Picture this, a woman has given birth to a healthy baby and the man goes to work celebrating with his boys at the office. With the loud cheers of celebration he receives, you’d almost think he was the one who went through all the labour pains. The reality is, men often don’t get that involved with a woman’s pregnancy. I’m not saying all men, but there are many who don’t always make the added efforts to help a woman from beginning to end.
In Ghana and in many African cultures, pregnancy is often viewed as a woman’s issue. Something she has to manage and the man is not always held accountable for throughout the duration of her pregnancy. But many health professionals agree and recognize that getting men more actively involved is a very important factor in the improvement of maternal and child outcomes. In the research article by BioMedCentral titled, ‘Perceptions of, Attitudes towards and Barriers to male involvement in Newborn Care in Rural Ghana’, there are findings that support the general consensus that men are not actively involved in their partner’s maternal care.
The lack of male responsibility starts as early as the time a couple is trying to conceive. Of course if a woman becomes pregnant easily she is praised and the families are happy. However, if she is unable to become pregnant, she, the woman, is held responsible. Although it’s true there are cases when a woman’s infertility can be cause for concern, 33% of the time it’s actually the man who is either infertile or has a very low sperm count. But in African cultures, rarely does a man speak up and admit that he could be the cause of the problem.
Too much pressure is placed on the woman as if she is the only one to blame and this can cause her further emotional and mental stress, which is also a factor causing difficulties becoming pregnant. There needs to be a shift in thinking and a man can take the responsibility to visit the doctor and find out if perhaps he is the reason they are not conceiving. The other possibility is timing. A woman is ovulating at certain times of the month and that is the most likely time she will get pregnant. This may seem so simple, but many don’t even take that into consideration.
Why is it so important for men to be more actively involved in women’s maternal health? Well, studies have shown that when men are a part of the process it increases knowledge for both of them and improves their behaviour when it comes to seeking out information on health and educating each other on life saving tactics should they face any challenges when the time of delivery comes.
In a study done in the Northern Region a few years ago, it was found that after a woman had lost a child during pregnancy, men became more involved in future pregnancies. In fact, 60% of men in the study attended appointments with their expectant wives (especially for third and fourth pregnancies). In these cases the couple made maternal health decisions together 75% of the time. It shouldn’t take the death of a child or serious complications for a man to become involved in the future. They should always want to be involved.
How men can be more involved with the pregnancy process.
Attend Doctor or Clinic Visits with Your Partner
Men should be encouraged to attend ante-natal visits when they can. It helps to keep informed of your partner’s health. When a man is with her during an appointment he may ask questions of the doctor or nurse that maybe the mother-to-be may not have thought about. You can make better decisions together and be more aware of any high-risk health issues your wife (or girlfriend) has and what you can do together to manage it.
Encourage Her to Make Decisions about her Own Body
Some traditional practices can also come in a way to cause harm to a pregnant woman indirectly. In the research study by BioMedCentral, a 37-year old man said, “Every proper married woman should listen and do accordingly everything her husband tells her to do.” This statement is an example of the gender dynamic in many areas, particularly in rural communities. When the man is the head of the household in traditional families, the woman is sometimes not given the autonomy over her own body and fails to make decisions without the man’s permission. In these types of situations, it can end up causing serious harm when an emergency arises.
When I was on a trip to the Northern Region a nurse told me that she knew women who died while waiting for permission from their husbands to go to the hospital. One specific case she told me about happened when a midwife did everything she could at the woman’s home during labour. She could see that the situation was becoming so serious she needed to refer her to the closest hospital in Salaga. The woman said she was not going because her husband was still working on the farms. She needed his permission if she was going to the hospital to deliver. The woman lost her lifewhile waiting for her husband because she had severe haemorrhaging and was bleeding so much she died.
This scenario could have been prevented. I understand that there is a strong belief in a man making decisions in many rural, and even urban, communities. However, there needs to be a balance where men are taught the value of trusting a woman’s judgement and ability to make a decision when it comes to matters of her body and health.
Help Her Stay Healthy
Culturally in many communities a woman will serve the best portions of the meal she has prepared to her husband first. Leaving only the remaining for herself. That is not the best when she is in need of double the nourishment since she is not only feeding herself, but also a growing child. One of the leading problems when it comes to maternal health in Ghana is anaemia. Many women suffer from low levels of iron in their blood making them anaemic. This comes largely from poor diet. If men take a more active role in considering her health first they will not allow her to sacrifice proper meal portions. Through education and public forums, men can be encouraged to become a vital part of a woman’s nutrition during pregnancy.
Comforting Her During Delivery
This is one area that is not widely accepted in many African societies. Men are usually told to leave the room while a woman is going through delivery. Often assisted by midwives, traditional birth attendants or other female family members. Men are kept at bay and usually only re-enter the room once they hear the cries of the newborn child. This is quite common.
But with many societies embracing the idea of a man in the room during delivery, it is slowly catching on in some areas. Not everyone is comfortable with the idea, but if your husband (or boyfriend) wants to be there with you, allow him to comfort you during the most difficult part of pregnancy.
Women Allow Him to be Involved
Not all men are disinterested in being a part of the process. Many men of this new generation see the benefits of being actively involved in all the stages from the point of conception through to delivery. Some even express the desire to be more actively involved in caring for the child, which has been traditionally left for the woman. Just take a scroll through Instagram and you’ll find plenty of doting fathers of this generation who are happy to show their caring nature with their babies.
One of the problems that can be a barrier is that sometimes other female family members don’t allow the man to be as actively involved. It’s customary for other women in the family to come and help when a mother has delivered a new baby. That’s one of the wonderul parts of Ghanaian (and African culture); support from family.
But we should also take the opportunity to allow the men who want to be involved the chance to do so. The modern man wants to also bond with his newborn in a way that perhaps previous generations didn’t before. It’s healthy and it gives the mother a break sometimes when she needs it.
Overall, men getting involved with a woman’s maternal health is a good thing. As a couple it allows you both to make informed decisions together for the health of the woman and the baby.
This is a guest blog post by TV Personality, Writer, Public Speaker & Producer Ivy Prosper. She is also the founder of Branding Fashion Africa, an organization that’s focused on building up the brand names of African and African diaspora designers. She’s outspoken on issues regarding women’s self-esteem, positive body-image and empowerment of women and girls.. She’s also an advocate on educating about issues surrounding maternal health.