It comes up all the time. The non birthing co-parent is caring, and involved. They feel confident they can support their partner, and they’re worried the doula will take their place. “You don’t need a doula. That’s the dad’s job!” The truth is, the doula works for the entire family. Supportive co-parents in the birthing space are an amazing component of a positive birth experience, and very compatible with doula care.
So how exactly do I support the non birthing partner?
Prenatally, I always encourage the partner to attend visits. It might not feel like there’s much to discuss. It’s the pregnant person who needs to prepare and make choices, right? In reality, there’s so much more to discuss. The non birthing parent may never have actually seen a birth before. Prenatal visits are a great time to discuss what to expect, how to comfort your laboring partner, what to pack if you’re planning on staying at the hospital/birth center overnight. When writing a birth plan, there are so many options for the supportive partner to consider. Do you want to cut the cord? Watch the delivery? Catch your baby? The options are limitless.
On the big day, the doula and supportive parent will likely connect quite a bit. In fact, correspondence with the non birthing parent is often my go to sign that labour is in full swing. Often the day will begin with my birthing client texting or calling to ask if I think this is really it. At a certain point as labour progresses, they’ll likely be unable to keep up a conversation and I’ll start receiving updates from their partner instead.
When I enter the room, my first point of contact is often the partner. They may want to update me on what has happened so far, how my client is holding up, and other details. There’s a perception that once doula arrives, we kick the partner to the curb. This could not be further from the truth. Perhaps the partner needs a nap after hours of labour support. Id be able to care for my client so the partner can get guilt free rest. Perhaps the partner is hungry. The parent who is not birthing is not a patient, and will not be fed in hospital. The doula can look out for the coparent and make sure they’re fed and hydrated.
Sometimes it’s just overwhelming. No one enjoys seeing someone they love in pain. Having a doula present means there’s always someone there to explain what’s happening, translate the medical jargon, give advice on how to help. Rather than taking over the supportive parent’s role, we do quite the opposite. We encourage and facilitate partners supporting each other.
You’ve done it! You supported your partner through the birth, and you have a beautiful new baby. Now what? Coparents have a big job ahead of them, especially if the birthing partner is recovering from a difficult birth. Those first baths, diaper changes, clothing changes may fall to you. Your doula can help you through it. She can answer questions as they arise. Facilitating bonding is another important detail. Perhaps your partner is breastfeeding or chest feeding and you aren’t sure how to help. Perhaps your baby is bottle fed, and you need feeding and bonding advice. Perhaps you, as the non birthing parent, are interested in sharing or taking over breastfeeding or chest feeding, but have no idea how to lactate without having delivered your baby. Your doula can help. More importantly, your doula can be a judgement free resource and shoulder to lean on.
Let’s talk about special circumstances. No one likes to imagine any problems will arise. Unfortunately, unavoidable outcomes do happen. When they do, your doula can be an unwavering support for the whole family.
Baby J’s mother went into labour prematurely. The baby was then diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. The baby’s father suddenly became sole bread winner, sole household manager, and sole carer of their older baby while the mother was on bed rest, and later, while baby spent weeks in the NICU with mom rooming in. How do you manage a household and raise a child with so much on your plate? How do you bond with a baby you can’t hold and rarely see? How can you support your partner through all of this? A doula can help answer those questions and make hard times a little more liveable.
One client’s three day induction had several complications arise. When I arrived, dad was able to take a much needed rest. When the labor resulted in dystocia in the second stage, things started to happen very quickly. It’s very difficult to watch medical staff talk amongst themselves about your babies heart, and watch your wife undergo an episiotomy, vacuum and forceps with no time for the medical team to clearly explain. As a doula, I was able to support this father and explain to him what each intervention meant as it came. When an emergency c-section was called, I was able to tell him exactly what to expect in the OR. Later, when mother and baby were separated, he was able to stay by his son’s side in special care knowing his wife was safely cared for by their doula.
Almost one in four pregnancies will end in loss, and one in seven birthing parents will experience a postpartum mood disorder. Navigating these challenges alone can be an overwhelming, emotional experience for a coparent. Your doula can be a shoulder to lean on, and a resource for appropriate resources and referrals when needed.
Consider the myth busted; doulas do not replace the non birthing parent. We support the whole family unit.