The data from WHO shows that roughly 830 women die every day from preventable causes, which are related to pregnancy as well as childbirth, and 99 percent of all maternal deaths take place in developing countries of Africa and Asia. These gloomy statistics indicate that a lot more needs to be done to promote the maternal health of African women.
In Africa, the role of husbands in maternal health is typically given little attention and consideration by health programs. Also, the issue is under-researched all over the world.
A woman in African nations many times does not have the right to decide the person to stay with her during childbirth. Often, it is anyone available who gets to accompany her. The period when a woman is undergoing child delivery is among her most vulnerable, intimate and private moments in life, and that women in Africa are too often left to endure this alone is appalling.
Women experience a lot of pain during labor
Research has shown ensuring men’s involvement in pregnancy and childbirth creates a positive effect on pregnancy outcomes because it helps promote maternal health, lower the incidence of low birth weight, cut down on risk of preterm birth and infant mortality.
In this write-up, I will be talking about the need for African men to be present and support their wives during the birth of their child.
To many people world over, one of the joyful times in life is when a baby is born: This is a time of celebration and joy. Every second globally, a woman goes into labor as the world records another human addition to the world’s approximately 7.7 billion population.
30 years ago, my wife was pregnant with our first-born daughter. When she began her labor, I drove her to the nearest hospital in the city of Livingstone, Zambia. Upon arrival, we went through all procedures, and finally my wife was booked in the maternity ward.
Realizing that my wife was in extreme pain, I felt it was my duty to stay by her in the hospital to give maximum support to my soon-to-be mother of our kids. My reasoning was twofold:
First, I realized that with her pain, my presence during the delivery would have given her the much-needed strength during labor. It only made sense for me to be by her side as the person responsible for the pregnancy and her husband. I had, up to that time, supported her during the whole nine months of pregnancy.
Second, as a first-time father to be, I wanted to witness the miracle in the birth of our baby, having been close to her throughout the preceding nine months and saw all her ups and downs. So, I thought going into labor was the last mile in this journey and just wanted to be there for her and the baby and offer comfort, share in the imminent joy.
But sadly, once my wife was finally checked in the delivery ward, the nurses on duty were furious with my continuous presence in the ward. They shouted at me at the top of their voices, asking me to leave.
“Only women were allowed in here,” the nurses raved at me.
I was asked why, as a man, I was there. Didn’t I have female relatives to support my wife, they inquired?
“This is a ladies-only area,” they retorted. What sin or crime did I commit to deserve such hostile treatment?
I politely told them I wanted to give support to my wife, who was soon expected to go into labor, and I pleaded with them to let me stay. But my pleas fell on deaf ears, as the care-givers threatened to call security to drag me out if I didn’t oblige.
They shouted the more, adding that all the women, who were there, were not my wives, but other people’s spouses. As such I wasn’t a welcomed guest. I was further humiliated and told that when women give birth, it’s a woman business, not a man’s.
They attempted to lecture me on certain cultures or traditions, even though I wasn’t at a cultural center, but in a hospital. With sadness, I obliged and left.
I returned early morning only to find my wife had given birth to a baby girl. Sadness filled my heart as I wondered what my wife went through without my support. I was equally saddened, knowing I had missed the most significant opportunity of my life to be on the side of my wife during her difficult moments. All because the hospital staff ejected me.
Though thousands of women go into Labor daily world over, only very few are ever accompanied and supported by their husbands or men who impregnated them. It is mostly in certain countries, such as those in the West and North America, where a man stays by the side of his wife or partner during the birth of their children as a way to give support and, more importantly, witness the birth of their children.
However, for many women going into labor in Africa, it is a lonely and painful experience as they are surrounded by strangers, who are nurses, doctors, or community elderly women in the case of poor women in rural areas that adopt traditional delivery methods.
Why Is Childbirth Treated as a Woman’s Affair in Africa?
In Africa, it’s a common belief that childbirth is a women’s affair, just like I was told 30 years ago. That argument I encountered three decades ago still holds sway today. The African woman goes into labor, surrounded by aunties and grandmother or total strangers.
Furthermore, most African men lack knowledge or understanding of and are disconnected from issues related to the birth of their children. There is a bizarre belief in this region that children belong to a man, not the woman. Thus, the role of women in many African countries in a child’s life is relegated to that of couriers and not the owners of children.
If the woman gives birth to a female child, instead of a male, her plight could become exacerbated in the family and society, where archaic cultural and religious beliefs ensure that women are regarded as being below men on the social ladder.
It is this very reason that African women are abused by men when they can’t bear a male child or can’t bear any child at all.
There are many women who are divorced daily in Africa on account of them being unable to bear children for their men. Their value becomes only attached to sex and bearing children for men.
It is demeaning to women, regarded only useful as sex & child machines, meant to produce babies for men. This pressure and discrimination on women of African descent leave them stressed out and traumatized as the expectations of their men and society dent their self-confidence and self-image.
In some societies in this region, women that are barren or are unable to bear a male child are rejected by families of their husbands, such as in-laws and relatives, and are pilloried, being of no use. These attacks pile pressure on their men to divorce them.
Many African women feel incomplete if they can’t have children.
Yet, when they get pregnant, their journey to labor and delivery is a cruel and lonely one without their men by their side.
Lastly, there is a lack of privacy in the hospitals. This problem was exemplified in the experience I shared above, where I was told that that the women who were in labor in the delivery ward were not all my wives.
Benefits of Men’s Involvement with Pregnancy and Childbirth
A number of studies have reported that getting men involved in pregnancy and childbirth engender a positive effect on pregnancy outcomes. This is because it enhances maternal health, lowers the incidence of low birth weight, and reduces risk of preterm birth and infant mortality.
Apart from these, male involvement can also help reduce maternal stress as it provides emotional, financial, and social support and also aids decision-making purposes as well as logistical support.
Husbands’ presence during pregnancy and childbirth makes women feel protected, secure. It also raises interest in prenatal care and ensures husbands are involved from an early stage in their upcoming parental roles.
Besides, male involvement in maternal health issues tends to foster better relationships between couples and also promotes maternal well-being.
While not undermining the care that doctors and nurses provide for a woman during labor, the support she enjoys from her own partner or husband is unique and has tremendous positive effects.
Women in their throes of child delivery need a lot of spiritual support and someone they could talk to, rub their backs when they have contractions, help them get water, or assist them in buying materials when needed. The most suitable person for this role is their husband/partner and father of their upcoming baby.
How Is TAWF Helping to Promote Men’s Involvement during Childbirth in Africa?
Several countries, including the US, the UK, Australia, Sweden, allow the husband to be present when the wife is undergoing childbirth in a bid to provide support for her during labor. Even during the antenatal period, husbands also take preparatory classes and counseling.
It is the aim of the African Woman Foundation (TAWF) that women in various countries on this continent also enjoy similar benefits and support from their husbands when pregnant and in labor.
At TAWF, we say NO to the exploitation and commodification of women and placing their value in sex and childbearing. They are women, NOT sex or baby machines.
We urge all ministries of health to put in place measures that promote the bonding of families, especially when women go into labor by ensuring there is every conducive space for husbands to be present by the bedside of their wives when their child is born.
We call on African men to take pride not only in the birth of their children but also in the process through which these kids are born. This will make them better appreciate the pain, suffering, and struggles that women go through for nine months, culminating in the final phases of labor and childbirth.
Women, who are surrounded by love and care during labor pains, will find comfort and joy.
When men impregnate women, they do it alone, not surrounded by neighbors, strangers or medics. Let the African man lead the way when the African woman goes into labor.
Let the woman who goes into labor see the face and the touch of the man who impregnated her.
On the issue of lack of privacy in hospitals, there is a need for these health centers to offer privacy at no cost to anyone who wishes to be present as a man during the birth of their children.
TAWF advocates spaces in each hospital that guarantees privacy for any would-be mother, who requests for it, to give access to the father that wishes to be present during the birth of their children.
#No to the exploitation of women
#No to the abuse of women
#No sexual violence
#No to regarding women as meant solely for sex and childbearing
Founder: The African Woman Foundation (TAWF)