We're always talking about the importance of bringing men into the conversation when it comes to birth, after all, they often are partners and fathers and if not -they were born- so why not add them to the conversation? We came across Kelly's story and were psyched to see he is the first DONA certified Man-Doula in Canada. Not too often do we see dudelas -as we like to call them- so we figured we had to hear his story!
Here's Kelly on how he was born, his first birth as a Man-Doula and his dream of opening the first Birth Center in Nova Scotia and building a Birth Empire.
How were you born?
I’m the first born. My mother is from Belgium and my father is black and I was born in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia 37 years ago. They were a biracial couple having a biracial kid and that was kind of a big deal. When my mom went into labor she said she and my dad were scared and unsure of what was happening. Mom said they went to the hospital way too early (which is very common for first time moms) and so they had time to kill. Actually in my baby book there is a handwritten score card of all the games they played while they were waiting for me to arrive. I still have that book today, which is kind of cool. I don’t know who won overall, but I’m sure if you ask my mom she’ll say she did and if you ask my dad he’ll say he did, obviously.
My mom remembers them getting into the shower together while she was in labor... Overall her labor was less than 8 hours from start to finish, which, for a first time mom, is pretty impressive! Most of my clients’ labors are not 8 hours, I’ll tell you that. If I could attend a 8 hour birth that would be freaking great, right? Most of mine that I attend are 24, 36 hours... You guys know the drill!
I was born on a Sunday night and my dad says he wasn’t out drinking the night before... but he was still hungover from a party his friend had thrown on Wednesday. Man, he must have been partying hard! He says he knew all the nursing staff when he walked into the hospital, and that he had a big cigar in his mouth. I mean, can you imagine? A big black man with a cigar walking through the halls of the hospital.
Check out this picture, a world premiere. You're welcome.
BB: Awesome. So chill, we love it!
Had you heard your birth story prior to this?
Yeah, I had heard about it before, but not in much detail... Not really much about the thoughts and feelings, just about the facts. This was really the first in depth conversation I had about us, which is kind of funny after all these years of being a man doula. Some people talk about their family history right? This is where it starts.
We see families in our childbirth classes that really have no idea about birth and if they even asked 5 of these questions, had a conversation about it as a family, I think it could ease some of the fears. I find, especially talking to women who are the last of their group of friends or family to have babies, that they end up hearing all these crazy stories from people and it’s like they are carrying all this extra baggage to their own birth. And it’s robbing them and diluting what could actually be a very different experience for them. Most people’s conversations about birth is all the bad stuff that went down, as opposed to the good stuff. I try to remind people that if they have a positive birth story they should share it: drown out some of that other noise.
What is the birth scene in Nova Scotia like?
It’s pretty good. There’s lots of working doulas, and we have a pretty positive birth community with lots of support for families. We only have one hospital where you give birth in Halifax (Nova Scotia’s capital) and it’s a teaching hospital. So even if you are having a baby somewhere else, even in another province, if there is a problem, you get sent to this hospital. 90% of babies are born here! And there are 15 babies born every day at this hospital and only 5 or 6 midwives in the whole practice, which is relatively new -like in the last 4 or 5 years- and there is a 20 family waitlist every month for people to get into midwifery care. So we obviously need more support, but the government doesn’t want to pay for that. Essentially if you want a midwife, the moment you pee on that stick you got to call, or you’re out of luck.
Are there any birthing centers at all?
And what about home births?
If you have midwifery care, you can birth at home. There are parameters based upon your distance from the hospital, but we do hear stories of a few unassisted home births because people don’t want to go to the hospital, which can get unsafe. Unfortunately it seems to be the reality of the situation right now. I think a birth center is in our future and my business partner and I hope to be the ones to open it. It’s a long, long, long term goal. It’s the dream plan, but good things come to those who wait.
Exciting! tell us about your birth into the role of doula
Well, I’ve been a massage therapist for 15 years and over the years I noticed this pattern... I would do prenatal massage and then there was a stop when they had the baby and then they would come back for treatment postnatally. And I noticed some women were moving through that pattern multiple times, depending on how many babies they had. And it was sort of a time in my massage life where I needed to find something else to do... My wife was on maternity leave with our third child and one of my clients, who was a doula, said, “You know, maybe you should look into becoming a doula.”
And it turned out a course was being offered so I called the instructor to see if I could take it and she said that in all the years she’s been teaching she’s never had a man, but to absolutely come. So I did. And got certified through DONA.
I realized it was a great way for me to continue to care for my clients if they chose to. If I’m already their massage therapist then there’s trust there, and there’s already an established rapport that I can take right into labor & delivery. It just seemed like a seamless transition. But you know what, turns out most of my doula clients actually aren’t my massage clients. People just seem to find me, like my approach and that I’m a man doula… The Dudela, the Manoula... I’ve heard lots of things, but I’m sticking with Man-Doula for now.
What was your first birth like?
It’s interesting because my wife ended up having three c-sections so I had never seen a vaginal delivery until my first client. It was a home birth, her second child and she happened to be a midwife so she knew what she was doing. It was awesome. I was there to help the family and it was just fantastic. It really solidified my belief in the power of a laboring woman. Nothing else can come close to that.
What have you learned from birth that you apply to other aspects of your life?
When I think I’m physically and emotionally spent, there is always a reserve, there is always more to muster. It’s very interesting to learn this through the context of birth. The strength of families in labor & delivery… when they are usually at their most vulnerable yet they always seem to dig deep and persevere. And that’s what it’s all about; patience, perseverance and knowing that there is always a little bit more in that tank just to make it through.
What are you birthing these days?
Well you know, I always joke that I am trying to build an empire, but ya know, I’m a massage therapist and a birth doula -we don’t typically have empires and if we do, they’re small ones. But really I am just growing my doula business. I do massage, teach birth classes with my company Birth Happens -which I co-created with my business partner Venessa Downing- and then during the day I’m home with my kids. I just make sure I am always doing my job. That’s the one thing I’m always very diligent about, doing my job to ensure that I am able to continue to do my job.
BB: Well we need more Birth Empires, so that’s awesome.
Do you see parallels between the labor of birth and the labor of becoming a doula?
Becoming a birth doula as a man is not exactly something that everybody says, “Oh yeah, that’s what I want to do when I grow up.” It’s one of those things that just felt right; I just trusted that it was the right thing to do. Just like in birth, you have to trust your body and your mind that this is the right thing to do. So I can see that parallel.
BB: We love the video you made with men talking about birth. In our practice we really try to involve partners and just loved your approach to it - humor is so important!
We just love that video. It was so much fun to make. In most of the pictures you see that they are drinking a little bit of alcohol. They had an adult beverage while we were talking about birth. We just really wanted to get their raw answer, because those are the questions that people get asked, and those are things that people are questioning and if they see these normal people not having any idea about how some of these things happen, then they are going to hopefully feel a little bit more normal about not knowing and ask some questions. It was like a great ice-breaker.
What’s it like being a Man-Doula?
When people see me, they definitely don’t think, “Birth doula.” They think, “Oh Jesus, he’s a drug dealer.” I mean I’m a big black man with dreadlocks so that’s not exactly the typical image of a birth doula. So when people ask me what I do and I tell them, they’re like, “Oh you’ve got to be kidding me.” And then of course you get the question, “Well, what the hell is a doula?” Followed by, “Why in the hell would you do that by choice? I had to be there.”
But birth is not something that is scary to me. It’s the natural progression of our civilization and it’s been happening, and happening, and happening. And the fact that I, as a man, am explaining and helping women have babies blows my mind, because I’ve never given birth, I don’t know what it feels like. But one of my colleagues said to me a long time ago when I started this journey, “You know the great thing about you as a birth doula is that you are not another vagina in the room competing for attention.” I think about that sometimes.
My wife works full time so I’m home with the kids during the day. She comes home at 5:15pm and I leave for work at 5:16 and I’m gone for the night and I work. And that is our life. My kids are growing up with a dad who is home, who is a health professional, but also in the world of birth and I think just through pure osmosis they are going to hopefully, if they become parents, hopefully not be as freaked out, right?
And I couldn’t do any of this without my wife. She is super supportive and none of this could ever happen without her. My life is set up so that I can leave the house at the drop of a hat and be away for 24 hours and everything is covered and I don’t have to think about it. There’s no way in hell I can do that without her, there’s no way. And my kids are so understanding too. They even come for placenta pick ups with me!
any Favorite #BrilliantBit to share?
The fact that the placenta is a temporary organ fascinates the hell out of me.
Also, how we are able to just trust our bodies to grow babies. We don’t sit at home at night thinking “Ok, so tonight we’re going to work on fingernails and hair.” So it’s interesting that when when it comes to actually getting that baby from the inside to the outside, people lose their shit. Why don’t people trust that process too? Being able to grow a human being is going to be able to get you to a place where you can actually birth that human being. If you can grow a baby, you can birth a baby. People have a hard time wrapping their head around that.