About a week ago, I was followed on Instagram by Matthew Clark also known as The Male Doula. I always follow people who follow me from the birth world but I was intrigued as Matt is the first male doula I have ever come across. Like 97% of midwives, most Birth Keepers are women and maternity is a predominately female world.
I have good Instagram etiquette - I always look at the profile of a new follower and like/comment on their most recent posts. I believe that engagement is the key to keeping your network alive and not taking things for granted. This time was no exception and I sent Matt a message to say hello properly. Within the hour, I received a reply advising me to have a look at his Male Doula podcast. As I'm very partial to a podcast, I found it on Spotify and had a listen on my lunch break. There are eight episodes in Season One with Season Two in the pipeline. I discovered that not only is Matt a Birth Keeper, he is also a massage therapist (among other things!) in Bexley, Kent. His clinic in Welling called Bowen Bexley specialises in many practices to aid the body to repair itself. One process, spoken about on the Podcast, is a South American postnatal massage therapy called Closing the Bones. This is what interested me the most - I had to find out what it was.
Closing The Bones is a celebration of motherhood. A woman's body deserves to be worshipped and nourished after delivering her baby. A Rebozo (a shawl used to support a woman in labour) is used to rock the woman's hips and pelvis, followed by a complex abdominal and pelvic girdle massage using a warming oil, and then finished by tightly wrapping the shawl around the woman's hips. It sounds amazing and by all accounts, it is! I would have loved to have had my body worshipped in this way after having my own two children and it sounds like the perfect gift to give someone when you're stuck for ideas.
As I listened to Matt's podcasts, I got to thinking about how there are not enough male practitioners in the maternity world unless they are a consultant or registrar. Holding a senior position in medicine tends to (in my own opinion) take away the personal touch to make way for the clinical. When my son Dominic was born, he was delivered by a male locum registrar who barely spoke to me as a person. He was called in to make a decision about going to theatre and preferred to argue with my midwife and anaesthesiologist rather than making conversation with me - obviously I was just another vagina rather than a person attached to it with severe anxiety! I couldn't even tell you what his name was. As soon as I was stitched up, he thanked my ex-husband (!) and off he went. The compassion, kindness and after-care was handed back to my midwife. But just because she was a woman should not automatically make her a kind and compassionate person (although she was!) We only had one male midwife on the birthing suite when I was a student and even though I never worked with him, I was told on good authority that the ladies in his care adored him. He listened to them, supported them and stood up for them which is all we ever ask for when we are vulnerable. And that was the message that came through loud and clear on The Male Doula podcast - the parents who shared their birth story with Matt thought he was amazing.
Birth is a very feminine thing but that does not mean that it cannot be kept and nurtured by a male presence. Doulas are not medically trained so the focus of our role is emotional and physical support. A gentle touch, a hand to hold and a word of encouragement does not have to come from a female voice. I have seen unbelievable acts of kindness and sensitively from men so it is a shame that this does not generally translate into maternity services. I am of the opinion that men feel excluded from the mystical and divine state of pregnancy, labour and birth.
We need people like Matt to show us that Doulas come in every size, shape, age, class and gender.