Aloysius Chidiebere Ugwu (Lead Writer)
In January 2020, in the middle of the dry season known as harmattan in Nigeria, I was in Kano state performing my duties as a health advocate when I received news from my wife which redefined my plans for the next nine months. “Babe, I think my body is changing, I bought a pregnancy rapid test kit to test my urine and it showed double lines,” she said to me on the phone. As a microbiologist, I understood the meaning of the rapid test reading. However, it required another level of confirmation by a doctor. From that moment, I began to have mixed feelings about the situation.
I had closely watched some of my friends and colleagues who have children and seen how strong the bond of their relationships have been. For me it was clear that things will no longer be the same, and if the confirmatory test is positive, my time and resources will have to be proportionally re-distributed to accommodate a new reality. It was a reality I was looking forward to.
When I returned from Kano, we went to the hospital for a confirmatory test and follow up instructions if the result remained positive. The situation became clearer a few minutes after her blood sample was tested — she was indeed pregnant. Our joy knew no bounds, and for me, fatherhood was about to set in. We told a few family and friends who rejoiced and thanked God with us.
It is no news that Nigeria is a large contributor to the global burden of maternal mortality. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Nigeria accounts for nearly 20% of maternal mortality globally. Putting this figure in perspective, a Nigerian woman of reproductive age has a 1 in 22 lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy, or childbirth.
Now that my wife had been confirmed pregnant, I knew she needed all the support she could get from me to carry the baby to full term. I was not ready to have neither my wife nor our baby become part of the maternal and child mortality statistics in Nigeria. Evidence has shown that a partner’s support and care during pregnancy is an important factor in promoting the health of pregnant women and unborn babies as well as reducing maternal and infant mortality during pregnancy, labour and delivery.
I therefore decided to be pregnant with my wife, and took the following steps.
Support in Antenatal Care (ANC) Visits
WHO recommends a minimum of eight antenatal visits for a positive pregnancy experience and reduced perinatal mortality. At the third month of our pregnancy, I accompanied my wife to the hospital to register for antenatal care.
At this period Nigeria was at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and it was uneasy for people to go to the hospital to receive care. My wife and I were a little bit scared and unsure about the carrying a pregnancy in the midst of a pandemic. At every visit, after taking her to the hospital, I would wait until she was done with the ANC session and bring her back home. You may say that the pandemic influenced my actions, but the truth is that regardless of the emergence of Covid-19, it is important that men accompany their wives occasionally for antenatal visits. It builds their confidence and trust that they are not alone in the journey. On several occasions, I spotted my wife smiling while we were returning from the hospital because I was there for her.
At the end of every antenatal visit, pregnant women come home with routine medications. For some women, taking these drugs could be very challenging. This was the case for my wife. You can imagine the difficulty in maintaining a daily routine of drugs for a long period of time. The risk of forgetting to take the drugs is high. As simple as a reminder from me helped and encouraged my wife not to miss a day.
Support in House Chores
Doing house chores can be quite overwhelming. Mine was a bit different because I live in a smaller house with my family, so I had less chores to do. However, house chores are unending. I understood that a few months ago my wife could do countless chores but her current reality could not support this anymore. She was not as strong as she used to be before pregnancy, and I could not expect her to do all the work by herself. This understanding changed the narrative of how I operated in and outside the house. I had to cut down on my engagements outside the home to ensure that I took care of the house as well as my pregnant wife and unborn child. At this point their wellness was at the centre of my mind.
Engagement in Recreational Activities
Antepartum and postpartum depression are common challenges for women during pregnancy and after childbirth. Most times it occurs before couples realize what is happening. My wife’s happiness was priority, so on several occasions while returning home I would stop at a nearby store to get her some things she liked. Since Covid-19 had affected the cinemas, I converted my parlor to a mini cinema hall. All this was to ensure that she averts every form of stress and unhappiness. As the time of delivery was closing in on us, the doctor told us that the baby’s weight was becoming an issue and as such delivery will be by Caesarean Section (CS). This was not what we looked forward to. However, to rule out every form of anxiety, my wife and I reminded ourselves that CS is not a death sentence. The cost of the procedure could have been another reason to be anxious, but my wife and I were already covered through a health insurance package from my place of work. With N15,000 husbands can enroll their wives for the vital contributors social health insurance programme of the National Health Insurance Scheme that covers numerous benefits including antenatal delivery and postnatal care among others.
On the day of my wife’s delivery, knowing that it was her first experience and there would be a lot going on in her mind, it was critical that I stand by her throughout preparations for the CS. I stayed with her in the hospital until she was moved into the theater room for the surgery. From that point I became restless until the moment I got the news that my wife has delivered and both her and the baby are in good condition.
In many African countries, pregnancy and childbirth continue to be viewed as exclusively women’s responsibilities. Men should provide wholistic care and support for their pregnant wives across three areas of optimum health which include physical, emotional and socioeconomical. Nigeria must achieve zero death of women while giving life and husbands have a big role to play in achieving this. Today my wife and I have a beautiful baby girl. I can gladly make bold to say that it was possible in part because of my contribution in supporting her through the process.
Since our baby has come, I have entered another phase of support to both my wife and baby. For the first one month of her delivery I had sleepless night because of colic. Our baby would cry from night into the early hours of the morning. I had to support my wife by helping to feed the baby with expressed breast milk to give her mother sometime to catch some sleep.
I look forward to building a strong relationship with our baby girl, to take her on vacations just as I see my friends and colleagues do. I equally want to give her the best quality of education she requires and ensure that she achieves her full potential in life.
For over nine months of our pregnancy I’ve come to realize that from the point a woman takes in till delivery, there are a wide range of changes they undergo including hormonal, emotional, and physical changes among others. Every partner must understand these changes and relate with their partner in a manner that will not aggravate the situation or make them feel uneasy with their pregnancy journey. As my daughter grows into maturity, I want her to know that her successful delivery was partly a product of my devoted efforts in ensuring that her mother maintained a healthy emotional balance throughout the period she was in the womb.