We were ushered into an antenatal class with nearly 100 women. They were not expecting us, but we were welcomed anyway. Yashua Alkali, the project lead in Nigeria, asked all the women: should your husbands be here? A chorus of “yes!” When asked why, one woman stood up and said: if you ask us to go home and tell our husbands what they need to do, they see us as being demanding. [And these are poor families, so anything extra, like a changed diet, is indeed a demand on the provider.] But if the midwives would tell our husbands directly, they would understand and support us better. [And we know from research that this is exactly what does happen.]
A solitary father was then spotted in the corridor and he was invited in and asked, in front of everyone, why he was there. Normally men in maternity services are mouse-like, but he gave a remarkably composed and highly considered response. Being there helped him to understand what women’s experiences are and how he can help his wife more at home. Now he can respect her and all women more.
The entirety of the Family Included project was encapsulated in this moment: everyone wants fathers to be involved all the way up to the World Health Organisation in Geneva, but they just aren’t!
We then had a meeting with the hospital’s management team and the hospital director, who stood out as a remarkable individual responsible for running a really good operation. He immediately agreed that he could introduce a process of engaging with all fathers – he said it would cost nothing extra, which is precisely the point. We will help him in every way possible to get it right by connecting him with others who have made it work, showing him what has worked and not worked elsewhere and giving him tried and tested materials he can adapt give to women and their families. And what did it take to catalyse this change? So little! We are at tipping point, all over the world.
This partnership between health professionals and families will save the lives of mothers and babies. We know this from research. That is why our work to promote this kind of partnership is such a privilege.