Activist Boniface Mwangi has been present during the delivery of all his children. But not all men —and woman too— fancy the idea of husbands witnessing the life special moment…
Evelyn Makena @evemake_g
Absolutely not!” This was the emphatic answer from Simon Kimutai on whether he would accompany his wife to the delivery room.
“I know me, I would never get over the trauma because I have an idea of what goes on in there, and it is not pretty,” the sales clerk at a firm on Nairobi’s Kijabe Street and father of three says.
And he is not alone. Just across his office, Bernice Wangui tells us that she wouldn’t allow her husband in the room. “We need to appreciate that the stronger gender tag is a farce only applicable in the physical aspect.
Men are not created with the capacity to handle the trauma of witnessing their loved ones in such pain, yet there is nothing they can do about it. The helplessness crushes them,” says the school teacher mother of two.
However, not all men – or women ascribe to this paradigm. Take award-winning photojournalist and rights activist, Boniface Mwangi, for example. When he found out from his wife that they were expecting their first baby 11 years ago, he purposed to be there for her every step of the way.
So much that he signed up for antenatal classes and supported her through the highs and lows of pregnancy. At the end of the nine months, the expectant new-dad-to-be was certain there was nothing left in pregnancy that could possibly surprise him.
When it was time for his wife to deliver, he was more than ready to take an active role in the delivery room. “I was there rubbing her back and holding her hand as she laboured. When I look back, it was beautiful. I was in my son’s life from day one,” he says.
Attending the birth of his son was special, but also intense. “It was like nothing I had ever seen, not even in movies. There was a lot of blood, fluids and screaming too. I was in a daze the entire time,” he says. At the heat of the moment, he earned some few slaps and insults from his wife.
Despite all the preparation, he was traumatised by the entire experience and vowed to never put his wife through the pain again. “I made up my mind that I was done having children,” he says. He got over it soon enough and was back in the delivery room to welcome his second born four years later.
And Mwangi has been present during the birth of his three children aged 11, seven and six. Despite all the surprises he is quick to point out that the experience has been totally worth it. “Having seen what my wife had to go through, I now regard her and all women with so much respect,” he says. It has also strengthened the bond with his children.
Just like Mwangi, Raphael Kalonzo, a security guard and father of three deems a man’s presence in the delivery room important. During the births of his three children, he accompanied his wife to the hospital, but was left at the hospital waiting bay during the delivery.
“I was willing to go in with her, but did not do so since I was not sure she would be comfortable with my presence,” he says. In retrospect, Kalonzo says if he had accompanied his wife to the delivery room, it would have been a chance to show his support and be the first to see the child.
Then there are those who would like to be present, but due to lack of awareness do not know if the hospitals will allow them to be there during deliveries. According to Nerea Ojanga, a midwife at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), men are allowed to be at the delivery rooms.
In public hospitals such as Kenyatta and Pumwani Maternity hospital. However, they do not have this discretion due to congestion, she adds.
And she also thinks having fathers in the delivery room has numerous benefits. “At the height of the moment, the mother can only listen to the husband or the midwife who has walked with her during pregnancy,” she says, adding that fathers who are present during childbirth form a stronger bond with their children as they appreciate the intensity of the process of bringing forth life. However, she warns that it is important that men undergo counselling before going to the delivery room.
“Childbirth is no joke. It can be unnerving even to the most enthusiastic dads-to-be. There are so many things that go through a man’s mind at the time. They are worried their wives may die.
Others feel responsible for her pain. All this is a lot to bear for them. As the woman undergoes physical pain they also experience psychological pain,” says Nerea.
Men who opt to accompany their wives to the delivery room are sometimes psychologically prepared for the process by being taken through a mock delivery. During the actual delivery, fathers present may get a chance to cut their children’s umbilical cord.
Not for the faint-hearted
There are also downsides of having men in the delivery room. When they see the actual birth, there are chances that they lose the sexual attraction to their wives, she says.
The entire experience can be so traumatising and requires counselling for them to get over. Even with the obvious benefits of having men present during delivery, Nerea notes that it’s important that they are left to decide whether they would like to be present or not.
Dr Geofrey Wango, a counselling psychologist at the University of Nairobi, on the other hand, opines that men ought to be present during childbirth, especially if the wife is okay with the arrangement.
“It’s true the process can be too emotional and scary for men. But they should not let their fears hinder them participating in this crucial family moment,” he says. According to Wango the most crucial aspects to consider when making the decision is the wellbeing of the mother and child.
Though being present may be difficult for some men due to the intensity of childbirth, Wango says that the experience has no long term negative effects.
“The argument that men may lose sexual attraction towards their wives or remain with emotional scars may be a myth perpetuated by those who would like to avoid the process altogether. On the contrary men who participate in childbirth, honour and respect their wives even more,” he says.