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Monday, November 15, 2010

"He ain't creepy, he's my doula"

I've heard some buzz lately about a new Vince Vaughn movie due (no pun intended) to come out next year called "Male Doula." To some people, this might be the first time they ever hear the word, much less understand what a doula does.

My first exposure to doulas was back when I worked at a newspaper, and the reporter in the cubicle behind me was doing an article on them. I never dreamed I'd ever understand their importance during labor and birth, much less hire one myself one day.

Hot towel, anyone?
Although our conversation about male doulas on my FaceBook page was meant to be somewhat comical, a reader posted a link about real-life male doula Keith Roberts, who has been serving his clients for over a decade. He rides a Harley, brings a crockpot to warm towels, and helps assist a laboring mother just the way any other doula would, with one exception: he's a man.

This article recounts his time as a massage therapist, and how that segued into becoming a doula. He also tells the rather sad tale of being relegated to watch the births of his two children from behind glass because he, like so many other men in that time period, was barred entry to the delivery room.

There is, apparently, some controversy surrounding male doulas. Some - even members of the Canadian Doula Association, who has no male members - wonder if they are "sickos who get off on childbirth," according to the association's president.

Some find them creepy, and on some message boards I've read, women have said they wouldn't want a man filling that role. Some have even asserted that midwives should be female, too, which I find absurd. If they can offer talents and a level of skill that prevents you from unnecessary interventions and cesarean, and they just happen to be male, are you going to turn them down?

I find that so sad. Yes, there probably are some people who have their weird fetishes, but honestly - would they go to the trouble of getting themselves certified? Why is it that we automatically assume, as our predecessors of the 1960s and 70s, that men who want to support a woman in labor either can't possibly know what they're doing, can't be taken seriously because they don't have a vagina, or are a threat - and are therefore useless in the labor room?

Perhaps Mr. Roberts can provide support to the dad as well, who is often a sounding board for ideas and threats against mom's ability to labor. If there is a supportive male presence in the room to help bolster dad, then he can be a better support system for his laboring partner. When a doctor wants mom to give in to a particular intervention and mom isn't agreeing, they often look to dad in order to strong-arm the patient into consenting. If dad caves in, then mom sometimes follows.

One dad, whose wife had a 40-hour labor with the assistance of Mr. Roberts, said he didn't mind his presence and the couple felt they never would have had the natural birth they desired without Roberts' help. Dad also didn't consider it any different than having a male doctor.

And as it was pointed out, Dr. Biter - who has been nicknamed "Dr. Wonderful" - is very patient-supportive and often called a 'male midwife in disguise.' What's the difference? Dr. Biter, and every male OB out there, have never given birth; but it doesn't mean they can't give you quality care. And really, there are lots of female OBs who probably have never given birth either - so does that really have to be a qualification?

As far as care provider gender preferences, some people prefer a female OB because it's perceived that she is more connected to the pregnant patient by virtue of the fact that she's female, or because she has children, so that makes her a "better" caregiver. However, it's been my experience - and probably lots of other people - that that "connection" somehow gives her the authority to coerce or lead you into certain decisions because "I have a uterus, too, so I know what it's like." Um... not quite.

One man mentioned in the article was apparently barred entry into midwifery and prenatal yoga teaching classes because of his gender, which I find perplexing and sexist. Who's to say he doesn't have anything to offer his clients, even though he's male? I find it sad that our society assumes that there is something somehow wrong or sick with a man wanting to fill a role otherwise reserved for the stereotypically nurturing female. It reminds me of the British dad who was confronted by another female parent because he was photographing his children - and no one else's - while out in public, and she suspected he was a pedophile. Why? Just because he's a male? People often want men to be all warm and fuzzy and "get in touch with their female side!," and yet when they do, they're either perceived as "sickos" or homosexuals. Huh? Just because they're not grunting, standing glassy-eyed in front of the TV, beer can and remote in hand?

As for Mr. Roberts, while he was denied the privilege of supporting his wife Jane in the births of their children, he acted as a doula to his daughters during the births of his two grandchildren. Good for him!

Debbie Young, president of DONA International, thinks that "it takes having a warm heart, a passion for helping pregnant and postpartum women and the training [to make] you a good doula," not whether you're a man or woman, or even if you have personal experience giving birth. I agree!

Regardless of whether the doula is male or female, they've been shown to do tremendous good to the laboring mother. Anyone who can help you manage pain, possibly lower your chances of having a cesarean and just provide attention and support in what can be a somewhat chaotic, sterile environment, is worth it to me, regardless of gender. Who wouldn't want that?

More reading on gender bias and obstetric caregivers:
Burn the Male Midwife! - Rixa Freeze at Stand and Deliver


Breezy Peterson said...

Well done! I am on point with everything you said. And I am intrigued by the line of thought that a caregiver might turn to Dad to help push Mom into a direction she might not want to go. I've seen it happen at just about every birth I've attended as a doula, with the exception of a client who was a single mother and had no interest in her sperm donor being present. My ears definitely perked up as I read that!

Like I said, I'm a bit cautious about the "Male Doula" movie, and I too was a little put off by the interview questions. Why would a male doula be funny...? I can forsee dozens of situations where comedy could be construed but only in ways that perpetuate the male-at-his-partner's-birth stereotype: he's bewildered, grossed out, uncomfortable, useless and helpless.

::sigh:: Hopefully, it is better than I am hoping for it to be. You know what they say about having low expectations...

The Deranged Housewife said...

I've heard it happen quite a bit, even before labor. A quick scan through "My OB Said What?!" tells me that it's alive and well - dad is perceived as the "authority" figure and like he can override any bad decisions about birth that mom might want to make, since it's "half his kid" kind of mentality or something. Lots of caregivers bully mom into signing consent forms, etc. because dad has caved in to the pressure.

I can't remember where I read the story - maybe if someone knows or I do a google search I can find it - about a mother who did NOT want an episiotomy and dad was totally behind her 100 percent throughout the entire birth. The doctor was about to open the kit and use it - even though she made it quite clear she didn't want it - and dad "accidentally" knocked over the tray. I thought that was the best.story.ever! :D

tabitha said...

if a mom wants a man at her birth, who am i to argue? But on a personal level, i would never want a man not my huband to attend my birth, and i would not hire a midwife or doula that had not had a child either. I personally do not believe that a woman who has never given birth has the full skill set i need at my birth