The question of why one becomes a doula is an interesting self-reflection that under usual circumstances may bring to mind thoughts of your own birth or of family and friends that have had babies. Perhaps it is a desire to experience the entrance of life through another couple and flex that primal female muscle, as you are present for a birth just like centuries of women before.
For me it is a bit different.
I am a father of three beautiful boys, a partner, a registered massage therapist [RMT] and a certified birth doula [CD (DONA)]. I get asked quite frequently, “You’re a what?” and “ Why would you do that?” Albeit, my journey to becoming a doula may not be conventional; it certainly stems from a genuine concern for others and it is a fascinating practice that is cohesive with my education, profession, and lifestyle.
I have been a RMT for more than 13 years and my clientele, although varied, is made up of mostly women between the ages of 21-50 years of age. Throughout the years, I have noticed a pattern develop among my clients who were having babies. I would see them for their regular massage treatments prior to becoming pregnant, throughout their pregnancy, and again after their babies were born.
Where did new mothers go?
However, there was typically a break from treatment immediately after the babies arrived, which was understandable, and I always wondered what was happening with the clients and their families during those first few weeks and months postpartum. Until I had my own children, I had not fully understood how that initial period of time with a new baby can be so wonderful, yet stressful, and exhausting at the same time.
I have always been intrigued about the birth process and the care that it often takes to help women and their families get through, feeling safe and empowered. This led me on a bit of a journey of discovery. As part of my massage therapy requirements for membership in a professional association, I am required to maintain continuing education credits through attending conferences or taking courses. I used the opportunity to take a course about ‘being a massage therapist as a birth support person’. Birth has always been an area of interest for me and it allowed me to explore new ways to broaden my massage therapy practice while providing more continuity of care for my growing clientele. After taking the continuing education course, I decided to become a doula.
No role models to be found.
Trying to find the number of certified male doulas is rather difficult and I gather that I may be in the company of very few and am actually the first male to be certified by DONA International in Canada. I understand that the dominant belief in the birth community is that a mother giving birth may feel more comfortable around other women. I am sure that it is the case for some expectant mothers, but my experience has been that after the initial shock of the concept of a male doula, people tend to be very open and can quickly make sense of it.
Indeed, other male healthcare practitioners are often involved during other aspects of a woman’s journey through pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum… so why not a male doula? I recognize that I will never know what it is like to feel a life grow inside me, nor will I know what it feels like to experience a rush during labour, and I will also never know what it feels like to have a baby crowning after 10 hours of labour.
Caring is the key.
Some would argue that my inability to experience pregnancy, labour, birth, and breastfeeding first-hand puts me at a disadvantage when supporting families. I would disagree and say that I am doing all of the same work that a female doula would do with strength, skills, knowledge, empathy, and compassion for the women and families that they are working with. The only difference is that I am a man… but I am also a birth doula.
I feel that as a man, I can offer a different perspective to doula work than perhaps a woman can; no better, no worse, just different. For instance, I have received feedback from some male partners who especially appreciated have another male presence to support them through their journey as well.
This is a journey - for my clients and for me.
I have been able to start my doula journey armed with the knowledge of the courses that I have taken, the books I have read, and the guidance from other doulas that I have been able to work with. I have supported women and their families during their journeys and have found that my gender has not hindered the service I provide. What matters is that I have gained the trust of my clients and their goals become my goals; to have their birth their way. That is what is important to me.
I feel privileged to have the ability to work with families as a certified birth doula and to be able compliment the service with massage therapy if requested. I do hope that there will be more men who feel as strongly about supporting the families through the birth process as I do. There is nothing like it in the world.