One evening in June 2021, Alex Miezan, now 35, was out clubbing when, at around 1 am, he received a text message from his partner, Elodie, who was home alone: ”I’ve gone to the hospital because I’ve been having strong contractions for a few hours now, the midwives say it’s imminent.” Drunk and emotional as he read the message, Miezan showed his phone to the revealers around him before tucking it away in his pocket, resuming his dance steps and ordering another drink, all smiles.
Under pressure from some of his friends – including his partner – or perhaps because the party was getting a bit out of hand, he finally got into a cab bound for the maternity ward in a central district of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire’s economic capital. “What am I going to do there?” he asked himself. “To each his own. For me, the only thing I have to do is find the money to pay for the medical stay.” Once there, the young man remained on the forecourt of the hospital without witnessing the birth of his daughter. Two years later, for the birth of his second child, Miezan felt his sister support the mother of his children. He has no regrets about staying behind on both occasions. “It’s the custom,” he said.
In Côte d’Ivoire, childbirth is a women’s affair from which men exclude themselves. Like Miezan, many men don’t feel involved in the event and don’t want to experience it up close. The father-to-be traditionally sends his mother, a sister or an aunt to “represent” him.
“I could give a hundred good reasons for my absence, but the most important one is that it’s not my place and I didn’t want to go,” said Roland Tokpa, 44. For in the view of this father of three daughters, who has learned the happy news “at work, at home and at the maquis,” a popular street bar-restaurant, childbirth is “reserved for women.” “It’s always been like that,” he said. Not so long ago, midwives were the only ones to deliver babies in Côte d’Ivoire, before gynecologists – who are still mostly men – took their turn in the delivery process.
‘No room for me’
To defend themselves and explain their absence, others put forward practical reasons, in particular the fact that access to birthing rooms at public hospitals is filtered and made difficult for men, due to the large number of women there at the same time. They also point out, often quite rightly, that the dilapidated state of public health infrastructures means that visitors cannot stay in these facilities for several hours or even days.
This is the reason put forward by Gildas Mahan, a cameraman in his thirties, who slept “like a baby” the night his wife gave birth. His eyes still sleepy, in the early hours of the morning he saw on his phone the 30 or so missed calls from his mother-in-law, who wanted to tell him about the birth of his daughter. “There was no room for me there, it was too small, so I told my wife that it would be better if her mother was next to her in the same bed,” he said.
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