With the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health and Nutrition recently encouraging husbands to be present in the labour room during the birth of their child – in order to encourage family bonding – Sri Lankan fathers now have their own birthing tales to recount.
From holding their wife’s hand through the labour pains to cutting the umbilical chord, these sensitised husbands are now as good as new. “It was like a miracle when I saw my baby’s head appearing for the first time,” shared Nivan de Silva, 28, who was at the side of his wife throughout the delivery of his son on October 5. “There were some people who tried to dissuade me saying that I would be shocked by the sight of blood, but I had promised my wife to support her throughout,” recalls the delighted father, whose little boy was born in the private labour room of the prestigious Apollo Hospital in Colombo.
“I saw my son’s struggle to be born. It’s not like a fairy tale where the baby is put into one’s arms after the wife has given birth,” admits Nivan, who not only held his wife’s head and leg during the birth and gave her emotional support but also cut the umbilical cord.
“Men, too, must see the process of childbirth… They must not be isolated from their wives during delivery, as it is a very traumatic time for them. If you are a husband, you must support your wife at this critical time and not be afraid. My wife felt more secure because I was there,” elaborates Nivan. The enthusiastic father declares, “Now the baby has to be fed every two hours … it’s the baby that calls the shots just now.”
Just like Nivan, Praveen Wanigasooriya, 29, too is proud to have been present in the private labour room to witness the birth of his baby girl on October 3. “It was a very novel experience for me. One of my friends had gone to the same doctor, Dr Vijith Vidyabhushana – a well-known city obstetrician – so I was prepared. I was stroking my wife’s hair and forehead and joking with her to relieve her nervous tension. I even came with a camera but the hospital didn’t allow photos to be taken,” recalls the young dad. Wanigasooriya’s bundle of joy was born recently at the private Ninewells Hospital in Colombo. While the young banker has no paternity leave, he has already planned to devote his annual leave to “washing nappies and caring for the baby.”
While Nimal Siripala de Silva, Minister of Health and Nutrition, who made the daddies-in-the-labour room announcement, would be delighted with such a response from young fathers, the country’s two leading maternity hospitals – Castle Street Maternity Hospital and Lady De Soysa Maternity Hospital in Colombo – are believed to find the idea impractical. The argument of their staff is that the hospitals do not have facilities for private labour rooms or screens to facilitate the presence of husbands.
“It’s an option and is not practical in our part of the world,” elaborates Dr Vijith Vidyabhushana, obstetrician and gynaecologist, who used to work at the Castle Street Maternity Hospital. “They are introducing private labour rooms in the Elpitiya Government Hospital in south Sri Lanka. But our people are not as educated as in the West. If the wife is shouting in pain during labour, a husband might threaten the doctors and ask for a Caesarean operation to be performed. However, it is the right of the husband to be there during childbirth. I sometimes get the husband to cut the umbilical cord.”
Agreeing that the presence of the husband helps the family bond, Sister Mahendrapala, General Nurse and Midwife with 37 years of experience behind her and who is currently with the Ninewells’ Hospital, says, “It is good for the husband to be at the bedside of his wife during delivery. Generally, the husband encourages the wife to push at the time of delivery and he also comforts her. You can see his happiness when he sees the baby.”
While it may take some more time for families in Sri Lanka to get better accustomed to the idea of the presence of the husband in the delivery room, there can be no denying the intrinsic value of such a move. As Dr Subangi Herat, Senior Lecturer, Department of Sociology, University of Colombo, commented, “Such a step encourages the husband to be more responsible for the child; and it also helps to further family ties.”