The ultimate juggling act.
A common misconception we hear at Birth for HumanKIND is that having a doula present during labour and birth will undermine or replace the role of a partner. However, supporting the non-birthing partner is a key part of a doula’s role and something many of our volunteer doulas are passionate about.
Witnessing a woman giving birth can be a profoundly moving experience and what partners can bring to the birth space is special. Yet, they are often going through their own emotional journey during labour and birth and it can be a time of great transition and uncertainty for them as well. Nearly half of the women we work with at Birth for HumanKIND have partners and, for many of them, it’s their first time being at a birth. Whilst they want to do their best and be helpful, they don’t always know what to do or how.
During and prior to labour, a doula may teach a partner how to support the mother-to-be through birth preparation, relaxation, breathing, massage, pain coping tools and positioning. A doula’s presence can also help partners be more active and confident during the labour and birth.
Today, as part of our World Doula Week celebrations, we share the story of new father and partner, Aman*, and the difference a doula made to his transition to fatherhood.
Aman and his partner Elene*, both 28, met and fell in love seven years ago during performance rehearsals for the circus in Ethiopia.
Yes, you read that right - these two incredible humans are c i r c u s performers, who learnt the tricks of the trade by watching videos on YouTube.
They originally came to Australia as part of a circus troupe. However, during their tour, the situation back home in Ethiopia worsened and it was no longer safe for them to return. They were left with no choice but to seek asylum here in Australia.
Ethiopia, a country in the Horn of Africa, has been devastated by decades of natural disasters, political unrest, war, drought and famine with many families forced to leave the country as refugees and seek asylum in other countries around the world. At last count there were almost 9000 Ethiopian-born people living in Australia, nearly half of whom live in Victoria.
The decision to seek asylum and be separated from their families and support networks in Ethiopia was an extremely difficult one, made even more so by the fact that the couple had just found out that Elene was unexpectedly pregnant.
Without the correct documentation, the couple found navigating the Australian maternal health system a very daunting task.
They remember being told that they couldn’t attend a hospital’s emergency department without facing a bill of up to $10,000 and they felt like they were being passed from one service to another because “no one could help” someone in their situation.
Elene didn’t receive any antenatal care until her seventh month of pregnancy, which is unfortunately a common theme for women we work with from migrant, refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds. Many families have difficulty understanding the processes and services available in a new country and culture, which is why we are piloting education workshops for newly-arrived communities about how to navigate the maternal health system.
“I was not expecting [it to be] like this. I was worried a lot while she was pregnant because she didn’t have the check up and sometimes she was sick. In our country, in our culture, when a woman is pregnant we do not worry too much [as men] because my family and my mother is there to take care of her and the husband is doing his work and then coming back [home]. But here — it’s just the two of us and we don’t have someone to ask for help. It was really hard.” — Aman
Back home in Ethiopia, men are not present during a woman’s labour. When she goes into labour, she might notify her mother or a female friend, but not her husband or partner. In rural areas like where Aman and Elene are from, babies are born with the assistance of a midwife, who is typically a member of the mother’s community. Other women are often present up until the point of birth, when it is just the woman, her mother (if she has one), mother-in-law, the midwife, and any female neighbours who are especially experienced with childbirth — similar to the role of a doula. Men aren’t typically present at the birth either.
“A lot of the couples I’ve worked with are excited that it’s even an option for the father to be present especially if it’s not culturally appropriate where they’re originally from.” — Kirstan Flannery, doula and Co-Founder of Birth for HumanKIND
Late in Elene’s pregnancy the couple sought help from a family and community service through their local church, from whom Birth for HumanKIND received a referral. As part of our doula support program, Aman and Elene were matched with Kirstan Flannery — one of our most experienced doulas and Co-Founder of Birth for HumanKIND, who not only supported Elene through her pregnancy and birth but played a pivotal role in supporting Aman’s transition to fatherhood.
At an ante-natal visit Kirstan recalled how excited Aman was to be a dad and that he always had a big smile on his face whenever there was talk about meeting his baby for the first time.
“It was great to help him find the best ways to support [Elene] because every woman is different and you cannot know what a labouring woman is going to need until she’s there. Because he cared about her and his baby so much, he was understandably anxious and nervous so it was great to be able to calm and reassure him that everything that was happening was normal and going well.” Kirstan Flannery, doula and Co-Founder of Birth for HumanKIND
Kirstan tells us that this is one of the most memorable births she’s ever been a part of and she remembers vividly the look on Aman’s face when his son entered the world:
“He wore his heart on his sleeve. To see the joy and relief when his son was born was beautiful — to see him express his emotions so openly. It was as if everything in his life, the challenges and all the difficult things he’d been through, reached a point of release.”
Their son, Gabra*, is now four months old and is alert and playful, with eyes as big and brown as both his parents.
We had the pleasure of visiting Aman to ask him a few questions about becoming a father.
This is what he shared.
What was it like meeting your son for the first time?
“Oh — the first night — I didn’t sleep all the night because I just lay with him. When he was born, I just cry.”
How have you found the adjustment to fatherhood?
“My family, my big brothers, they have families, babies, but they are not as involved with their children because my mother is there and their wife is there so even they don’t know what to do for babies. They bring food and buy shoes and clothes, things like this. But I have to take care of him so I was worried. When I hear him coughing, I wonder ‘what’s happening, what’s happening.’”
What do you think it would have been like without the support of a Birth for HumanKIND doula?
“I think it would have been very hard for us without Kirstan. But after we meet her, because she support us with everything, anytime she comes — it was very helpful for us. I don’t know what we would do if we didn’t meet Kirstan. We didn’t know the procedure for having a baby here in Australia.”
If you had to tell another father about what a doula does what would you say?
“From my experience I can tell him that it is very helpful to have a doula — especially if you don’t know nothing or have any information about having a baby. To help you. It is hard to understand what is expected from you because most of the time they are talking to the mother.”
And finally, is being a father what you expected?
“No, I didn’t know what to expect but it is nice. Before I was thinking for myself and now I am thinking for him. Now I want to support him to grow, to be strong. Now I go to work and I miss him all day. To be a father — it is like my second life. I was having my first life before and [now] I am starting a second life. You are thinking of yourself in the first [life] and when you have a baby you start thinking of them, thinking for your family. I hope for everyone that they can feel like this, same like me.”
This family stole our hearts and we are sure, after reading their story, that they will steal yours too. They are the reason we do this work — to see what an impact the information, care and support of a doula can make to the childbearing journey is phenomenal.
Families we work with like Aman, Elene and Gabra have amazing stories to share and, in doing so this World Doula Week, our hope is that it will build empathy and compassion for those in our community who are in need of that extra support during pregnancy, birth and early parenting, which includes non-birthing partners too.
And, in case you you were wondering how Aman is doing now — we are happy to report that, although he has a Bachelor of Accounting from a university in Addis Ababa under his belt, he is currently sharing his passion for performing by teaching children circus tricks at a school in Melbourne’s north!