I don’t often get so personal on this blog, but I think this topic very much ties into birth so it’s going here. And I am interrupting my Pro Tips series to get something off my chest that has been weighing me down for a good long while.
I am sick, sick, SICK of being ignored, friends. As I chatted with a couple new doula friends a few weeks back, one brought up this topic and she mentioned a personal experience of her own. She said that when she had moved to Houston and needed to get a Texas driver’s license, she looked up what she needed online and brought everything to the DMV. She waited and waited in a long line only to be told she was missing something once she finally got her turn. She asked if there was some way they could help her so that she didn’t have to go back home and gather what was needed and wait in that awful line again and was told no. Then she cried. And you know what happened next? They helped her. Why did they not just help her in the first place?
And since that conversation, I have been paying attention to my interactions with both my kids and my husband here at home. And you know what? The vast majority of the time, I am ignored the first time I say something. And often even the second and third. It is not until I either get crazy mad or really upset and cry that I am taken seriously. WHY???? I am not into the business of husband-bashing. Truth is, my husband is incredible and I love him dearly. But, he doesn’t often take me serious the first time I tell him something. Actually, he doesn’t often even hear me or register that I have said something to him the first time I say it. And it’s not that he’s insensitive or mean or whatever. It’s a strange phenomenon, really. He truly has no recollection of me telling him many of the things I say until I’ve said them two or three or four times and often not until I make a big fuss about it. And you know what? My three kids do the very same thing to me. Just now, as they were doing their chores in the kitchen after lunch and I was doing some work at the computer in our bedroom, I hear the younger two arguing. I listen for a minute and finally call out “What’s going on out there?” Nothing. So I try again, “What’s the matter, kids?” Again, nothing. This time, I just burst. I am MAD. And I go flying out to the kitchen and shout “EVERYBODY STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING NOW!” They all stop and stare at me and I calmly say “Raise your hand if you heard me calling from the bedroom asking what was going on out here just now.” Friends, all three of my dear children raised their hands. And then they all three confessed that they did in fact hear me call out not just once, but two times. And I. Lost. It. Whatever “it” is, is now spattered and sprayed all over my kitchen as I turned into a screeching and screaming monster exclaiming that I am DONE with everyone ignoring me and will not be ignored any longer. Then I took away their screen time indefinitely. Now I have their attention. They’re all crying. But not because they feel bad for ignoring me all the time. Nope, they feel bad for themselves because they can’t watch their favorite TV show today. But I’m going to talk to them once I cool off and explain the very important lesson that I want them to learn here: Everybody’s thoughts and feelings matter and you need to pay attention to them, especially when it is a loved one.
And this is where I can relate this to birth. How many pregnant moms out there sit in the OB’s office with a birth plan only to be refused some of the things they want for their birth? How many expecting moms out there feel like their provider brushes off their concerns, isn’t really listening to or understanding them, is rushed, disconnected, or just too busy? How many pregnant moms out there feel that their OBs talk down to them and treat them like children when they express their desires or concerns for their birth?How many expecting moms out there feel that their husbands just don't understand why some things are so important to them? I am not a betting woman, but I bet it’s a huge number. And I bet it’s a pretty large number of these expecting mothers that just politely shut up at that point. Why? Why is our culture devaluing what women have to say about an event that is so incredibly important and sacred, an event for which we were given the ability to instinctually know what is best for us? Why does our culture generally encourage women to always be quiet and polite and not make a fuss while simultaneously conditioning everyone else to not take women seriously if they are being nice and quiet and polite?
I am telling you that I have had enough. And I’m asking you to join me in that. That doesn’t mean we have to get mean or lose “it” all over the kitchen every day. But, be firm. Don’t just shut up when you’re ignored or talked down to or brushed off. Especially when it’s about your birth. Who cares if everyone around you thinks you’re crazy and doesn’t understand why you want what you want? If it’s important to you, get it! And if you need help in that, or need to have someone totally on your team, who will support you in what you want even if everyone else thinks you’re crazy….hire a doula. That’s what we do. I will support you giving birth hanging from the chandelier if that’s something that’s important to you. You are worthy of being listened to. Your thoughts and feelings are important.
Make yourselves be heard, mamas.
While interviewing with potential clients, I am asked a lot of questions. Some are sort of bizarre. Some are creative. Some are repeated often and asked by many. There are some questions that definitely have a common theme:
“How will you work with my husband?”
“Will you replace me?” (asked by the husband/father)
“Will I have anything to do with a doula there?” (aked by the husband/father)
“What about my husband? How will he be involved in the birth with you there?”
“Will you support my husband, too?”
See the theme? Both moms and dads are sometimes curious about how dads and doulas work together and worried about a doula taking dad's place in the birth of their baby.
I'm here to assure you, I do not and will not take dad's place during a birth. I have no desire to do that. (Although I have supported a couple moms who did not have her husband/the baby's father at the birth.) I support BOTH mom and dad.
What does that look like? How do I support both mom and dad? How do I work together with dad? I'm a list maker, so here's a list to answer those questions.
1. I am an extra set of hands.
I can be a gopher while dad is with mom. I am able to refill mom and dad's water, grab a snack for mom and/or dad, warm up rice socks, get a cool washcloth for mom, run for a barf bag when mom feels naeuseous, track down extra pillows, shut the door, turn down the lights, turn on some music all while dad focuses uninterrupted on mom. I can support mom while dad uses the bathroom, takes a quick shower, gets something to eat, or takes a catnap. I can rub mom's back while she leans into/on dad. I can massage mom's feet while dad strokes her hair and whispers encouragement. I can apply counter-pressure to mom's hips/back while mom slow dances in dad's arms.
2. I can help dad be helpful to mom.
Even the best prepared dad forgets what he learned in childbirth class once labor begins. I will remember what labor positions are most helpful for back pain. I will remember how often mom is supposed to eat and drink and pee. I will remember what is helpful when mom feels naeuseous. I will remember what signs to look for to know when it's time to go to the birth place. I can set the tone and hold the space with things like candles, essential oils and music, making sure the door is closed and everyone is speaking softly so that dad is able to completely focus on mom.
And even better....I will know things that were not covered in childbirth class and make dad look like a genuious when I suggest that he does things that he's never heard of or seen before but are some how exactly what mom needs.
4. I am experienced, educated, and trained in labor support. I am a birth professional.
I have had two natural births of my own and have attended 29 births now as a doula. I've felt what mom is feeling, both physically and emtionally. I have read countless books, articles and studies about birth. I have attended several workshops taught by the country's top professionals. I know birth. If I don't know the answer to something, I have many resources and a large network of other doulas and professionals to turn to.
5. I am a calm, reassuring, intuitive presence.
I often see a worried/concerned/scared look on dad's face for different reasons during some point in labor. And I can reassure him that what is happening is normal and that everything is OK. Sometimes, the sensations mom feels during labor can be a bit scary for her and I can assure her that everything is fine, and she is doing a good job birthing her baby. I have been told by many clients that I have great intuition and somehow know what mom needs without her saying it. I am not emotionally invested/connected to mom and baby in the same way that dad is and can offer an objective perspective when needed.
I am able to remain calm and present in the rare circumstances that something may not go as planned and help mom and dad through difficult situations.
Dads and doulas play very different but equally important roles on the birth team. Dad knows and loves mom best. I know (and love!) birth best. I work for and with dad as he supports mom. And I love it.
Dads, what do you think was the most helpful thing your doula did for YOU? Comment below!
*Photo credit: Traci Greve and Kara Holden
Amber Piller - Professional Birth Doula and owner of Agape Birth Services. Serving Northwest Houston including Jersey Village, Cypress, Tomball, Spring, and Katy Texas.