I have even been asked outright by a client “will you replace my husband? What will it mean for him?” and often many people who don’t say this out loud are still thinking it – will a doula displace my partner? Will my partner feel left out and excluded? The answer is: no.
The evidence that’s being turned up by study after study shows that without a doubt, doulas are important. Women who use doulas at their births use less pain medications, are less likely to give birth with interventions like vacuums and forceps, and even half as likely to need a C-section, and far more likely to have the experience they want or at the very least, not have an experience they didn’t want. (Source: American Journal of Obstetrics No. 5, 1999: 1054-1059) Women who hire doulas have an easier, faster and more satisfying birth experience. That’s what the results of continuous, bias-free support looks like.
It’s also important that we don’t place unrealistic expectations on partners. If this is your first birth, it’s likely also your partners too. You are both new to this; you both have to learn as you go together. Labour can be difficult to navigate and often you are left alone in the room to cope by yourselves. Sometimes partners find this overwhelming. It’s very hard to see someone you love in pain and not know what to do about it. It’s much easier for both of you if you have someone to guide you through it who has the training and the experience of many more births behind her.
But in no way am I trying to replace your partner. Partners are very important too. I may be a birth expert, but your partner is an expert in you – they know how you need to be talked to, what words to say, what your routines are, what makes you uncomfortable. They know your nuances and your body language, and they know your body – they know where to touch, where to massage, where your soft spots are and the places you hold tension. They know your fears and they know, just by reading your face, what you need. I need that sort of person in the room with me to help me do my job. I don’t know all those things about you, I need to see and learn it from them.
During a birth I was at last year, momma was in the shower and we were using hydrotherapy to take the edge off her contractions. All three of us just fit into that tiny hospital bathroom, and dad and I took turns holding the shower head and using it to spray hot water over moms back, thighs and shoulders while she rocked and hummed. Dad took the first shift and helped mom to settle in the tub, which was awkward and didn’t have a great deal of room to maneuver. He spoke to her gently, kept a hand on her body and kept physically close to her. He adjusted the water temperature to her liking and kept a steady, massaging stream going across her back. I sat back, remained quiet and watched. As they worked together as a team, I quietly slipped out of the bathroom to leave them their space. After a few minutes I peeked back in to see how they were doing and she had dropped her head to his shoulder and he was holding her through a contraction. So much love. As a doula, I know that I cannot ever replace that.
Another one of my clients who had me as a doula for her second birth had the opportunity to compare her two birth experiences – the first without a doula and the second with, and what it meant for her husband. In her own words, this is what she wrote to me later:
“Kyla also was key in providing support for my husband. In my first labour, he was the only support I had and I counted on him through it all. This experience left us both exhausted and it meant he was unable to help as much in those first few days postpartum. With this delivery, Kyla was our key to success. She gave him time to sit back and rest when he needed. This helped him provide a more calm emotional support without wearing him out. For him, being my only support in my first labour was stressful for the both of us. My husband is not experienced in labour so it left him feeling uncertain. If he left to take a break, I had no one. I was afraid of him leaving me even for a moment. For this labour, Kyla became my major support person, and it made me more confident that I had both of them there for me together.”
Doula, Sisterhood Wellness Collective, Toronto