by Ray McAllister
From the Editor: Monitor readers may remember Ray McAllister as the winner of a Bolotin Award at the 2016 National Convention. He was one of the Semitic Scholars whose efforts have created the tools to allow future blind scholars to study works in ancient languages. In August of 2010 he received a PhD in Hebrew Scriptures. Dr. McAllister is totally blind, so he's the first blind PhD from Andrews University's seminary and the first totally blind person in the world to get a PhD in Hebrew Scriptures. He teaches distance education religion classes for Andrews University, but he isn’t just a scholar focusing on the past. Ray chose to take a rather nontraditional path as both a blind person and a man, choosing to become a part of a most amazing everyday event that shapes the future: the birth of a child. In December, 2014, he became the first totally blind, male, certified birth doula trained to assist a woman during childbirth. Here is how he describes the journey to become a massage doula:
For years I've dreamed of witnessing the birth of a baby. I have no children, and my wife is past childbearing age. Since I'm totally blind, sitting in the back of a delivery room while someone's having a baby wouldn't be helpful. So, in 2014, I took the journey to become a certified massage doula, most likely the first totally blind, male, certified doula. On this journey I would not only witness births but make a difference for three women in what some would consider the most difficult day of their lives.
In June 2014 my wife Sally and I discovered the Institute of Somatic Therapy on the internet. This online distance education school has a program for training massage therapists to become massage doulas. A doula assists in childbirth to see to the comfort of the woman having the baby. A massage doula does this but incorporates all the skills of massage to have a special edge in reducing the pain, stress, and length of labor. Since I had been a licensed massage therapist for over a year, this looked like an excellent program. Even though male doulas are rare, I signed up the next day. I've always been the type to do things considered outside the box. I also agreed to help adapt this program so it would be accessible to blind people.
Within a couple weeks I had completed the first steps of the program, theoretical and practical, becoming a certified prenatal massage therapist. Then I began actually studying the materials for becoming a massage doula. Learning the theory was easy. I read the materials with my screen reader, as I had done in the earlier part of the course. A female massage therapist showed me various birthing positions and techniques. One time we had to have Sally join us so this therapist could help me understand how two people can easily assist a woman into a pushing position. Meanwhile, I was writing down descriptions of all this for the blind using proper technical medical terminology, which anyone with massage training could clearly interpret. I passed the academic test for the doula course shortly after.
Then came the difficult part of the journey: finding three pregnant women who would accept a blind male as their doula. None of the pregnant women I knew from my church or as friends were interested. I was offering free prenatal and post-partum massage care, and that didn't even get anyone's attention.
Next I reached out to a homeless shelter where I had preached in the past and done infant massages when I was in massage school. There I found a resident who was very receptive to my offer to assist in the birth of her first child. Soon this resident referred another pregnant friend of hers to me, and by that time I was also waiting for two women to go into labor at about the same time. In fact I had to warn them that if they went into labor on the same day, I'd have to choose only one of them.
On October 13, Canadian Thanksgiving Day, at 2 AM, my wife and I got the call that the first woman was at the hospital, about ready to start pushing. Just ten days after I helped her push, her friend went into labor with her first child, and I spent all day helping comfort her through labor and supported her through pushing. A few weeks later I was introduced to a friend of this woman who was almost due. On the day before American Thanksgiving, I had to interrupt the making of my pumpkin pie because she went into labor with her third child.
Being part of all three births was the most amazing experience. I heard a baby's first cry. After one of them, the doctor who delivered the baby let me feel the placenta through my rubber gloves. A blind person won't get to see what that looks like on a television documentary. All the women reported that I had helped them significantly with everything from preparing for labor to easing labor pains to giving guidance through pushing. My blindness was not a hindrance. My Braille-reader's touch enabled me to provide effective relaxation, and I could lightly joke about how I don't peek. Truly, we all had much to be thankful for.
Now I am a certified massage doula. I don't know exactly where this path will take me. I may find paying customers, and/or I may work for free for those who really need the support but could not possibly afford it. If a blind person really wishes to experience the miracle of birth and has a compassionate heart, doula work is probably the only way in to a delivery environment. Even if it is just for the three births for certification, the memories and experience will last me a lifetime.
Update: It’s now 2016. I have assisted in six births. Early this year I visited an area hospital’s birth simulation lab. There they have a mechanical model of a woman having a baby. I could feel how the baby moves and turns during contractions and what the different birth presentations like breech really look like.
For more than seventy-five years the National Federation of the Blind has worked to transform the dreams of hundreds of thousands of blind people into reality, and with your support we will continue to do so for decades to come. We sincerely hope you will plan to be a part of our enduring movement by adding the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary in your will. A gift to the National Federation of the Blind in your will is more than just a charitable, tax-deductible donation. It is a way to join in the work to help blind people live the lives they want that leaves a lasting imprint on the lives of thousands of blind children and adults.
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Plan to Leave a Legacy
Creating a will gives you the final say in what happens to your possessions and is the only way to be sure that your remaining assets are distributed according to your passions and beliefs. Many people fear creating a will or believe it’s not necessary until they are much older. Others think that it’s expensive and confusing. However, it is one of the most important things you will do, and with new online legal programs it is easier and cheaper than ever before. If you do decide to create or revise your will, consider the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary. Visit <www.nfb.org/planned-giving> or call (410) 659-9314, extension 2422, for more information. Together with love, hope, determination, and your support, we will continue to transform dreams into reality.