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Of Midwives and Doulas: A Conservative Dad's Shift in Perspective

Carl with their boys on a camping trip

When Pamela was pregnant with our first boy, Oscar, I only had exposure to very traditional options for medical care. The truth is that most things in my life were viewed through a very traditional lens and I looked at most alternative options and ideas with a condescending air.

We had committed to using a midwife, rather than the standard doctor route, which was obviously against my grain. In the beginning I was worried that midwives were herb mixing hippies that might help my wife feel better about things, but I didn’t trust that they were qualified to handle the real dangers of childbirth. Pamela insisted that they were very qualified and that she wanted to go this route. It is her body and she was the one doing this thing, so how could I argue? I also had to defer to her on most things since she ate child birthing text books for breakfast during this time, and to be honest, the stack of “you should read this” books sat untouched on my bedside table.

Because I clearly wasn’t doing my homework, I begrudgingly agreed to attend a Birthing from Within class to prepare us for what was to come. I dreaded this and assumed that I was in for a weekend of pointless hippy crap, but went anyway because Pamela really wanted us to go.

This class was run by a lovely lady who was also a Doula.

“WTF is a Doula?" I said when Pamela told me this.

Well a Doula is trained to support the mother before, during and after child birth.

It was a great course that really gave us some valuable tools and an understanding of what to expect. In the end, the weekend was amazingly helpful and we met a number of people who we are still friends with today.

Pamela Labouring in a birth pool with their first son.

To further my level of discomfort, Pamela announced that she wanted to consider having our baby in our living room, in a pool. Alarm bells went off – we’re 25 min from the hospital, birth is messy, loud and dangerous. I was pretty scared of the whole thing even in a controlled hospital environment. She wanted to do this thing drug free, in our living room with only the hippy herb mixer (midwife) to help us. It all sounded very 1905 to me - highly unnecessary and potentially dangerous. It even seemed irresponsible to me at the time.

Well, after our weekend course and many visits with the team of midwives at Plum Midwifery, my perspective completely changed. The midwives know their shit. They are trained in every aspect of childbirth and are equipped with all of the necessary medical knowledge and tools to ensure a safe birth – and they offer this care with confidence and a motherly attentiveness that puts everyone at ease. They can determine if a home birth is possible (safe) or if the hospital is necessary. They work closely with doctors and nurses at the hospital for an ideal combination of care for any pregnant mother. In the end we personally felt more supported and cared for with those amazing ladies at Plum than we would ever have dealing with the traditional medical system.

Pamela decided to have Oscar at home in a birth pool that the Midwifery clinic loaned us. Shawna, Pamela’s sister, was there to help us and was amazing. It was a 20+ hour, very challenging birth. Oscar was a big boy and he was posterior (facing up, rather than down), which made it that much more hard and painful for her. Even with a midwife present and Shawna’s support there were decisions to be made that I didn’t understand. At 18 or so hours, things were dragging on badly and I felt helpless and unsure of what to do. I trusted that the midwife was handling the clinical side of things effectively and safely, but I felt like I was approaching a point where I had to make a decision whether we stay and continue – while my wife was begging for help and in obvious agony – or we pack up and get to the hospital. For some time I wanted to hide under a bed and suck my thumb.

Carl holding his first son, just after birth

In hindsight, this is where the experience and guidance of a Doula may have completely altered the outcome. Pamela would have felt more supported (less scared and more relaxed) in the situation and I would have been given a better perspective and felt more confident in making decisions that were both in line with what Pamela wanted and the best outcome for her and our baby. We ended up at the hospital and all was well, but it was an exhausting and terrifying experience for me (even without having to push the baby out).

We did have our second baby without a Doula as well, but it was a completely different experience. Pamela knew what was coming and how to handle it, we had two midwives who had become friends over the past few years to help us, and it was a wonderful experience for everyone. Seamus was about 10.8 lbs and was born in our living room, in a birthing pool, in about 10 hours. Pamela had the composure and confidence of a super hero throughout the whole experience. I was and still am completely in awe of her.

Oscar meeting his new baby brother, Seamus

Now with two births under my belt, I understand that the comfort and mindset of the mother is the most important aspect of a positive birthing experience. If the mother is confident in her care, all of the medical prerequisites are met, and she is most comfortable at home, then a living room could be the best place for her to give birth. If she feels more confident in the hospital environment with doctors, nurses and equipment close at hand, then the hospital is the obvious choice.

If we were to do it again, I would consider a trained doula a necessity, regardless of a home or hospital birth. The care that a mother gets from a midwife / doula team puts everyone at ease and contributes to a positive experience all around. Pamela, of course, knew this a long time ago and I should have listened!

Now that our boys are 3 and 6 and getting a little easier to manage, Pamela has trained to be a Doula – exactly what she was meant to be. - Carl Tessmann Pamela's husband and father of their 2 boys.

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