Monday, December 28, 2009

Fathers and partners and doulas, oh my!

The blogger known as Baby Making Machine is prolifically sharing her pregnancy experience, and much to her credit, she is asking a lot of questions about everything, including birth. One of the topics that has come up for her is to doula or not to doula, and she blogged about one specific, lovable, handsome "doula dilemma": namely, her husband.
He had a few arguments I tried to take into consideration: 1. Doulas are for rich people. 2. I want to help, I want to be your doula (or my "dulla oblongata," as he jokes).

The first argument, while I can see his point isn't necessarily true. To him, if we can make it through labor like many of our family and friends have without one, why spend the money? "Having someone you pay there to help is something rich people do." Well... Many doula's I've found in my area don't have rates on their sites because they work with people to set the right price on an individual basis. Most I've found prices for seem to range from the $200-$1500s but I hear some are in the $2000s, depending on location, experience, services, etc. Most of my friends seem to either have a friend and get one for free, or paid about $300-$600. Everyone has said it's worth every penny.

Now, looking at those numbers my husband says no way. He's rather use that money on things for the baby, or classes, books and material we can take together to be prepared for labor. But I heard you can get doula's who are getting certified and need live births to help you for free! I wrote to my local DONA lady to get the list of women in my area who will be certifying over the next year so I can contact them about helping me out. I told my husband this and he was a little hurt that I was so insistent on this. Which brings me to the next point... Him wanting to help.

I've read great articles and posts here and there about doula's helping husbands know how to help their wives, but he really wants to be the primary support. He really hasn't had a strong opinion about too many things in this pregnancy process unless I pry, so having him out and tell me how he really feels about it made me think again. He told me he wants to take classes with me and learn how to help me through it, but he doesn't want someone with us 24/7 and "taking his place." I can even picture him shying away because there's an extra woman there, and not wanting to help as much... If I had other help.

This is something that comes up for other women, too, so I thought it was worth addressing at some length. I started out just responding to her blog, soon realizing it was definitely a reply-turned-post, and then I couldn't get my comment to appear on her page at all due to some bogus HTML issue, so I just threw it all up here, period. Hope this is helpful to FutureMama (as she goes on Twitter) and to any other mom out there with a reluctant partner.

Again, kudos for taking such a thoughtful approach. I can already sense that this might be a reply-turned-post . . .

I want to briefly echo what Mommy Bee said about epidurals: I completely respect your right to make an informed choice, but do be aware that just because you've decided you want one does not guarantee that you will get one, or that when you do get it it will work, so the need to be prepared and to have support is just as valid even if you feel an epidural will likely be part of your birth experience. There are all kinds of benefits to laboring for quite a good ling time without one, reasons having less to do with the effects of the drugs on the baby and more to do with the effective progress of dilation and with optimal positioning of the baby for birth. As you'll learn when you go through childbirth ed classes and/or read further on your own, the baby's position in your pelvis is key, and the more movement and versatility of position you can bring to your labor the better. Doulas are experts here.

And let's say you labored a good long time without an epidural, and then decide to go ahead and get one. It's not like it's just Game Over at that point: there are still so many decisions to be made, and you have a say in every. single. one of them. Are you going to receive Pitocin as well? If so, how much and how quickly? What about AROM? What about episiotomies? There are so many choices to be informed about. (Do read "Your Best Birth" if you haven't already! It breaks the whole cascade of interventions down masterfully and easily. Immensely readable.) Due to her experience and education, a doula can be vital in keeping abreast of your goals and preferences, and help you ask all the right questions. She helps you advocate for yourself.

As for whether a doula is desirable if you aren't necessarily going for a 100% natural birth, my honest opinion is absolutely. Even if you have a c-section, a doula can be a godsend in dealing with hospital personnel and procedures and protocols. Marfmom's experience is a good example of this. I actually have an upcoming post planned for my own blog on exactly this topic, as inspired by a Twitter conversation the other day: how doulas benefit cesarean birth experiences.

Anyway, I can understand why your husband feels so strongly that he wants to be the primary support - and he ultimately will be, either way! But others here have given good examples of situations where, for all their good intentions, their partners were unprepared for the reality of the hospital setting. No matter how much they read (and if he does do a lot of reading, that is AWESOME and all the better, I don't mean to discount that; some husbands can't even manage that) and how attentive they are in a childbirth ed class, many of them become deer in headlights when faced with the White Coat of Authority suggesting something you both know you don't really want. At those moments, mothers sometimes lose their former allies to fear, and suddenly the man who had been their rock and their solace is now saying "Well, honey, maybe we should just do _____ after all; he IS the doctor . . ."

I'm not saying this WILL be the case with your husband - he really does sound like a peach. But some of the other husbands caught off-guard were wonderful guys, too - it's just a completely foreign experience for them, navigating the thorny maze of hospital protocol.

And this is where doulas are trained and experienced and prepared. It's not just about knowing back massage techniques, offering sips of Recharge, repeating affirmations with you, helping you walk around, bounce on the birth ball or relax in the tub, though those are all useful too. It's about helping both of you make your way through this sterile, high-tech, foreign land.

That brings me to the other point I wanted to mention. You are becoming a mother that day, and that, along with bringing this new being into existence, is the main attraction, of course. But your husband will also undergo a transformation that day. He is becoming a father. As much as he intends to be there for you, he is, by definition, also having his own experience of birth. This is a good thing! And he can still support you, and can still make attending to your needs at the top of his priority list. But the fact remains that a doula is the only person who is 100% there only for you and your support. This takes some of the pressure off your husband. Space has now been created for him to both share this experience with you AND have his own experience of transformation. He will still be your rock and your solace - and he can now breathe a little easier, knowing that someone is there to help you both advocate for your needs.

I hope that came across with compassion - it was meant to. It's truly hard for men to admit that they need help sometimes, especially when it's help in an area that they feel they SHOULD be responsible for. Often they insist on being the sole supporter simply because they think they should be, when in reality they might not feel comfortable once they're actually in the situation. When this is questioned, they can feel their authority threatened, even when they know, rationally, that this isn't really the case. I say let's give the guys a break!

As for the notion that doulas are for rich people, I wholeheartedly disagree that good care and support should only be reserved for the wealthy. This is why doulas have been fighting to be covered by insurance, and are finally starting to succeed, and why many doulas will work on a sliding scale, and why there are organizations providing doula support to low-income mothers in some areas (this is not available everywhere YET, obviously, but you'd better believe we're working on it). And even when none of the above apply, doulas in the certification process will work for free or close to it.

One final question: Labor can last a long time. Ask him how long can he go without using the bathroom. If for NO OTHER REASON than filling in for him so you won't be left abandoned when he needs to pee, you deserve to have this.


To wrap up: I second (or third, or whatever) the notion of interviewing a few to see who you mesh with, and I agree that it's a good idea to let them know of your husband's ambivalence in advance. If they're experienced doulas, they've addressed this before, I assure you.

And one last idea on cost: if you don't find someone who is in the process of certifying (which I am SURE you can, if you decide to go that route), you could also consider putting it on your registry, so to speak. I can think of no better shower gift, myself (unless it's a postpartum doula). There just might be someone in your life who would be happy to provide such a boon to you. Why not put it out there?


  1. Great post! I told my husband tonight that next birth we are TOTALLY getting a doula and luckily he said ok (hope he is as willing when I'm actually pregnant).

    I am so excited for your post about doulas with c-sections!!! I will show it to my husband too. We were just talking about what things I want to change for my c-section next time around tonight, b/c I want to make an appt. with the high-risk OB here soonish to discuss the hospital's policies before we TTC.

  2. Great post!!! Thanks for putting it all out there and answering my dilemmas one by one!! Very helpful!!

  3. I feel so blessed, the more I talk to my husband about this sort of thing... he was pro-doula even before I was. He wants to be there, and involved, and remain as my partner by my side; at the same time, he doesn't know anything about birth or labor and, not being a woman, he will never be in a position to relate to those issues. Birth is one of those times when we women really need another woman, an experienced one to walk us through the transition.

    I can see why a guy would feel rejected by his woman insisting on a doula, but really, would he build a house or rewire the electricity without a more experienced fellow-man there to walk him through it? (Bad analogy, I know, but hopefully you get my meaning.)

  4. What a great post- and what a great shower gift idea!
    Having a doula was essential for me at the hospital. And even though my husband wasn't really into it, in the end, it really did allow him to be there as himself, instead of in some predefined role.
    Everyone was more relaxed because she was there.

  5. Thank you SO much for posting this. I am experiencing this very issue right now, although I do plan to pursue a natural child birth. I really appreciate all input for getting a doula!

  6. Abso-fruita-lutely! My doula was worth her weight in gold and then some...I don't think I could have made it through labor without her! Dads always seem to approach this as the doula trying to steal their thunder...when in reality they want to HELP the dad! Having someone who knows about birth but is totally unemotionally attached to the outcome can be a godsend. She can keep a cool head and guide both mom and dad through the process, leaving them free to revel in all the emotions without worrying about what needs to be done.

  7. I don't know what sort of insurance the asker has, but if having a doula reduces the need for so many interventions by such large percentages, she is going to SAVE a bundle of money on that alone. I have PPO which means I pay 10% of whatever the bill is. Sooo... 10% of a natural labor or 10% of a "typical" labor --- it's an easy decision.
    Not only that, the recovery from a natural labor is generally easier - and recovery from major medical intervention is costly in and of itself.
    I explained to my husband (who had the same concerns) that it was natural and innate for women to want a woman to share in her labor. It's been going on for millions of years, and it doesn't make fathers any less important. I *want* someone there who's not going to get overly emotional
    And yeah, I want my hubs to be able to pee, and get me food, to REST!, and to run home to get the iPod charger if we forget it. Bonus: if you just can't bear the thought of your hubs leaving to go to the cafeteria, a doula will be glad to go grab food for the both of you.
    I don't know, I just think the more support I have, the better off I'll be.
    My hubs is the most supportive, fabulous guy in the world, but it doesn't hurt to add all the support you can get.
    My doulas were kind enough to explain this to my husband when we interviewed them, and he left with a deeper understanding of the role.
    If men could get pregnant, I wouldn't expect him to go through childbirth without something he desired - so in the end, he respects my wishes/desires too and just has a "Yes, Dear" attitude.
    It's important to me, so it's important to him that I have it.

  8. AGREE AGREE!!! We are getting a doula, mainly because I don't want to be suckered into a c-section by dr's who don't wanna wait around for a twin birth...

  9. Thank you all so much for your perspectives!

  10. There are many reasons to get a doula, but one thing the husband should always keep in mind is that labor is LONG - esp with first babies. Mine was 30 hours. We had a doula, but my DH didn't leave my side until he was so weak and exhausted he almost passed out. Let's say your DH might want to, I don't know, go to the bathroom? Have a snack? Sleep for an hour or two? Having a doula there provides continuity of care and peace of mind when the DH needs a *break*.