The Doula and the Partner: How They Work Together to Help the Birthing Woman By Penny Simkin, PT (reprinted with permission)
Here I will discuss some of the myths or concerns about doulas, along with the realities. They may clarify how a doula works with a woman's partner.
Myth #1 - If a woman has her partner, the doula becomes redundant
Reality - The doula may be the only person at the labour besides the partner who is there solely for the emotional well-being of the woman. The nurse, the doctor, the midwife have other priorities that compete with the emotional care of the woman; for example breaks, shift changes, clinical reponsibilities, office hours and hospital policies. The doula has few or no other priorities. She stays through the shift changes, and until after the baby is born. She is not just another stranger with the couple, she has the woman's needs as her sole priority.
In some cases, the couple will bring several other friends or family members into labour with them. Sometimes these people can be uncertain of how to help, which leads to confusion and actually adds to the woman's stress. The doula can direct and coordinate the efforts of a group of people, giving them all something useful to do, so they work as a team on the woman's behalf.
Myth #2 - The doula 'takes over', displacing the partner and interferes with their intimate experience
Reality - The doula can actually bring the couple closer. By making sure that the partner's needs are met (food, drink, occasional back rubs, and reassurance), the women and partner can work more closely together.
The doula allows for the partner to participate at his own comfort level. Some partners prefer to be there only to witness the birth of their child and to share this experience with the woman they love. They may not want to play an active role and do not want to be responsible for the woman's comfort and emotional security. The doula can fill in and allow the partner to participate as he wishes, without leaving the woman's needs unmet.
When the partner chooses to be the major source of emotional support, the doula can supplement his or her effects by running errands, making suggestions for comfort measures, and offering words of reassurance and comfort. During a long tiring labour, she can give the partner a break for a brief rest or change of scene.
For the partner who is shy, uncertain, or unversed in his or her role, the doula suggests simple but truly useful tasks such as timing contractions, holding the woman, supporting her in a particular position, massaging her. In such situations, the doula might take the lead, but the partner plays an important secondary role.
While the doula probably knows more than the partner about birth, hospital, and maternity care, the partner knows more about the woman's personality, likes and dislikes, and needs. Moreover, he loves the woman more than anyone else there. The combined contributions of partner and doula, along with a competent, considerate and caring staff give the woman the best chance of an optimal outcome.
Myth #3 - The doula has her own belief about how a birth should go, and imposes it on the woman or couple
Reality - The doula's true agenda is to help ensure that the woman's or couple's agenda (their birth plan) is acknowledged and followed as much as possible. If the doula is thoroughly familiar with the couple's wishes and their birth plan, she may actually think more about it than the couple, especially when labour is intense and things are happening rapidly. The doula can remind the staff or the couple of some items on teh birth plan that are forgotten, but later might be important. Sometimes if a birth plan is now followed, the couple later look back with regret or disappointment.
The doula helps with decision-making by asking questions that will ensure that the right information is given to the woman or couple so that they can make an informed decision. She may also suggest alternatives (like waiting awhile) for the couple to consider. She does not, however, making decisions for the couple.
In summary, the doula helps make the birth experience to be as rewarding and satisfying as possible. As one father said "I heaved a big sign of relief when she (the doula) walked in. I had not realized how much pressure I had been feeling. She not only calmed my wife, she calmed me down".