Kelly Carrington defies the definition of a doula in both the Merriam-Webster and English Oxford dictionaries: a woman who gives support, help, and advice to another woman during pregnancy and birth. Carrington does all of those things daily, but he’s a man.
As the only male doula certified in Canada by DONA International, the world’s oldest and largest doula association, Carrington stands out from the crowd. He’s well over six feet tall and broad shouldered. His compassion shines through when he talks about his job, but he’s a tell-it-like-it-is kind of guy. “My clients appreciate that I’m not a flower-crown wearing hippie,” he says. “I’m straightforward, no bullshit.”
Doulas aren’t medical professionals. They act as a support for the mother and partner before, during, and after birth. They educate moms and partners on what to expect throughout and after pregnancy, and help parents understand the decisions they want to make, and those they may need to make on the big day.
“Some women feel like a C-section is a failure,” Carrington says shaking his head. “You grew a human! How could that ever be a failure? Unless it come out your ear, it’s a natural birth.”
Carrington and Venessa Downing, also a doula, started their company, Birth Happens, in late 2014 to provide doula services and birth classes that bust child-birth myths that many women carry into the delivery room. Coincidentally, the province cut its classes in January 2015.
“We felt like what was being provided wasn’t what people needed,” he says. “People need to know what the real deal is, not the worst case scenario and how to be a good patient. We want people to know what to expect so they can get the birth they want, rather than surrendering. If you feel empowered and educated about the process, you feel better about it.”
He says some men want a male doula because it’s easier to ask him awkward questions about pregnancy and birth. “This isn’t a slight against female doulas, but I think that sometimes the partners don’t feel like they get that same level of support,” he says.
“At a recent birth, the mom was making those primal low sounds, the husband looked at me like ‘what the fuck?’” says Carrington. “I told him that is what we want to hear. When I hear that I know she’s in the groove. People don’t see that because it doesn’t make very good TV.”
Kat Hogan registered for a Birth Happens class, but when the class happened her fiancé was working out west. Attending the class alone, she partnered with Carrington for the two-person exercises. “After working with him for 30 minutes I knew I felt comfortable,” she says.
She wanted to stay at home as long into her labour as she could. She texted with Carrington through a day of contractions, but by midnight the pain was intense. Carrington came to the house at 1 a.m. and helped her relax enough to go to sleep.
When they went to the hospital at 7:30 a.m., Hogan was 7 centimetres dilated; delivery usually takes place at 10 centimetres. “That’s pretty good for doing it by myself with no drugs,” she says.
Hogan’s fiancé was on a plane home, and she worried he wouldn’t arrive for the birth. “Kelly took care of worrying about my fiancé, texting him and looking at flight updates, so I could stay focused on having the baby,” Hogan remembers.
She says having Carrington at the hospital when she was alone really helped. “The nurses and doctors were there, but he was there for us,” she says. As someone who is familiar with the maternity ward, Carrington could help explain what was happening to Hogan, and help her make her voice heard when it came time for her to make medical decisions.
“Birth should be at a walking pace,” Carrington says. “People go through the pregnancy and don’t try to rush it because they know that it’s important. But when it comes to 40 weeks, people start wanting to run through the labour and delivery because they want it over. They want to see this baby. The one thing I have learned, and still see consistently, is that everyone needs to just chill the fuck out and let it happen. Most of the time, if a woman is left to her own devices, supported, and given what she needs, it will happen.”