Zibongele Mqadi looks set to burst with pride as he extends his arms and exclaims: “I wish the baby was born already so I could carry it!”
Mqadi (34) is fresh from an antenatal class, which he attended with his partner, 22-year-old Lucia Ngeleka at Umlazi’s U21 clinic.
He was the only man in the class of 16, but word is spreading that the clinic is now encouraging men to accompany their pregnant partners to classes to learn about pregnancy and childcare.
“It is good to be involved,” says Mqadi. “I think the younger men will like to attend the classes. But the older men might not want to because our culture is against the idea.”
Ngeleka, meanwhile, is delighted to be accompanied by her partner. “I like the idea very much. Others are not used to it, but they will start to get used to it when more men get involved.”
The clinic is one of six in Umlazi that is now offering couple counselling classes to men and women expecting babies as part of a new “Men and Maternity” programme.
The programme was officially launched yesterday (Friday) at Prince Mshiyeni Hospital by the Reproductive Health Research Unit (RHRU) and the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health.
Its main aims are to encourage men to take more responsibility for their children, improve maternal health and offer better services at antenatal clinics.
Nurses at the six clinics have been trained by the RHRU on how to conduct classes in antenatal care, childcare and the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
“The nurses are now starting to run the classes on pregnancy, delivery, baby care and nutrition,” says RHRU’s Nobuhle Mthembu.
“The men are expected to attend three classes, two before the baby is born and one afterwards. They can also be present during delivery. If the man is working, we will send his employer a formal letter from the clinic requesting that he is given time off to attend the class,” she adds.
“The main aim of the project is to encourage men’s involvement in their partners’ pregnancy, explain how they can avoid sexually transmitted diseases and provide a better service,” says RHRU researcher Simphiwe Zondi who, as a new father, has a personal interest in the programme.
For Sister Simangele Madondo from U21 clinic, the programme is a “milestone and a great opportunity”.
“So many fathers don’t take responsibility for their children,” says Madondo. “This is going to improve the relationships between men and women and between fathers and their children. It will lead to paternal bonding and we won’t have this thing of men denying that they are the fathers of their children.”
RHRU provincial director Mags Beksinska says the research programme will run for three years, and couples who have attended the classes will be followed up after six months and compared with couples from a further six clinics who have not attended the classes.
“We hope to find women happier with their partners’ involvement with their babies, a lower STD rate and people more satisfied with the clinic services,” says Beksinska. “If we see that the programme is working well, we hope to roll it out in other provinces.”
Mqadi meanwhile is convinced that the programme will work. “I am not worried about other men laughing at me. I am doing this because I love Lucia.”