Doula the Daddy: Why Supporting Black Fathers is Essential
I am a doula and, as such, my work focuses primarily on pregnant and postpartum mothers. However, I assist fathers to be more involved in the process of birth and caring for the newborn. Time and again, Black fathers have communicated (verbally and nonverbally) their feelings of being less than fully supported and having their positions, during their partners’ pregnancy, labor and caring for the baby, usurped.
While the mother and baby are (and should be) supported, protected and cared for fully by all who surround them, fathers need just as much support if we are to expect them to display healthy, sound leadership within their family unit. In a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers reviewed 43 studies with over 28,000 participants and found that 10 percent of men had prenatal or postpartum depression. While the number of men who suffer from prenatal and postpartum depression mirrors that of women who suffer from postpartum mood disorders, men, largely go undiagnosed and untreated.
Whether a man suffers from a postpartum mood disorder or not, men can feel inadequate and unnecessary when it comes to his partner’s pregnancy, the birth of his child and caring for the new baby. His mother-in-law, his partner’s best friends or sisters, even his own mother can take over in areas where he might be most helpful. If poverty comes into play, his masculinity is questioned based on his ability to provide the needs and wants of the mother and child- especially, in the Black community, where men experience immasculation through racism on an ongoing basis. Coupled with the stresses of navigating the systems in which the mother may be involved (medical, welfare, etc), this can force a man to be less involved in the life of his child from the womb. Studies have shown that men who are involved in the process of pregnancy and birth are more attached to their children and have a better sense of their child’s temperament and moods at age 3-6 months. When a father recognizes that he matters in the life of his child, it can prevent or ease symptoms of prenatal and postpartum depression.
A father’s complete involvement in the life of his child from the womb is beneficial for him, the child and the mother. When a father cares for the mother of his child, the mother better cares for herself and her child, even in utero. When a father is involved in his child’s life at an early age, it protects the child from psychological trauma and turmoil and behavioral problems in later years. It is imperative that a father understands that his legacy starts from the moment of conception. It is imperative that fathers are lifted and thoroughly supported, educated and empowered during a time where he is just as vulnerable as the mother.