Men are increasingly discovering the benefits of hiring birth and postpartum doulas

(Note: This story first appeared in Sacramento Parent Magazine in 2017)

By Will Martin

When I agreed to hire a doula, it was more a gift to my wife than an endorsement of the profession.

I’d heard of doulas, but they only came up in conversations with my crunchiest friends, the same folks who were prone to wheatgrass smoothies. A career soldier with blue-collar roots, I was cynical. I might have even uttered the words “witch doctor” within earshot of my wife.

But she was rocking her pregnancy. My wife had navigated the first few months with grit and grace. And if an extra set of hands would add to her comfort or boost her confidence, why not write one more check?

What I didn’t anticipate is that I would reap the bigger return on investment. I’d learn doulas are for dads, too.

JUST WHAT IS A DOULA?
Doulas have been around nearly as long as babies. The word comes from the ancient Greek for “maidservant,” a woman who attended births alongside expecting mothers. The modern doula stands in this tradition of birth-support professionals by offering services that range from prenatal education to physical and emotional care during the actual birth.

Tashina pic Two
Tashina Benning

“Because every woman wants and needs something different, I think a doula can be a great many things,” said Tashina Benning, of Indulgent Birth Doula Services in Sacramento. “Doulas are lovingly able to support women for every birth plan.”

According to studies cited by the Capital City Doula Collective in Sacramento, births involving doulas often result in fewer C-sections, less labor-inducing drugs and shorter labor times.

“Most providers are still mocking the use of doulas in this city, yet ACOG (the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) has explicitly mentioned us as an impactful measure in preventing a woman’s initial C-section,” said Benning. “We need to look at that.”

HAVING DAD’S BACK
The mystique surrounding childbirth can overwhelm the most motivated of fathers. By the time my son was born, I felt as if I was drowning under a steady stream of books and jargon. A skilled doula, however, can empower a father with practical information and hands-on rehearsals. Knowledge and muscle memory can transform a dad from anxious observer to cool-headed participant.

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“Often, fathers just need the right resources, “said Brooke Lonergan, a birth and postpartum doula with Birthlight Doula Services in Sacramento. “Doulas teach comfort-measure tools and give fathers a safe, non-judgmental space to express their concerns.”

Doulas speak the language of birth. Through education, they instill confidence in fathers by addressing the unknown. By being present at the birth, they help dads navigate the nuances of a home birth or hospital setting.

“We help demystify birth, somewhat, so that it’s not as scary,” said Benning.

Justin Crandell, of Penryn in Placer County, was skeptical when his wife, Halley, suggested hiring a doula; “I was presented with something that I didn’t know existed, and it was going to cost me extra money.”

But their doula won over Justin well before the birth of their daughter, Kyra Mae.

“Going through the birth plan and knowing the answers to questions we wouldn’t have expected allowed us to have confidence as first-time parents,” he said.

COST AND CONCERNS

Luke and Will Day 1 Newborn!
The author with his newborn son, Luke

Like Justin my hesitation in hiring a doula centered on cost (local doulas charge anywhere from several hundred to more than a thousand dollars). But I also feared it might be part of a larger anti-science, fringe philosophy. Both concerns, while common to men, don’t typically bear out.

“I actually do believe hiring a doula is a costly luxury,” said Benning. “It is not an essential need, but you can say the same about…changing tables, baby swings, or a great many other things we decide are useful and likely to meet some need we have decided we have.”

“I think it depends on what we truly value,” said Lonergan. “People spend one to two hundred dollars a month on cable or eating out, but waiver on investing in…one of the most intense and important experiences of their lives.”

While Lonergan concedes there are “zealots” within the doula community, she and Benning believe the anti-science charge is rooted in a false narrative.

“I can deeply respect medicine and still believe that outcomes for women giving birth are not what they could be,” said Benning. “I think everyone should be in a state of examination as to why that is and what we can do about it.”

ALL DOULAS AREN’T CREATED EQUAL
Like any profession, quality in doulas varies. And, even the best doulas might not be a good fit for every couple.

“Interview at least three,” said Lonergan. “Ask that they have had some formal training and what their continuing education is like. (But) more important than their actual experience, is how you feel when you are with them. It’s all about the vibe.”

The Capital City Doula Collective holds regular “Meet the Doulas” events, as does Sutter Davis Hospital, which is home to an in-house volunteer doulas program. “I like when they almost bombard me with questions,” said Benning of her interview experiences. “I am so excited for people to be their own advocates.”

 

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