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The Dude-la: Interview with Doula Brian Salmon

Ever wonder what it would be like to have (or be) a male doula? I got the chance to talk with Brian, aka The Birth Guy, and find out. Brian Salmon is a male doula, birth coach, lactation counselor and so much more. He works in San Antonio, Texas, where he has helped over 19,000 expectant families with birth and beyond. In a field understandably dominated by females, he brings a unique perspective to the birth and breastfeeding process. Here were some of my burning questions:

Being a male doula and birth teacher is not very common. How did you fall into this unique career?

I usually crack a joke for this answer, but I will just get to it! When I was 19 I was asked by a dear friend to coach her birth. I really loved the process. I was fascinated by the entire journey. At the time I had been completing my radiology internship and degree. Fast-forward to about 2004 when I was having my first baby, I found that resources for dads were limited. The only programs available felt very superficial. We had also decided to leave Los Angeles and move to San Antonio, Texas. Upon moving, I decided to open a pre-natal imaging center and combine it with childbirth education, especially focused on not just supporting women, but families.

As the years went on I began to hear horror stories of judgmental birth workers guilting moms and partners into feeling failure at birth. This was a direct call to me to make change. I started training in various methods and even certifying as a Lactation Counselor. I did doula training with DONA and another program. I really felt that hearing the stories of well over 10,000 families gave me deeper insight. The last few years has been full of tons of babies, thousands of students, abundant joy and no boundaries for my career. I even have offers for TV shows! I average 8–15 births a month with my group and am also doing work with Baby Gizmo as the education side of the product reviews.

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Do you have a specific birthing philosophy? For example do you advocate for drug-free labor and delivery, and if so, do you follow coping styles such as the Bradley method?

My birthing philosophy is exactly that: mine. I really shouldn't put my beliefs on others, so I share my practical experience and knowledge to well educate and empower my clients. I find that most of them end up using the information I teach them to make informed decisions which generally lean towards gentle mammalian birth, so as close to natural birth with breastfeeding as a priority. When families understand the process, ancestral birthing, how the body and hormones work, as well as the babies' natural way of just knowing how to breastfeed because of ingrained reflexes, common sense and simplicity gets their attention. We have, as a society, taken birth far from that which has made it hard for some families without help to understand the process.

I always support what the family's decisions are. My method is strict. I only work with couples if their partner takes my Rocking Dads program. It is about 4 hours long and covers everything from relationships, forming your family, birth planning, communicating with your birthing staff, early labor, active labor, pushing, cesarean delivery, breastfeeding, hospital and home birth/birth center birth.

The foundation of all my classes including Facilitating Fearless Birth is relationship and communication with your partner. For instance, I like to shift the paradigm of my clients by simply asking, "What does goodnight mean to you when you say it?" and they usually say it means goodnight. I challenge them to say it with intention, such as, "Goodnight, I am so glad to have another day we shared and I look forward to seeing you first in the morning, I love you." Shifts like this bring amazing changes to families. Women who are supported with love and feel protected by their partner or support person seem to birth much easier and without apprehension.

Of course we go through all the birthing and breastfeeding things too. I teach them visualizations of their birth as well. As far as pain coping, it is limitless because there are many ways to pain cope. When they have a huge toolbox, they have a higher chance at achieving their goals. If a parent decides on pain meds, well that, to me, is the compassionate use of pain medicine and no one should be judged or shamed—that is just horrible and leads to birth trauma.

I always make a point to say that TV and society made women feel that they were supposed to be mean to their partner, as if it is glamorous or funny. It only slows down labor because how can anger and frustration be helping an oxytocin-based process?

Have you ever felt discriminated against being a man in a female dominated field?

You have no idea, but only from people who consider me competition. My mentor and dear friend, midwife Jennifer Kelleher, has always told me to keep my head down and focus on my heart. I did and now I couldn't care less because I am a doula on the website of two major hospitals in my community and they both feature the class I wrote and welcome me to do births at their facilities. OB-GYNs distribute my materials and I am always busy. My clients are emphatic and I have five-star reviews all the way around. I just show compassion towards those who discriminate against me because they are obviously not happy and I only wish them happiness.

I noticed that you teach breastfeeding classes. How are you able to instruct people in something you've never done yourself?

Well, I don't just teach, I average at least three lactation consultations a day. Some are Skype or FaceTime, home visits, or even phone. I do some quick free phone consultations as well. I also have a team of IBCLC's who teach and consult with me.

As far as teaching something I never have done, I help so many families achieve their goals because they trust my intentions. I have never had a person leave my class without feeling totally confident. You see, breastfeeding is a natural process and for hospital births we have to navigate that differently. I feel it is super important that partners are a HUGE part. When Mom's partner understands all aspects, pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and the pitfall support I teach them, Mom is more confident and empowered. I really don't have people freak out seeing me teach breastfeeding especially because they have been referred by hospitals, doctors and midwives, seen my videos, read reviews, seen me on TV ... and I'm pretty good at breaking the ice. I really am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. I absolutely love it!

What advice do you have for nervous soon-to-be parents?

Education, education, education! That is the key to confidence. The other main point is to fix your relationship if there are any existing major issues, animosity or jealousy problems. I always say, "You can't build a house on sand," and I firmly believe that. If you do, it will fall in a day or a few years, but it will fall. When couples can love on each other, nurture their relationship, get education, work together, then the fear of the unknown turns into instinctual reasoning due to the confidence their love and education puts into them.

RELATED: Home Birth Isn't Just for Hippies

Sometimes laboring women unexpectedly don't want any men around, including their husband. Has this ever happened to you at a birth you were attending?

I personally have never seen this happen. I always make a point to say that TV and society made women feel that they were supposed to be mean to their partner, as if it is glamorous or funny. It only slows down labor because how can anger and frustration be helping an oxytocin-based process? On top of that, partners feel hurt, isolation, exclusion and carry animosity around that type of environment. Not to mention a bad birth story. Women who feel that way should definitely get some help to figure out what is causing those feelings towards their partner.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love it all! I seriously feel blessed to be doing what I was meant to be doing. I am so excited to see what the future holds. As a father of two amazing girls, Eva, 10, and Daisy, 6, I feel that seeing families together for the first time deepens my gratitude for my amazing life. I couldn't be more blessed—well, except maybe having another baby of my own!

Brian Salmon will be speaking at Club MomMe's Fall Family Fest on November 8 at the South Coast Botanic Garden in Los Angeles.

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