One day a while back, Austin-based counselor Kirsten Brunner logged onto Twitter, looking to connect with other like-minded professionals serving parents. She soon knew she wanted to meet Brian Salmon. The San Antonio-based doula had a unique energy that caught her attention. Before they knew it, they were writing a book together. Salmon wanted to expand the reach of a course he developed specifically for new dads (Rocking Dads), and Brunner was eager to pour her 20 years of counseling parents into a concrete form. And so, The Birth Guy’s Go-To Guide for New Dads: How to Support Your Partner Through Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond was born. With the book hitting shelves February 2, Brunner and Salmon chatted with us recently about bringing new dads into the birthing experience.
AFM: What drew you to this profession?
Salmon: When I was 35 years old and we were pregnant with my first daughter, I started looking for things for dads, and they were ridiculous. Singing to a baby. Pushing a stroller. Changing a diaper. It was a little condescending to guys. My background is in biochemistry, physiology and radiology. When I opened BabyVision UltraSound,
I was hearing so much from my clients about their first baby experience, about guilt and shame, and I thought, “This has to stop.” So, I got certified as a doula and lactation counselor. I love my job. It’s definitely a calling. It’s very time consuming, because I attend a lot of births. And of course, you can’t just stop there. So, I teach a lot of classes.
Brunner: After becoming a mother, I understood what everybody’s talking about, the emotional and relational strains of new parenthood. At the same time, my practice started attracting more and more postpartum depression cases and couples. A colleague and I decided to start a blog devoted to strengthening the emotional relationships of expectant parents. So, I started the blog Baby Proofed Parents. Now, I would say about 50 percent of my practice is postpartum depression and anxiety, and then couples who have new babies.
AFM: How did you connect and decide to work together?
Brunner: I wasn’t on Twitter before I started my blog. I found it to be the most incredible networking space, where you can approach anybody, and they can choose whether to talk back to you or not. So, I entered this networking space, and Brian’s logo and his energy just shot off the page, and I thought, “I want to connect with this guy.” We were aligned in involving dads more in the process.
Salmon: I remember distinctly getting a message from Kirsten on Twitter and I just said, “Why don’t you call me right now?” And I pulled into my driveway and sat there for 45 minutes chatting with her, because she was so intriguing. Her goals and the things that she was going after parallel with mine. I want to find out what makes my clients tick, what their real fears are, more than showing them a video of someone having a baby. Kirsten had the same type of feel, that it’s valuable to have a couple growing the relationship before they have their baby.
AFM: What are some apprehensions that men feel about pregnancy and childbirth?
Brunner: There’s a wide, wide spectrum. Some have never held a baby before, or they never interacted with kids very much. They don’t know what it’s going to be like to be a dad. Especially after the birth, they aren’t sure how to be involved. So much of it is mama-baby centered. Sometimes they feel left out, or they’re not sure how to be helpful. That’s something we talk about a lot in the book: how to support mom, how to be involved, how to support yourself, as well. Because he’s going through changes and figuring out things.
Salmon: People tell war stories. When you’re pregnant, they tell you, “Your life’s gonna be over, man. You’re never gonna sleep again. Your relationship’s gonna go down the tubes.” But that’s all up to you. That’s not up to anybody else. If you have a plant, and you don’t water it, it’s not going to live. That’s the same thing with a relationship.
Most guys, their first thought is money. She wants an SUV for a family now. We need to move and get a new house. I’m telling you, at least 70 percent of the people I meet are also trying to buy a house. While they’re pregnant. And move in before the baby gets here. That’s a huge added stress. So, I tell guys, “From here on out, don’t return the ball. If you’re playing tennis and someone serves the ball, don’t hit it back.” Say something like, “Babe, I just want our life to be great and start our family well, so I’m going to do whatever it takes to make you comfortable so we are a solid unit. I want to start that now, before the baby comes.” Once they see the effect of their words, it becomes a lot more pleasurable. Suddenly, they’re communicating.
AFM: What kind of feedback do you hear?
Brunner: They’re so appreciative. It’s so helpful for them to just have their experience validated and to hear that their challenges are very normal. Almost all new parents go through this stuff. Reach out for help. You do not have to figure this out all on your own. Brian gets so much feedback from moms about the Rocking Dads course. They’re so thankful that their partner is informed and proactive and involved in the birth process and advocating for them. A lot of times, the mom’s comment is that they feel like their husband knows more about childbirth and breast feeding than they do.
Salmon: A trauma surgeon sent this to me yesterday. He came to my class on Saturday, and he said, “Thanks again for taking time to hold a session of Rocking Dads yesterday. I learned a lot about how I can better prepare myself, communicate and take care of my wife and guide her through this journey as a better teammate. Afterwards, I came home and couldn’t stop talking about all that I had learned.” This is a surgeon. This isn’t somebody who knows nothing about human life. It’s universal. Birth brings us all together. It connects us as humans, to propagate the species.
By Sherida Mock