Meet David Goldman of Bellingham, Wash., the ... "dude-la"? Mr. Goldman was certified as a doula last year by DONA International, the largest accrediting body of doulas worldwide. Although the group doesn't track how many men have completed the training, officials there are aware of just a handful of male doulas among the 8,500 birth attendants it has certified since launching two decades ago.
The scarcity of men reflects a widespread perception that the role of a doula is seen as women's work, even among many who wouldn't hesitate to champion egalitarianism elsewhere in the workplace. Indeed, the topic of male doulas frequently draws skepticism — and sometimes biting criticism — in online discussion groups.
Some women say the presence of another male in the delivery room would just stress them, or their husbands, out. Others say that only women who have gone through the birth experience themselves can properly serve as birth assistants. Women are also typically seen as more nurturing than men, and thus better able to fulfill the emotional requirements of a doula's job description.
A recent thread about male doulas on the DONA Facebook page showcased the sensitivity around this issue, drawing some uncharacteristic "disrespectful commentary," said Sunday Tortelli, the group's president and a doula in Cleveland, with many commenters saying it just didn't "feel right."
But Sharon Muza, who has instructed three men in the nearly eight years she's been training doulas, among them Mr. Goldman (the other two men went on to become midwives), said that "men can be nurturing and caring and loving and bring every quality I would want in a doula." She also noted that men may have a physical advantage. "They're really strong and can apply counterpressure to a woman's back or support someone who needs to be held up. That's a wonderful bonus."