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A Doula’s Letter to Cis-Dads, and Partners, All: We’re Space-Holders, Not Scene-Stealers!

“Asking your husband to be your sole guide through labor is like asking him to lead the way on a climb of Mt Everest. He may be smart and trustworthy, you may love him, but in the Himalayas you’d both be a lot better off with a Sherpa!” – Pam England.

As doulas, we get regular static from partners – it’s one of the more reliable misconceptions that result in questions and comments at a consult. “Well, if you’re ‘doula-ing’ then what the hell am I there for?” “I see what this is about – you don’t think I’m up for it, do you?”

    The analogy of birth to marathon is one you may have heard of. It comes up a lot because it works so well. For the birther, this is an immense endurance output. BUT it has also done a bit of a disservice, because at some point in the not-so-distant past, partners went from “should not be/ would not be caught dead at the birthing setting” to “birth COACH.” No stress, right? 

I’d prefer to think of you, dear birth partner, as running this race as well. For you, this is new, for you, this is ALSO exhausting. Watching the person you love go into a deep mammalian state, the likes of which you’ve never seen, is intimidating. There are a lot of things that can happen in a birth room, and even a ‘textbook’ birth is extraordinary — because birth is extraordinary! Unless you attend births for a living, you are NOT expected to keep a cool head. This is a big deal! I’ve heard from birthers, in the postpartum, that they wouldn’t have wanted to switch places with their partners because they “would not have known what to do”. This is coming from the warriors who just pushed out a freakin’ baby! Why on earth would someone give you the title of “coach”?

So, given that realization, consider a doula to be your trainer AND your emotional protein shake. We’re not a replacement, we’re helping you stay optimal. Through the peaks and valleys of the birth process, doulas help guide partners to trust what is going on, remain calm and present for their partner, and guide them towards how they can assist optimally. We’re helping you tune in and find the flow. Sometimes this involves very little from a doula (in fact, we aim for subtlety, and to appear “behind the scenes” as much as possible!). Sometimes, it’s as simple as reminding a very excited dad to get some sleep while he can.

But whatever the situation, we aim to keep you involved and present, helping you be the strong hand and steady gaze, as you watch this extraordinary person who has nurtured life for nine months do the most extraordinary work of both of your lives.   

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