Melbourne Doula

Welcome to 'Melbourne Doula', the place where I share what birth work is teaching is me, and what I am learning from the wonderful families who have invited me to share this most special season of their lives. Here you will find information about me and the doula services I provide, birth stories from remarkable women and their loved ones, as well as all kinds of resources to enrich your own journey of discovery. And welcome also to BLISSFUL HERBS, the home of beautiful herbal teas and bath herbs to support wellness through every season of life.

Fathers & Birth

A father's place in the birth room has long been the subject of controversy. From the bad old days when fathers were sent to pace the corridoors, until recently when world-renowned obstetrician Michel Odent sparked debate by saying men should not be present for the birth, fathers can feel like the subject of an un-fun game of push-me-pull-you.

In my experience so far, it's very seldom that a father does not wish to be there, or than the mother does not wish him to be there. Bottom line - decide what you want and do that. Convention can step aside for you and your family and what is right for you at that time. I hope that fathers can feel free to be as involved as they wish to be (and as their partners desire them to be), and also be free from being obliged to be there if they don't want to be.

There is an old song I used to hear on the radio, I have no idea who sang it, but it went:
"Twas good to be young then
To be close to the earth
And to stand by your wife
At the moment of birth".

For most men, it is an awesome experience - even for those concerned about the 'gore' factor.

In my own personal experience, I found that giving birth was one of those special times of 'one-flesh' unity. My man stuck by me every step of the way and seemed to understand best what I wanted and needed. His intuition was spot on. I felt that we were bodily one unit, working together to birth our baby safely. My other wonderful attendants were on the periphery and their care and support of both of us meant a lot. But my husband was really my rock.

My hub was with me every breath, every step of the way during the birth of our first baby. He built that birth pool himself! And yes, he caught our daughter, with a sensitive midwife who placed her hands just underneath his, in case he was unprepared for how slippery she was. But it was  a great catch, and he passed her straight to me.

Homebirth is really 'dad-friendly' - in their own home, the couple are on their own turf and can be delightfully uninhibited about dealing with the challenges of birth just as they wish.

Here is something I wrote to encourage fathers who will be supporting their partner in a hospital or birth centre setting:

“Cheat Sheet” for Fathers
She’s about to have the baby, and you haven’t had time to plough through the plethora of books, articles & stuff off the internet. Birth videos make you want to leave the room and you wonder how much of what they said at the pre-natal classes you’ll remember in the heat of the moment.

Yep. Got it. I understand. It’s a lot to take in. You just want the facts, plain and simple. So here it is. If you’ve already read pages and pages on the subject, good on you: it’s like any venture – sailing a boat, raising alpacas, building a house – the more research you do to begin with, the better off you are when it comes to actually doing it. But if you’ve had no time or inclination to do more than dip into all those birth books that kept appearing her bedside table, now’s your chance for a last minute cram.

Why Your Role is Significant and Irreplaceable:
• Your role is important. Very likely, no one knows this woman and loves her like you do. The intimacy, trust and communication you’ve been building with her since you met her will hold you in good stead during the birth. No one else can give her what she needs from you.

• You made this baby together. You can bring this baby safely into the world together.

• Just be yourself. Just your presence, being right there with her, knowing that you love her, makes a tremendous difference.

• Take risks. You already know this, right? A huge part of relationships is taking risks. So, don’t be afraid to show her affection, even more than you usually do. Sometimes she won’t even notice (when she is in deep concentration). Sometimes it might not feel right and she might bat you away. Doesn’t matter. Goes with the territory. Don’t take it personally – try something else or try again later.

Emotional Factors to Bear in Mind:• Trust her instinct. She has natural wisdom within her that tells her what she needs to do to birth this baby.

• Trust your instinct, too. Men often have great instincts and can sense what is bothering their partner, and what she most wants and needs at each stage.

• You don’t have to be her coach. You don’t have to tell her what to do when. Just love her, and be there for her. She will be listening to her body, and her gut will guide her, as long as she doesn’t have others putting a damper her instinct by presuming to tell her how to give birth. It is something she does herself. Your unconditional support will mean most.

• Encouragement is like gold in labour. You’ll have your own style. Now’s the time to tell her things like, “You’re doing amazing”, “I’m so proud of you”, “I’ve never seen you so strong and so beautiful”. She’ll be telling stories about how great you were and how much your words helped for years to come.

• Talk tender in an encouraging, warm tone of voice.

• Have a thick skin – don’t take any rejection or reaction personally.

Practical Tips for Your Labour ‘Tool Kit’
• Offer, don’t ask. Lift her drink with a bendy straw near her lips in between contractions. If she wants it, she’ll take a sip. If she doesn’t, she’ll ignore it or turn her head.

• Don’t tell her how to breath, just say something like, “Breathe with me, babe!” and do it together through the contraction. Keep eye contact with her as you do this, if she likes that.

• Don’t tell her to relax. If she is finding it really hard to stay relaxed, this might make her feel like she is not doing it ‘right’. Instead, offer gentle, specific suggestions, like, “Let go of the tension in your shoulders as I massage you here,” or “Let me smooth out your brow” or “Blow like this so your lips go all floppy – that will help your cervix be soft, too.”

• Consider hiring a Doula. A Doula (a professional birth attendant) not only supports the birthing woman and understands her preferences and choices, but also supports the father. Your Doula will encourage you, provide gentle guidance if you need it, work with you in supporting your partner, and make sure that you get a chance for a bite to eat, a rest and a shower when you want to. Your Doula is there to back you up so that you can give it your all, and takes care of many of the little details so you can get on with doing what you do best – loving and supporting your partner. She can often provide reassurance when things seem a bit scary and help you maintain calm and confidence to see the birth through.

• Delegate photography. Have someone else take charge of the video and the camera. You’ll need to be there for her, in tune with her.

Your Strength Supports Her Strength
• Your physical strength will be a great support to her. If you have practised positions together, you’ll already know which ones she favours. If you have not had a chance to prepare this way, don’t stress – your doula or midwife can give you some suggestions.

• Here’s some ideas – variations on the couples’ dance of labour:

• If you’re out walking, she can lean slightly forward and hug you when a contraction starts. Bend your knees slightly to take her weight without hurting your back.
• Or, you can hold her from behind, with your arms under her armpits. Let your thighs take her weight.
• Sit in a chair, perhaps with a pillow on your lap. She can kneel on a soft mat and lean forward into your lap during a contraction. You can stroke her head, shoulders or back.
• She can kneel forward onto the bed or a chair or couch, while you rub her back or apply pressure to her sacrum.
• Stand opposite her, and sway side to side with her as she stands with legs apart. She may want to hold onto your forearms, or hold you around your neck. You’ll find your groove together.
• She can squat or kneel up with one arm around your shoulders and the other arm around the doula’s shoulders.
• If she is sitting forward off the edge of a chair, birth ball or bed, you can kneel in front of her and take her completely into your arms.
• The two of you will find your own way and invent some holds of your own along the way.

Remember, next to herself, no one else knows this woman’s body as well as you do. You may already have a good idea of her style when it comes to dealing with pain, how she perseveres through tough times, and what she likes (and doesn’t like) when she is hurting, stressed or under pressure.

Be Her ‘Guardian Angel’• Be the guardian of her birthplace. Protect her privacy. Turn off the phone, close the door, restrict visitors, dim the lights.

• Be a gate-keeper. You can request that anyone entering knocks before entering, gives their name and role, and explains what they are going to do before approaching your partner. You can ask that they keep their voices quiet and gentle, and do not try to engage your partner in discussion when she is deeply concentrating.

• Direct traffic. You can ask unwanted personnel or visitors to leave the room.

• Be her advocate. You can ask for time and privacy to discuss a decision before giving consent. You can speak up for the birth preferences she has written down in her birth plan. It is not the time for her to be assertive, because she has to concentrate on opening up and letting the birth happen. It is a time for you to stand up for her and be assertive on her behalf, when necessary.

• Take 5. Watch out for “We’re just going to ...” language. That usually means they want to whip in there and do something that is standard practice (like an episiotomy). That’s your cue to say, “Wait a minute. Please give us 5 minutes of privacy to talk this over.”

• Use Your BRAIN – when any intervention is proposed, ask, what are the Benefits? The Risks? The Alternatives? What is her Intuition telling her? What if we do Nothing?

Tender Loving CareWhat she needs to give birth is amazingly similar to what she needed to conceive in the first place. The hormones involved are the same. Remember the things that help set the right atmosphere when this baby first came into being:

• privacy
• warmth
• physical comfort
• a sense of security and safety
• tender loving care; supportiveness
• mood music
• soft lighting or darkness
• pleasing smells and fragrances
• pleasurable touching, massage and caressing
• respect
• autonomy and equality: a just balance of power
• trust
• freedom to be uninhibited, as and when and in the way she chooses, without constraints
• warm water to submerge and float in (think of how lovers love spa pools!)

These are the sorts of things that help the hormones necessary for birth to flow. You can help things along further by arranging for privacy and, if she’s open to the idea, having some romance and sensuality together – kissing, cuddling, and nipple stimulation. It might seems strange to be making out with her during or in between contractions, but it helps get that oxytocin flowing, just like during sex – and it helps her feel great and reduces pain. Sometimes when labour seems ‘stuck’ this is all that is needed – and it sure beats more drastic interventions like an I.V. of artificial oxytocin.

Welcoming Your Baby:
• Make sure the room is quite warm.
• Ask that the lights be dimmed just before the baby emerges.
• Call for quiet.
• Many fathers help catch the baby. You can too, if you both wish.

• Feel free to ask other personnel to stay as quiet as possible at the moment of birth, so that you can both ‘have’ your own instinctive response to such a momentous event, and so that you can discover and announce the sex yourselves.

• Ideally, your baby should be handed straight up onto the mother’s belly or into her arms, and then time should be given for the three of you to get to know each other. If anything seems to be interrupting this precious, important skin-to-skin bonding time, ask them to hold off until later (except for essential life-saving interventions, of course). Routine infant exams, baths etc can wait – don’t let anyone rush you.

• You can be the one to cut the cord if you wish. If you have chosen an unrushed third stage, you might need to speak up and ask that this is delayed rather than routinely hurried. Some fathers say a little blessing or prayer when they cut the cord. Alternatively, you can plan a Lotus Birth.

• Everyone in the room, yourself included, needs to respect her need to connect with her baby during this post-birth time when the ‘falling in love’ hormones are flowing in both mother and baby, to allow optimum bonding. So be there, but realise that she’ll be focused on her baby, and this is natural and necessary. Protect that precious first hour. It will never come again. The peak flow of hormones that occurs at this time promotes optimum bonding and sets the mother up for easier breast-feeding and mothering. This can make all the difference to reducing post-natal depression and frustrations later. Don’t let anything or anyone compromise this.

This Dad caught their baby, just a few moments before this pic was taken. His assessment of the experience was pretty candid. "Well that p****s all over (the previous, very medicalised) birth!" Photo and anecdote used with permission!

The ‘Babymoon’
The first 6 weeks are an important time of healing and recovery for the mother as well as a time of loving and enjoying this amazing new person in your lives. Many modern mothers feel like they’ve got to be up and resuming their usual routine within a few days or weeks. But this precious time with this tiny baby will never come again. Don’t rush it (because our society’s vibe is ‘rush’) – savour it! Your partner might be feeling restless and eager to get ‘back to normal’, but she needs this time of rest and bonding, and her future motherhood will go easier if she gets the benefit of this time. So do what you can to make her babymoon as pleasant and stress-free as possible.

* Improve your serve – bring her drinks & food to fuel her milk supply and energy. Breastfeeding is thirsty – and hungry – work

* Tame the Tribe – take over care of the older children as far as possible

* Keep the Nest Tidy – keeping the place in order will reduce her stress. Hire a housekeeper if you can, or hire the doula to come and tidy through

* Be a Shareholder - your baby needs your fatherly nurturing as much as he/she need breastmilk and motherly nurturing. Get in plenty of cuddles, carrying and hands-on care as you can so you can bond too.

* It Takes Time … it might take a while for her to be ready for sex or intimacy (weeks – even months). Be patient …. The day will come when she is desperate to re-connect with you as Lover after weeks of being Mum. Keep your heart open till that happens ….

* Guard her sleep – childbirth takes it out of a woman’s body and she needs sleep to recover. Her sleep will already be broken from nighttime parenting, and sleep deprivation can exacerbate depression. So, do all you can to help her get as much rest and sleep as she can. Guard your sleep too – you may need to take a turn with the baby in the night and still get up to work in the morning so chances are you’re tired too. The odd night’s unbroken sleep in the spare room might be a sanity saver for both.

* If someone offers help, accept! One couple I know had a basket on their coffee table. It contained little cards with jobs that needed doing, such as vacuuming, shopping, dishes, laundry, take older child to the park for a play, clean toilet & bathroom, sweep the floor, take out rubbish etc. Visitors were invited to take a card from the basket if they asked, “What can I do to help?” (Visitors unlikely to ask that question are best refused visitation rights until the mother has fully recovered from birth – i.e., after 6 weeks. At least!)

** Men at Birth - a website especially for fathers by Australian writer, David Vernon. David writes, "Men don’t talk about birth. Certainly not easily and so much of their knowledge about birth comes from television portrayals of birth — screaming women, sirens and panic. Such images are untrue for the great majority of births. But what is the reality? In Men at Birth, thirty-three men tell their stories. These stories reassure, educate and prepare men for the birth of the child. Research shows that well prepared men, support their women well and this leads to an easier birth and better bonding by the man with his baby and his partner."

** Here's an article by Aussie dad, Steve Perkin, talking about his experiences with the births of his four children.

** I love this article: The 7 Secrets of Being a Homebirth Dad

The only thing is, I don't concur with this little bit at the end: "You are a key part of a home birth. The mother needs you and is relying on you. In a way it's a shame when it's all over because you revert back to being a useless man again before the midwives' leftover tea goes cold."

No way is the father merely "a useless male" once the birth is over - far from it. Maybe we need to talk more about the man's role in supporting breastfeeding, preserving the babymoon healing/bonding time, and enhancing attachment parenting. She'll need you even more mate, once the baby is here, like never before. The birth is only the beginning and although the journey is tough, it'll make a man out of you like nothing else (just like the way it's making a woman out of her.)

The early years of parenting are a pivotal time on a man's road to maturity, a time when tiny helpless babies and hero-worshipping little ones bring out his nurturing side, and the needs of his wife, physically and emotionally, for support, understanding, tenderness and affection, will pave the way for the loving, loyal father and partner to be the adored hero of the piece. Yes a lot of deferred gratification and sacrificial love is involved, but hang in there, all that you put in now will come back to you in spades, months, years and decades down the track.

If you ever feel like, "Well, she's got the babies now and she's totally wrapped in them, she doesn't need me anymore and she hasn't got time for us anymore, this sucks" you certainly won't be the first or last father who has felt that from time to time. It is biologically and hormonally normal for a new mother to be caught up in nurturing her baby and to have a lower libido for a while. Don't take it personally, it's about survival of the species! This season will not last forever and it is a very important season in the life of a healthy family. Both mother and father are tested in their capacity for sacrificial love and delayed gratification at this time, and both are challenged to mature through it.

And your relationship will mature and benefit through it too. The practical, hands-on help my husband gave during our baby-having years is something I have never forgotten. There is something about seeing your strong man tenderly cradling a tiny, upset newie and seeing the baby settle in his arms that turns a mother's heart to pure marshmallow. The cups of tea he brought me and the meals he served me during the weeks I struggled with breastfeeding had me regard him as some kind of miracle-man/fairy godmother (father?) who had just produced a winning lotto ticket. "You COOKED??" (Not because it was at all unusual for him to cook, we always shared everything - but mustering up the strength and headspace to prepare a meal was just so beyond me at that point, I was in wonderment that he could!)

It's like anything, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it.

** This is an insightful lecture by John W. Travis in which he discusses the fall out for society as a result of birth practices that disrupt the critical bonding window for mothers and babies at birth. An understanding of this, and the affect on individuals and communities, will help us to value and protect that time immediately after birth, as well as understand where much of the angst we see in the world around us has stemmed from.
Why Dads Leave

Here is an article about the book, "Why Dads Leave" by Meryn G. Callander, with forward by her husband, John Travis.

Fathers Describe Homebirth as 'Magical'
January 5, 2015
The Research:
Background: In Ireland, planned home birth is seen as an alternative but safe choice of maternity care. Women’s experience of home birth is reported as positive but little is known about fathers’ thoughts and feelings about planned home birth.
Aim: The aim of the study was to explore fathers’ experience of planned home birth.
Method: Hermeneutic phenomenology was selected to explore the experiences of eight fathers whose partners had a recent planned home birth. Data were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA).
Results: Themes identified were ‘negotiating the decision’, ‘ownership of the birth’ and ‘changed way of being’. Fathers overcame their initial reservations about home birth before the decision to plan a home birth was agreed. They were actively involved with their partner in labour which gave themselves a sense of ownership of the experience and a valued post-birth intimacy. Their belief in natural birth was reaffirmed and the experience gave them a new perspective on life.
Conclusion: When men have a positive experience of childbirth they benefit personally and emotionally. This experience can strengthen their relationship with their partner and the family. Midwives are ideally placed to involve fathers actively in birth either in a home or hospital setting.

Here's a personal perspective from a father: Confessions of a rockstar dad

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Julie,

What a wonderful piece about the importance of men at birth. I have been writing about men and birth for sometime and it is rare to come across such a succinct and helpful lot of advice!

Men DO want to be at the birth of their child but often their anxiety and doubt arises from not knowing what to do. Men find considerable comfort in having a doula or midwife whom they have managed to develop a personal relationship. Such men are more relaxed and therefore get to not only enjoy the amazing experience of the birth of their child, but are also far more helpful to their partner.

Thanks for your work towards helping men overcome their natural reticence towards birth and find the joy in working with their partner to achieve a wonderful result.

With best wishes,

David Vernon
Editor "Men at Birth" and "Having a Great Birth in Australia"