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Fathers fight tradition of childbirth in Russia

When Irina Kornilova gave birth to her first child in Murmansk City, her experience was typical for a Russian woman. Her husband Sergey was not present, and he only had the opportunity to meet his child once Irina left the maternity hospital. The experience of delivering babies in the presence of husbands or other family members was a foreign one.
Despite evidence that women need additional support and care during the delivery and postnatal periods, for women across Russia no one other than trained medical personnel could be present during labor. "Outsiders" were believed to create an unfavorable epidemiological environment for the baby. Even visiting a new mother in the hospital was made difficult, meaning that women were left alone to deal with the psychological and physical issues that sometimes accompany the birth of a child. Furthermore, it was felt that men had no business assisting in births. An air of mystery surrounded the processes of labor and delivery, and misconceptions flourished.

Irina and Sergey Kornilova after delivering their second child at the Murmansk City maternity hospital, an MCHI pilot facility. "Our third child will be delivered with the help of the whole family!"
Seeking to demystify the childbirth process and improve the quality of maternity care offered to women in Russia, John Snow Inc. (JSI) is implementing the USAID-funded Russia Maternal and Child Health Initiative (MCHI), a follow-on to the Women and Infant's Health Project, in pilot facilities in 14 oblasts across the country. Now in its sixth year of operation, the changes in Russia's maternity care are evident, as is the improvement in the general knowledge of the population.

"When the project began, only the most brave fathers dared to be present during their wives' labor," explains Tatyana Morozo, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Murmansk Maternity Hospital, one of the MCHI pilot facilities. "After spending several hours in the delivery room and recovering from the stress of his wife's labor, one father asked the doctor why the first baby was kept and the second was taken away? This father did not know about the birthing of the placenta. The whole procedure was a shock to him!"

To educate both men and women in MCHI target oblasts, the project has executed broad informational campaigns on modern perinatal technologies, addressing a range of issues including: family-centered maternity care, support during labor, choice of birthing position, and limitation of unnecessary medical manipulations. In addition, these campaigns have helped both providers and the population understand that the psychological climate created in the maternity room environment directly relates to the success of the labor and the future of the newborn and mother.

By 2004, approximately 30% of deliveries in MCHI pilot facilities in Murmansk included participation of family members, usually fathers. The family members arrive at the maternity hospitals equipped with childbirth information gathered from newspaper articles and television news stories. No longer afraid or mystified by labor, these family members are prepared to help the mothers during delivery as equal participants. Husbands, parents, and sometimes elder children accompany women through this most difficult and happiest of life's milestones.

In Murmansk City, at the MCHI pilot maternity hospital, Irina Kornilova prepared for the birth of her second child together with her husband. The parents brought aromatic candles and CDs with their favorite music for the delivery room, and together they developed the labor plan. During labor Sergey kissed and held Irina, and supported her as she tried to get into a comfortable position for delivery. If his concern during labor was obvious, his happiness at the birth of his baby was even more evident. Brimming with joy, Sergey expressed his delight to the midwife, saying: "I am a test-pilot. Until now I thought that my profession is the most difficult, but now I understand how important your work is. Thank you for the help you have given my wife! Thank you for my children!"