You Don’t Have to Choose Between Your Partner and Your Doula

by on March 2, 2019

Guest blog post written by Emily Masnoon for the First Time Mom blog in March 2015.

When I first became a Prenatal Yoga Teacher, I began hearing about and learning about what a Doula was.  I learned that a Doula is a woman who guides a birthing mother through labor. How nice. I was intrigued as I had always been very interested in pregnancy and birth.  Becoming a Doula seemed like the logical next step for me and just felt right, so when I had the opportunity to train, I jumped at it. During my training and throughout my years working with pregnant women in a different capacities, I continued to see and hear about just how important a Doula can be.  In fact, there are several studies that show labor goes more smoothly when there is a Doula present.

But then I would hear concerns like “well, I want my partner (husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend) to be my labor support” or “my partner and I just want it to be the two of us”.  You may not know this, but…You don’t have to choose between having your Partner as your main support and having a Doula present. You can have both! In fact, choosing to have your Partner as your primary support person during labor is one of the best reasons TO hire a Doula.  Let her make your Partner more successful and feel supported.

One of the most common concerns I hear from expecting moms when faced with the decision of having a Doula is this:  she wants her Partner to be her primary support. Perfect! Your Doula wants that too! She wants to be there to help your Partner look good.

Your Doula wants this to be an intimate and connecting time for the two of you – that’s why she’ll do her best to work as a complement to your Partner, rather than stealing the show.  At many points throughout labor, it will be incredibly helpful to have your Partner next to you, massaging your shoulders, holding your hand, looking you in the eye, giving you kisses, being present with you AND to have your Doula massaging your low back, providing counter pressure on your sacrum, squeezing your hips, and rubbing your feet.  It will be helpful to have your Doula run out to the car, refill your water, get more ice, grab more towels, track down more pillows…still leaving you with the familiar and loving support of your Partner. She’ll be able to provide valuable insight, advice, and support throughout each step of labor. I often find that, at times, the Partner is almost more thankful for the presence of a Doula than the birthing mother!  It is a LOT of pressure on the Partner to be the only one there to support Mom, especially if he/she is also feeling the feelings that come with the anticipated arrival of his/her child! The pressure of becoming a parent, the pressure of remembering what you learned in childbirth ed class, the pressure of not knowing what to do when seeing the one you love the most in such pain and discomfort.

If your Partner is worried about trying to figure out what he/she can do to help you, he/she can’t really be present with you in this experience and can’t fully enjoy these hours before the birth of your child.  Ask yourself this: Is it fair to put so much pressure on your Partner in such an already heightened time? Does your Partner really feel comfortable with that?

But isn’t that what my nurse is for?

Well, your nurse hasn’t been getting to know you during the months prior to your labor.

Your nurse has other patients she also needs to help and monitor, other responsibilities she needs to complete.

Your nurse will leave when her shift ends.

When a mom comes to me expressing her concerns about having a Doula, I gently explain some of the benefits, especially in response to concerns about a Doula impeding potential support by the Partner.  I don’t force the issue because I totally respect her decision for her birth. The idea of having a Doula is to empower a couple and make them feel supported and safe. How can I contradict that by trying to force an opinion on them?  No matter what the decision, I wish them well and hope that they have the birth experience that they are hoping for. Unfortunately, it’s only after the fact that I hear how the couple “didn’t realize our nurse wouldn’t be completely dedicated to us”, “didn’t like the nurse who was on shift” , “had no idea that all of these things would happen”, “thought we’d be able to have a peaceful environment, but there were interruptions and monitoring every few minutes and it was anything but peaceful”, “they just kind of did things and I had no idea what was happening”.  Or worse, hearing about interventions that sound like they could easily have been avoided. But who knows – I wasn’t there and there is no way to really tell. The one thing I do know, is that I’d rather have a mom hire a Doula and have that invaluable support from the start, rather than have her go through a tough, or even traumatic, birth experience and THEN realize that she wants a Doula the next time around.

This isn’t even about trying to sell my services because, to be honest, I only take on a few births a year.  I wish I had the bandwidth for more because I am blessed with such a great network of people and have several moms coming to me to request my services.  Unfortunately, I can’t support many of them BUT I still always recommend that they hire a Doula and always gather some names to send them.

I don’t want to sound totally biased, here.  I’ve definitely heard from moms who have had just their Partner present and have had fine hospital births.  Keep in mind that your choice of location for your birth (hospital – and which one, birthing center, home birth) makes a huge difference in the outcome as well.  I talk about this a bit in my Birth Plan Design online program, which helps expecting moms create a birth plan with step-by-step guidance.

On that note, another important reason to hire a Doula is for the planning that takes place in preparation of your labor and the birth of your baby.  A few years ago, I had a Prenatal Yoga student whose husband was scheduled for a week of business travel during her last few weeks of pregnancy.  She had been coming to my class every week and, although she had planned to just have her husband at the birth of their baby, she asked if I would consider being on-call as her Doula in case she went into labor before his return.  I agreed and we worked out the details. We had an abbreviated “prenatal visit” after one of our classes and did some other communication by email to figure out what her birth goals were: what things were important to her, what did she need to know or consider, what did I need to know so that we could be on the same page allowing me to support her better?  It just so happened that she went into labor the day he returned, so I was not present at her birth, but she did come back to a few Prenatal Yoga classes postpartum (something I always welcome my Mamas to do) and told me how thankful she was that we had done the planning that we did (creating a Birth Plan, practicing helpful positions, etc.) because otherwise she wouldn’t have known what to expect, what was important to her when presented with decisions, etc.

I certainly respect an expecting mom’s choice to decline Doula services, but strongly believe that at least some thought and preparation should go into her labor experience.

But, I don’t necessarily plan on trying for a natural childbirth.  Do I really need a Doula? Would a Doula even work with me?

No matter what your birth goals are, or aren’t, the right Doula for you will be someone who respects those goals and is there to support you and your Partner and to help you work towards them.  Doulas are not only for women who want to experience natural childbirth. A Doula’s role is to support a birthing mom and her Partner before, during, and after their labor. Period.

Finding the right doula, though, makes all the difference.  Interviewing a few of them and really choosing the one that you feel most comfortable with will be important.  Check out this super helpful Doula Guide that my friend and colleague, Michelle Cohen of Savor It Studios in DC, created to help mamas navigate this important task.

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