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Husband-Wife Doula Team: A New Doula Model?

Way back in the fall of 2014, I interviewed with a couple in Laguna Beach when I was still a solo doula. I instantly loved Heidi & Jori’s plan for birth and their overall vibes. Also, they have two giant fluffy cats that just made me swoon. This couple planned way ahead as they weren’t expecting their little one until the spring of 2015 (late March/early April). We were chatting the interview away when I started telling them about how my husband, Taylor, and I had recently trained as Placenta Specialists (he usually does all the cleaning pre- and post-processing and is the only reason the final product isn't handed off in a Ralph's paper bag). I think they were a little surprised that a guy would be A) not grossed out by placentas and B) interested enough to help with my business.

I don’t remember exactly how the conversation turned this direction, but the next thing I know Heidi was offering Taylor a space on her birth team. I asked a couple more times just to be sure she was serious and I specifically remember a point where she was like “Yeah, I’m totally okay with it…(turns head toward Jori)…I mean if you are”. We all giggled and Jori said he too would welcome it and support his wife’s choices in labor. I didn’t know if my husband would even be interested at that point, though I had the sneaking suspicion that I could convince him to attend as it’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a man (besides OBs) in our culture to attend a birth of someone other than his partner’s or surrogate’s. I was stoked about the possibility, maybe even excited on behalf of him in the beginning.

After all, I think the idea of male doulas is great. Especially if the "dudela" (not sure I like this nickname yet) has upper body strength, he’d be an immense asset for his ability to hold mamas up for long periods, use the rebozo with ease, and do about twice the number of hip squeezes that I can throughout labor. Plus, there’s the fact that masculine birth partners can feel utterly overwhelmed in the birthing situation if the only people around are female nurses, female birth assistants, a female doula, and possibly the female doctor or midwife. That’s a lot of feminine energy in one room for most American men to absorb while also watching the partner go through pain. Having another masculine presence in the room might be calming & reassuring-“if that guy’s not freaking out at all this blood and goop….” Of course, this extra presence could be in the form of a woman with more masculine energy, but in this case it was my husband (who, coincidentally, has more of a soft, gentle energy to him than I do most days).

Male doulas might even be able to more effectively model the type of behaviors that women in labor need from their male partners. Many first time dads feel awkward & weary of touching too lightly or too roughly. Worse still, he might feel like it’s not his place and then feel left out altogether (though usually with a doula of any sex this doesn’t happen because we try to get partners involved as much as they’d like to be). Besides some women just being uncomfortable with the idea of a man who isn’t family being a part of her birth and seeing her naked, I really can’t see many drawbacks to hiring a male doula.

In the months leading up to the birth, I asked Taylor to prepare a bit by attending a couple birth-related events with me, reading two pregnancy/childbirth books, and watching some videos of births that I have on educational DVDs. He also read basically every article I posted on my business Facebook page along the way to see what types of things I learn as a doula. The process was pretty cool for me, I was able to share my work and a part of my self that hadn't previously interested him. In the end, it was worth the time spent though because he rocked it as my assistant doula. If there was a Bradley-style course for husbands of doulas, he’d totally graduate with flying colors.

The best part about Taylor being present (from my perspective) was that he was able to convince Jori to take a nap during the night. Now this may not seem like a big deal, but in my years as a doula, I have yet to be able to persuade a papa-to-be that it was safe for him to sleep. I think most partners' concerns here are valid-some women just cannot stand their partners being away from them during labor. Plus, I believe there's a secret fear of missnig out on something huge or important and regretting the decision later on. But partners NEED sleep during long/overnight labors. I want partners to be present and fully aware during the most crucial moments (ahem, the birth and first hours of their child's life) and many just putter out because they're not used to be up for that many hours straight. Not to mention, most men in America have to return to work very shortly after having a baby (a sad truth for another day's article), so they need to have the energy and strength to continue their daily routines once they leave the birth place.

Another awesome perk of having Taylor there led to some awesome shots of labor and birth that I would never be able to get by myself because I'm usually sidled up next to or behind mamas throughout. Even though all the photos were taken with an old iPhone, the perspective on them was so different and special than the photos I'm usually able to hand over to clients at the postpartum visits.

Though I recognize that doula-ing is not Taylor's passion, I’m really glad he gave it a shot and even gladder we got to share this awesome experience at least once! Without further ado, here’s his take on the birth and what he contributed:

Taylor Says...

“Would you be interested in attending a birth?” That one little question is what got it all started. My beautiful wife Amanda texted me that question and in my blindly optimistic and woefully unprepared mind I thought “Yeah, why not?” I texted her back a hubris-free “Sure” and that was it…well, almost. I thought a birth would be no big deal seeing as my mom had had two of my brothers at home and little-me was skulking around during both of those; so I’m an old pro, right? Yeah, not so much. She told me almost immediately after I sent my reply that I would in fact be attending a birth in a few months.

A REAL ONE?! Like, some woman was actually going to let a strange man into her hospital room to observe? Instantly, my mind jumped into panic mode. I had thought this was just some “What if” question-not anything serious, or immediate. My mind filled with all these crazy scenarios. Of course it got better (way better) and my brain relaxed once I met the wonderful couple whose birth I’d be attending. Meeting Heidi & Jori, seeing how laid back and fun they were, and understanding what my role would be definitely helped ease my mind. At least it eased it up until the birth actually came!

Once Amanda got the word that Heidi was experiencing some kind of something, we went to their house and started getting prepared for baby-time. I had no idea what the heck I was doing, but luckily Amanda guided me (ever so discretely) step by step. In the beginning, I massaged Heidi’s hips mostly, as this was the one birthy technique I remembered in the moment. Strangely, I felt like I was actually helping. I will say, though, that Heidi & Jori seemed cool as cucumbers even through the high points of contractions. She never screamed out once and he was the super cool dude munching on a sandwich when she would relax between contractions. It seemed like no time at all and we were off to the hospital.

The anticipation was so crazy for me that I was silently asking the universe to please make the birth quick. Thinking back, I’m pretty embarrassed that I seemed more stressed out than the two lovely people that were about to become parents. The entire birth was somewhat of a blur. I attribute that mostly to being super tired (middle of the night birth) and really anxious. The thing I found hardest about the birth was not being able to help the birthing mom in enough ways. Sure, I held her hand, gave her encouragement, and made sure she was eating/drinking to keep up her energy. But I couldn’t help her with any of the pain and that bugged me. I wanted so badly to absorb some of her pain (if not all of it!). I’m naturally a helper/supporter type person so it was crazy difficult not being able to do more.

Throughout the night, I was completely in awe of Heidi’s stamina and willpower. Everything she did was pure, unadulterated all-natural mom bad-assery. She was so unbelievably calm, out least on the outside. She handled even the roughest moments with grace and a soft jaw (something I learned is extremely important).

Once the big moment came and the baby was finally ready to join us Earth-side, everything kind of slowed down. It was all so surreal! I was smiling so hard that my face hurt once the little dude was born. I felt such a surge of happiness for them and such a sense of relief that all the hard work was over…well the hard work of giving birth at least.

All in all, it was an amazing experience and the worst part had nothing to do with anyone but me. My anxiety was completely misplaced as the birth was a wonderful experience. It was all about the amazingly great company I had with me: the parents, my wife, and the cool nurse that was with us for most of the birth. I feel like it could have been a really different experience if the players were switched up, but I got lucky and all the personalities involved were fantastic. I’m grateful to have been included in this experience because it taught me so much. I think I’m now better prepared for when I have my own children; however, I know for sure that I lack the amazing stress management skills a long-term doula must possess.

The outcome of this birth was amazing. The Kaiser Irvine staff we worked with were so lovely; our clients remained soooo insanely calm throughout; Taylor got to feel that amazing rush of life that doulas are fortunate enough to experience. Best of all, our clients were happy with their outcome. Here’s what Heidi had to say about our temporary husband-wife doula team!

What do you think? Would your partner ever consider attending a birth? If you utilized a doula at your birth, can you imagine expanding that birth room by one male presence? Let us know your thoughts!

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