A husband casts tradition aside and helps in son's birth in Ukraine

Maria Yarmakova with a newborn and her husband Nikolai
Within much of Ukrainian society a lingering attitude exists that a man does not do "female tasks" like making the bed, doing the cooking or, heaven forbid, taking part in the birth of his child. More customarily, while his spouse is giving birth, the husband gathers with his friends to await news of the birth and then toast the newborn.

Nikolai, 34, finally agreed to be present and help in the birth of his first child only after much cajoling from his wife, Maria, and doctors at the Sakhi Rayon Maternity Hospital in the Crimea. Sakhi Maternity is part of the Maternal and Infant Health Project (MIHP), a program supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by John Snow, Inc. The MIHP purpose is to improve reproductive and infant health in Ukraine by fostering quality perinatal services. It is part of a general commitment by USAID in partnership with the Ukrainian government to improve the overall health of the Ukrainian population. MIHP has been working in Ukraine since 2003.

"For the first time in my life, in 15 years of marriage, I saw my husband with different eyes after he helped me during labor and delivery of our son," explained Maria, 32, in a touching letter she wrote after their son was born. "I realized how tender and reliable he is. Before the delivery we had squabbles all the time, and the reasons was that he maintained that pregnancy and delivery is completely a woman's business."

Maria's letter, one of many that the MIHP receives from women and their families who have delivered at the Sakhi hospital, was especially moving. Maria explained that if not for Dr. Ludmila Belobaba, the obstetrician who oversaw the birth, Nikolai might have never come around.

"She insisted that Nikolai visit birth-preparation classes. It was not an easy task but when Nikolai saw other men at the classes his resistance vanished," explained his wife.

During the labor and delivery Nikolai held his wife's hand and massaged her back, which she said helped her considerably, especially during the second period of delivery. Dr. Belobaba encouraged Nikolai to keep talking to his wife during delivery and, most importantly perhaps, he helped her choose a comfortable delivery position.

"I delivered our son in a chair with my husband holding me from behind. When I turned around to see his face—he was crying," Maria wrote in her letter.

She said that Nikolai told her afterwards that is was as if he had also felt all that she had experienced and had delivered the baby together with her.