother more solid support and allowing her partner to participate more fully. For example…
–Prenatally, I’ve taught couples about positions and comfort measures that they can try out themselves in early labor. Some of these are massage and touch techniques that fathers can easily learn to do, giving them concrete ways to help.
–When I help mothers make birth plans, I often ask their partners to help me support the mother’s wishes. “So, you’d like to delay cord cutting and clamping? Dad, you and I will keep an eye out and make sure that happens when the time comes.”
–I talk with couples about how they tend to handle stress, getting to know how they function as a team so I can support their connection.
–I answer lots of questions from partners in the hospital–where the light switches are, what happens if she gets an epidural, and everything in between.
–I carry overnight bags so husbands can hug and support their wives as they make their way down the hall to the labor room.
–I fetch water cups, ice chips, snacks, and coffee so partners don’t have to–even stuff from the car is fair game. Or, if they need a break from the labor room, I stay with the mother while they do the fetching.
–Sometimes partners need to pee, make phone calls, or take naps. I can stay with the laboring mom while those necessary breaks happen.
–Sometimes the best way for a partner to support a mother is by being face-to-face with her–talking, hugging, looking in her eyes. Meanwhile, I am behind her, rubbing her back or giving counterpressure through contractions.
–Once in a while, a tired, cranky laboring mom is just a tiny bit impatient with her husband. I can discreetly let him know that he hasn’t really done anything wrong (or at least nothing that won’t be forgiven right after the birth!).
–If a mom and her partner decide they want some alone time, I am always happy to exit for a while until they want me back.
–I take notes on the progress of the birth, and I take pictures of mom, partner and baby together.
There are thousands of other little ways that a thoughtful doula can make everything go more smoothly for both new parents. Being an extra set of hands–and an experienced guide to the world of the hospital–is part of it. But truly, when I’m doing my job well, I become a seamless member of the team–a temporary family member!