Are Namibian Men Ready for the Delivery Room?

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By Surihe Gaomas and Wonder Guchu WINDHOEK Given the chance, would you be brave enough to see your wife, fiancÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚©e or girlfriend giving birth? Or can you let your boyfriend or husband see you squirming and howling in pain during childbirth? One man did, and when the wife saw him she called him closer, asked for his hand which he faithfully and obediently gave, but in no time two fingers were gone. Another one did, and the wife did not want to see him anywhere close until after she had delivered. A random survey carried out in Windhoek last week showed that while the young generation is willing to accompany or to be accompanied by their partners to the delivery room, the middle-aged and a few traditionally-inclined young people feel that the delivery room is not a man’s place. “What business do I have in a delivery room? Am I a doctor or a midwife?” asked a middle-aged man who was also quick to add that it was culturally taboo in Africa for a man to see his wife giving birth. Another one, Charles (not his real name) said the whole experience would put him off. “Ugh, man. It’s a squeamish business. It would put me off. And there is no pleasure in being in a delivery room,” he said. Not only were men uncomfortable with the idea of being present in the delivery room, but middle-aged women too. “I did not like the idea of him being there (delivery room),” said a mother of four. “The sight of other women screaming made me hate him.” Belinda Visage (not her real name) said that although they had agreed that he should be present, she changed her mind when the delivery was done through Caesarian operation. “When I was told that they were going to operate on me, seeing him there irritated me. It was even worse when he tried to comfort me and I said, like, agh go away from me,” Belinda said, adding that she just wanted to get it over and done with. This was the general feeling among a number of men who even said that traditionally, women attend to childbirths. Alex Kaputu, who is well versed in traditional ways, concurred and said people should stick to tradition. “It’s taboo! You are just going to lose loving this woman and it’s a shock for him to see her that way. She’s no longer special,” explained Kaputu. The same sentiments were echoed by a clinical psychologist, Dr Shaun Whittaker, who said seeing blood and their partners screaming put the men off. “It’s very strange, and men will be disgusted. It’s really seen as a woman’s activity. Historically, men in Namibia come from a macho background and they would rather go out drinking in celebration while their women are giving birth,” explained Dr Whittaker. Although there is no official documentation as to how many men accompany their partners into the delivery room at the various hospitals, it turns out that only a few do. While for State patients the number is low, private patients prefer this option of sharing in the delivery process. Those who don’t have partners normally come in with their mothers or grandmothers, or anyone whom they trust. Witnessing child-birth is not for the faint-hearted, as has been proved by a couple of men fainting in the delivery room or asking nurses instead to take photographs of the child when he or she is born. “Emotionally, women are generally much more stronger than men when it comes to these things,” was a comment from a midwife at the Windhoek Central Hospital. According to Kaputu, culturally, men can only see the baby after two to three months for the traditional baptizing ceremony at the Holy Fire, but he added that it was a matter of choice. It appears to be the case with the majority of the young generation – both women and men – who do not mind being seen, or being seen holding their partner’s hands and whispering words of comfort. For others like Helena (not her real name) happiness is seeing him there, waiting. “I was overjoyed. I can’t even know what to say. It was a very nice experience. When I heard him joking with the doctor that the child looked like him (father), I was very excited,” said Helena. And Belinda, despite her unwillingness to see her partner, mellowed after the operation. “When I opened my eyes after the operation, he was the only one I wanted close to me,” said the young mother. A midwifery lecturer at the University of Namibia’s Faculty of Nursing, Dr KÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¤the Hofni-//HoÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚«bes, called this feeling an “instant bonding” for both parents to see the baby for the first time together. “The partner has to be around to encourage and offer security to the partner. It’s a bonding thing, and that is a good thing. You can massage her lightly, wipe her forehead with a wet cloth and give encouraging words during the process. It’s more like a companion role,” said Dr Hofni-//HoÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚«bes. She said there was a strong need to sensitize both parents before the delivery about this important role of parenting. In a way, Kaputu was right by saying it is a matter of choice.