Keith Roberts is unfazed by the attention given him as the first man to be certified as a doula by DONA.  He has has spent over 30 years in the field of holistic care, specifically focusing on pregnancy massage therapy and birth support for the last fourteen.  The prenatal massage work he does was a segue to following one mother right into labor where he found expert massage therapy was extremely beneficial to her in labor.  She was the first of fifteen more mothers he supported in labor before he determined to pursue certification as a doula.

Keith is perhaps more determined than female doulas to not replace fathers at birth.  The female support presence is invaluable because she is female and yet that bond is one that many a father may meet with trepidation: a club that he can’t be a member of by virtue of his gender.  Keith recalls an image that influences his genuine welcome of the father, an old cover of International Doula.  The cover’s image showed a mother embraced by her doula and the father is in the background.  Many a father today may not care to be present for labor but just as many men know there was a battle fought by Dr. Robert Bradley and the Hathaways to protect a father’s right to be in the labor and delivery rooms.

Those men who do want to be present for their child’s birth are already engaged in a checklist of all that they are expected to be today: he is to know everything about birth because he will be the mother’s advocate allowing her to focus on her labor; this he must accomplish while also providing physical, mental and emotional comfort.  Then after the baby is born he must strike the perfect balance between staying with mother throughout third stage and going with his baby should there be a medical reason to separate mother and baby.  As many a partner has put it, he/she must be everywhere, have eyes in the back of their heads and know how to play football, delivery room football that is.

Keith’s role is primarily for physical comfort.  It is easy for mom to choose between the two males present for her emotional and mental support….dad is her intimate partner.  “(Partners) are a reflection of mother’s state-of-mind; they tend to follow her lead and birth is just as much of an unknown to them as it is for mom.  They (dads) have as much a desire to meet birth at mother’s level of comfortability and she will want dad in front of her, to see him and be held by him.”  Further, for all of the reasons listed above, men appreciate having another male present in the primarily female energy until and unless a male obstetrician walks in for a few minutes of observation, medical speak and then exits.

When asked how he perceived the choice of a woman to invite doulas, let alone a male doula, to their births over their mothers even Keith’s keen observation of relationships is quick to surface.  In his experience few mothers want their own mothers present because they will feel a need to perform or meet parental expectations whether real or imagined.  Having their own mothers present is often an overwhelming thought no matter how comedic, true or polite the response is expressed!

Keith’s own intimate insight into birth as someone who could not experience birth for themselves but supports laboring women gives invaluable advice to partners.  These are his experienced Natural Birth Critical Factors:

  • Once you are in labor you cannot stop the flow of birth care you signed up for.  Choose wisely.
  • Read. Read. Read.  Take a natural childbirth class and read some more! A natural childbirth experienced and focused birth class leaves mothers and their partners with less “unkowns” and less fear of those unknowns.
  • Learn about fetal positioning.  The more you know about baby presentations and how to encourage optimal ones and work with less than optimal ones the more sense prudent changing of positions in labor makes.
  • Your choice of birth care practitioner directly relates to your odds of having a cesarean!
  • Keep the bag of waters intact!  Artificial rupturing of membranes (AROM) or artificially breaking the bag of waters is trivialized.  EVERY practitioner knows that within a short while of breaking the bag of waters labor intensifies in a ratcheted manner (versus a natural progression) and the majority of women will subsequently ask for an epidural.
  • Hire a doula for the purpose you want be it physiological support, birth knowledge, support for dad.  In all cases the doula can alleviate what stresses you most leaving you better able to meet labor’s demands with all of your own energy.
  • It is very hard to buck the system therefore, go back to Critical item number one.
  • Lastly, but more importantly, he reminds mothers that they have their own voice.  A doula will provide his/her opinion if asked but will never make a mother’s choice for her.  Mom must convey her choice directly to her careprovider and partners must be prepared to be be the first line of support echoing mother’s choice and minimize the number of minutes he/she might otherwise spend playing football by putting all that you’ve learned in a natural childbirth class into action.  Learn more about how your doula can best help you.

Through supporting women in labor hands on, so to speak, Keith has gained a whole new appreciation for the courage of women and for the hospital birth experience.  He concurs with Penny Simkin’s address at the DONA conference in Washington D.C. three years ago where stated the doula backlash is very real.  Keith advises new doulas to be mindful of their standards of practice and ethics.  Unless they have an established relationship with local practitioners then their voice, necessary for the support of laboring women, must be viewed as respectful of the practitioner and facility as well.  Birth is a hands on experience for the obstetricians and nurses themselves.  This is an opportunity for them to observe truly natural childbirth and learn.  If the doula is not respectful and professional in conveying her knowledge and experiences then the entire birth community suffers the backlash.

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