For Fathers, From Fathers

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Much of my work is about supporting and educating mothers wherever they are on their parenting paths. But, many don’t realize how much a doula and childbirth educator also works for the partners of expectant mothers. As Father’s Day approaches, I’ve been thinking a lot about the fathers I’ve been blessed to meet and work with. I wanted to do something to honor them, and all of the amazing fathers out there who make a difference every day. So dads, this post is for you! (I’d also like to recognize that not all labor partners or parenting partners are dads. But, since it’s Father’s Day, this post is aimed at fathers. I plan to do another post soon for all partners, regardless of sex or title.)

In Spiritual Midwifery, Ina May Gaskin says, “It does a man good to see his lady being brave while she has their baby-it inspires him.” I have certainly seen this to be true. But, it’s important for men to understand that this goes both ways. It does a woman good to see her man being supportive, loving, and involved in the pregnancy and birth of their child! As a doula, some of the most beautiful moments I witness are those first moments of becoming for the parents…the look on mom’s face, the look on dad’s face when they meet their newest family member for the first time…these moments are priceless and unforgettable. I am brought to tears every time by the tenderness, joy, surprise, awe, love, and pride I see cross fathers’ faces during labor and birth. It is always a deep honor to witness these moments and they continually inspire me.

I also truly enjoy and appreciate the participation of dads in my Prepared for Birth classes. The entire series is built not just on preparing women for labor and birth, but also on preparing partners to feel comfortable with the process and to know how to provide presence and support in a way that is meaningful to both of them. Partners offer a unique perspective and I always learn a lot from their input and questions. I feel grateful that we live in an era in which dads are welcome and encouraged to participate fully in the process of childbirth education and parenting. It bodes well for the children being born to two parents who are involved in such a loving and eager way!

But, enough about my perspective on fathers in the birth world! What we really want to hear is what the dads have to say! At postpartum visits and in surveys, I often ask partners, “What do you wish you had known before this process began? What did you learn that you would share with other partners?” I’ve gotten some great responses ranging from hilarious to game-changing. What I’d like to share in this post is some of the words of wisdom about that specific moment of *becoming* a father and the early days of parenting. Because I’ve gotten so much great response from this question, I plan to write another post soon with pregnancy and labor advice for and from partners.

I also asked the 2 wonderful men I am lucky enough to co-parent with and received some awesome insight from them both. I’ve added theirs in the list below.

With no further ado, here are fathers on becoming fathers:

“I can’t believe how much I love her. I never could’ve anticipated how much I would like things like dancing her to sleep or wearing her (in a baby carrier). My daughter is really fun to be with.”

“I know you talked a lot in class about how dads can do skin-to-skin time with the baby too and how important it is for bonding for the dad and the baby. That was really important to me and I think it helped a lot to do that right from the start whenever S couldn’t hold him.”

“At the baby’s birth, in a way unlike any other time, fathers don’t have nursing to automatically plug them and baby into each other and time near stops. Finding the way to be with their folk in those moments is a potentially deep quest, and remembering we were like that, and our fathers, etc…”

“It was so wild! I couldn’t believe it was over when she pushed him out and he was here. It went so fast (for me!) It was just the best feeling when he was out. That whole process of having a baby is so amazing. I can’t imagine not being there for that moment.”

“The first night in the hospital, you and your partner are in charge of the baby. When the baby is up in the middle of the night, you’re up. I always imagined a nurse would come in to respond, but that is not the case. Very naïve on my part but just something I didn’t know. And the guy is not supposed to say that they are tired to the birth partner the days after labor. Because the one who gave birth will be much more exhausted and in recovery.”

“Don’t expect to sleep and don’t think that if you get one good night of sleep that the next will be the same. In the words of Douglas Adams, ‘Don’t panic.’ Just relax, enjoy, appreciate, and marvel. Oh, and make yourself useful. (I don’t always agree with that cheeky train but in this instance it’s appropriate.”

“I wish I had known how hard it would be to go back to work after he was born. I just wanted to be home with them. I couldn’t think about anything else at work. I kept calling her to see what he was doing.  Dads should really get more time off to be with their kids too.”

“Relax, because you care, because you tried, you learned, and you love…You will do your best, in labor and in fatherhood… Allow the experience, and the ultimate outcome to overwhelm you and enjoy the true paradigm shift that naturally takes over when your child is born.”

“Be prepared for the most grueling and rewarding experience of your life.”

“Enjoy every second. It will be over before you know it so try to take a moment and take in the awesomeness that is the birth of your child. Trust me it is an experience you will not want to forget.”

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Heartfelt thanks to all the dads who’ve welcomed me as part of their family’s birth teams and an extra shout out to the dads who shared their words of wisdom and love.

Fathers, what thoughts do you have to share about your experience of “becoming Daddy”?

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Red Flags: 3 Signs Your Care Provider is Not a Good Fit for You

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(Please note: for the purposes of this list, I use they/them pronouns to refer to care providers in order to make the language open to all possibilities.)

  1. You feel anything less than SEEN, HEARD, AND RESPECTED in your visits.

You deserve to be treated as if your time, concerns and questions matter.  Do you have time to ask your doctor or midwife all of your questions or do you feel rushed?  Do you feel satisfied and confident with the responses to your questions or are you met with disapproval for asking them? Examples of “red flag” responses to questions might include: “I’m the one who went to medical school.  Why don’t you let me decide that?” or “You don’t need to ask so many questions.  I’ve been doing this for a long time,” or “You think you want a natural birth now but just wait!  You’ll be begging me for the epidural when you’re in labor.”

If someone so readily dismisses your desires or insults your values in a prenatal visit, this is not a good sign that your wishes will be respected in labor.  (A related sign of disrespect is the use of the word “let”, as in “I don’t let my patients go over 40 weeks.” You are the consumer and this is your body.  Your care provider’s job is to provide you with information and recommendations based on their education, experience, and the evidence so that you can make the best decisions for you.  It is NOT their job to decide whether or not you are allowed to do anything!

 

2. They do not practice evidence-based care.

You deserve care that is based on what the best evidence shows is safest and healthiest for you and your baby, not just care that is most convenient or routine for your care provider.

A care provider’s rates of interventions (such as induction, episiotomy, or cesarean) tell a story about the sort of birth they routinely attend and the mode of care with which they feel most comfortable.  If these rates are not within recommended guidelines or if your care provider tells you they are unwilling or unable to provide statistics on these things, then it’s red flag time.

An independent childbirth class can help you understand how to find and use evidence, and how to ask questions about your care in the moment.  Some wonderful resources for researching evidence include:

http://evidencebasedbirth.com/

http://www.improvingbirth.org/

http://www.childbirthconnection.org/

Responses like, “This is just how we do it in this practice because we’ve found it works best,” or, “Sure, I’ll let you do whatever you want as long as the baby isn’t in danger,” don’t answer the actual concern or show a willingness to make a real change in the way of practicing.  Look for specific details on how they plan to support you in having the safest and most satisfying birth for you, and a willingness to work on a solid plan with you for following through.

Outside of a provider’s statistics, the stories you hear from others about care received from them can also help paint a picture of their routine of care. I’m not suggesting you change care providers based on one negative story.  Doctors and midwives are human and therefore, like all of us, have bad days and make mistakes.  But if there is a pattern that develops in several stories, it can be indicative of a mode of practice or birth philosophy.  It’s unrealistic to think a care provider will suddenly begin behaving differently than their history suggests they have consistently behaved in the past.  When asking for feedback about a care provider, pay attention to the stories coming from people who value the same sort of birth you’re planning (whether or not they had this sort of birth).  Your local ICAN chapter may also be a good place to learn about care providers who are a good fit for your birth preferences.

 

3. You have a bad feeling.

Trust your intuition.  Even if you can’t put your finger on a specific reason, your inner wisdom has something to tell you. Those feelings coming from your gut actually play a valuable part in smart decision making!

 

Your choice of care provider has a big impact on your birth outcome and birth satisfaction.  You and your baby deserve the best possible care at this important time.

If, after reading this list, some red flags have been raised, here’s are some posts about exploring the idea of switching to a new care provider.

http://www.fitpregnancy.com/pregnancy/pregnancy-health/how-change-your-care-provider-during-pregnancy

http://pregnancy.about.com/od/choosingapractitioner/a/changingdoctors.htm

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Your childbirth educator, doula, local birth support network, or ICAN chapter can also be great resources for making this decision. 

Have you had experience switching care providers in pregnancy?  Were you glad you made the switch?  Did you have an experience that made you wish you had listened to your gut and made a switch?

There IS an “I” in BRAIN

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Many childbirth educators, doulas, and healthcare advocates like to use fun and memorable acronyms for reminding clients and students about the process of informed decision making.   Some educators send their students to the BAR to learn about the Benefits, Alternatives, and Risks of different tests and interventions.  Others encourage plenty of BRAN in the diet, adding the N for “Not now/Never”.  But, here at Dandelion Birth Services, where Information and Intuition go hand in hand, I prefer to teach my students and clients how to use their BRAINs!  That means, as a good birthcare consumer, you’ll check in with your self and your care team on the following points before making a choice about a procedure:

B What are the Benefits?

R What are the Risks?

A Are there Alternatives?

I What does my intuition tell me about this?

N Can we wait on this?  Can it happen Not now or Never?

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The “I” for Intuition is a very essential part of the process.  We each deserve evidence based answers in order to make healthy choices.  But evidence only takes us so far.  After all…  “I” am not a statistic.  “I” am not a research study.  “I” am not a percentage on a chart.  “I” am the one with the unique perspective of head, heart, and experience inside me.  “I” am the parent of my child.  “I” am the best expert on me.

So, take the time to research your options and understand the science behind them.  But don’t leave out the very important step of listening in to what your inner voice is telling you.  Do you know how your intuition speaks to you?  Is the voice quiet or strong?  What are some ways you’ve found to help you get in touch with your intuition?

Why I do it

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People often ask me, “What made you decide to become a doula?”  My answer rolls off my tongue pretty easily, rehearsed and oft-repeated.  It’s a quick summary of my first birth experience sans doula compared to my second birth experience and all the ways a doula’s presence enhanced and improved it.  While this is definitely part of the reason I “chose” this field of work, it isn’t really the reason I keep doing it.  Let me start by ruling out a few things which are NOT on my list of reasons…

  1. I don’t do it for the convenient hours.  You could go into labor at 3:00 am during a week when my baby is teething and I haven’t slept in days.  You could go into labor when I’m in the middle of a birthday party for my child or when it’s time to open the Christmas presents.  You could go into labor on the one day when none of my friends or family members are able to drop everything and come to my house to babysit.  Being a doula doesn’t fit neatly into my “free time”.
  2. I don’t do it for the money.  In this area, the average doula fee is around $600.  Considering I’ll be spending 12-50 hours actively with you, not counting driving time, time responding to phone calls or emails, and time I spend researching special circumstances or conditions applicable to your situation, this doesn’t end up being as much as it might sound.
  3. I don’t do it for the power and influence.  Honestly, I don’t want any!  My job is never to make you feel like I have the “right” answer about what you should do in any situation.  My job is to present you with evidence-based information about your options and then to support you as you make your choices. And my joy is in helping to build your confidence in your own decision-making.
  4. I don’t do it for the insurance, sick days, vacation time, or any other benefits packages.  Many doulas are creatively brainstorming on ways to cooperatively pool our talents and time towards mutually beneficial arrangements for this sort of thing, but for now, in this town at least, it hasn’t happened yet.

And now for why I DO do it.  The answer may sound trite but it is true.  I do it for LOVE.  I do it because I love you.  I love pregnant people.  I love mothers.  I love babies.  I love life.  I love choice.  I love empowerment.  I love raised consciousness.  I love families.  I love community.  I love love.

Since I started the process of trying to put this answer into writing, I’ve had the lyrics to an Ani Difranco song stuck in my head almost constantly.  The song goes:

I do it for the joy it brings, because I am a joyful girl.

Because the world owes me nothing, and we owe each other the world.

I do it cause it’s the least I can do.  I do it because I learned it from you.

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Now, it’s true that there is a HUGE amount of joy in this line of work.  I mean, come on, I get to see people welcoming babies into their lives on a regular basis!  What’s more joyful than that?  But, it isn’t all joy.  There is doubt and fear and sorrow and grief.  There is anxiety and pain and suffering and depression and a lot of mess and inconvenience and letting go.  For me, and for my clients, and for their families.  But, at the end of the day, all of that is part of the beautiful package.  I am honored when folks allow me to join them in the valleys of their experience as well as on the brightly lit hilltops.  I take very seriously my role as advocate and listener and support-person and bridge to the community of resources at those times, and I carry it out with as much love as I do during the joy-filled times.

This job often feels like the embodiment of the Prayer of Saint Francis:

Where there is despair (let me sow) hope,

Where there is darkness, light,

Where there is sorrow, joy…

Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,

To be loved as to love…

For it is in giving that we receive.”

And therein lies the truth.  I do it for love, but it’s not selfless.  Because I receive SO MUCH from the job of serving women (and, you’ll recall the word “doula” is actually Greek for “servant”).  I am honored at the opportunity to be part of a family’s most sacred moment.  I am inspired by the strength and courage of parents birthing and becoming.  I am overcome with joy at each new baby’s entrance into the world.

When you become my client, I take you into my mind and my heart.  I think about you and your birth and your baby from the time you hire me until months and years afterwards.  Outside of this form of connection we have, we might never have met and might not even have liked each other!  We may totally differ in appearance, background, philosophy, politics, manner, and a million other things.  But, because you choose to allow me this honored place on your birth team, you are in my circle of love.  And that continues to be true even if we never meet again after our postpartum visits.

Time and time again, clients say to me after their births, “Thank you so much!  I couldn’t have done it without you!”  To all of you, my answer is, “Thank YOU!  You could have done it without me.  But I am so glad I was here.  It was an honor and a blessing.”

Thank you, to all of the folks who make me a doula.  You are beautiful, glowing, brave, and inspiring.  Thank you for being the reason I do what I do.

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