YOUNG RESEARCHER. Samuel Nambile Cumber has been a senior lecturer in the fields of Social Medicine and Epidemiology since 2017. For the coming two years, he will be studying African fathers’ involvement during pregnancy, at childbirth and during infancy. The project is being funding through a post-doctoral scholarship from the Anna Ahrenberg Foundation.
We spoke with Samuel Cumber over an unstable video link. He is currently in Cameroon, carrying out the literature review that will form the basis for his coming research study.
“I wanted to do something different with this project,” he says. “I worked with street children for my doctoral thesis and my research interests have focused on studying vulnerable populations. This time, I wanted to do something related to my life both in Cameroon and in Sweden. That is why I decided to study fathers’ participation in women’s pregnancies, at birth and during their postnatal care. Men from Sweden and Africa have very different backgrounds and interpret things differently. As an African man, I have my own experiences of this,” says Samuel Nambile Cumber, who originally comes from Cameroon and holds a Ph.D. in Public Health from South Africa.
“When I was awaiting the birth of my first child here in Sweden, I heard that I was expected to be present at the midwife’s practice and in the delivery room. I immediately told my wife that would never happen! Then I called my mother and told her that I was expected to be present at the delivery. She just sighed and asked me if I had something more important to be doing at the time. Looking back, it is interesting how differently I viewed childbirth then than I do now.
I think this is going to be an interesting study, as we are looking specifically into how African men relate to and interpret their participatory role during childbirth. It’s not that African men don’t want to be involved; it is rather a sort of cultural phenomenon where we come from and part of our background. We usually say that the woman can call us once the child has come out,” says Samuel laughing.
Makes the family stronger
The traditional African family father plays a major role in decision-making in the family. However, there are a number of challenges and difficulties during pregnancy and at childbirth of which African men are unaware.
“It is important that the whole family knows when the woman needs support or help. Therefore, I believe it is extremely important for men to have a high level of involvement. During my training and through living in Sweden, I have learned that sometimes you need to listen to your family members’ needs. However, men in the more traditional African environments, who often lack an education, make all the decisions concerning their family on their own. If men are to become more involved in childbirth, we need to see things from their perspective.”
The concept of participation can mean many different things depending on a person’s background.
“Interpretations of what participation means can vary widely. When you read research from an African context, a man may be described as feeling a sense of involvement; however, that involvement or participation may be in the form of providing for their family.”
Honest and informal discussions
Helen Elden, associate professor and midwife, is leading the research team studying childbirth.
“It is important to get to the core of this issue. It probably requires an anthropological field study to delve deeper and assume the role of an informal observer. Because of Samuel’s background, he has access to the private sphere. Swedish, female midwives would never be able to have an honest, informal discussion in a study of African men.”
Previous research has shown that men’s presence during pregnancy and childbirth is low in African countries. Even in Sweden, many African women do not even bring a sister or a mother with them when they give birth.
“In Sweden, we encourage the father to be present and active during pregnancy and childbirth. However, in the case of African couples, we almost never see the father present. There are probably lessons to be learned from the situation in Africa that we can transpose here. One can wonder if the situation is due to cultural norms that they bring with them. Perhaps then we can find answers as to what can be done to create more involvement,” says Helen Elden.
Malin Bogren is also associate professor and midwife. She continues along the same lines as Helen: “This is a very exciting field of research. It is interesting to shed light onto the male perspective, and it is also enriching to include a man in the research group. We are eager to make it clear that we provide care for the whole family and that childbirth is not just a matter for women. It is also valuable that Samuel has a different background from the other members of the research group.”
Change is the goal
Samuel Nambile Cumber has previously studied vulnerable children and has an interest in children’s health. For him, studying the forming of families was a natural extension of his research interests.
“I also became interested in the right level of involvement for fathers, because it is also an advantage for children’s health. However, my predominant aim is to identify what we can do to provide good support for pregnant women. Through the study, we hope to develop recommendations for supporting women during pregnancy and at childbirth, as well as to support the health of newborn infants. It is important to examine the various perspectives, but also to look at how we can challenge existing norms and incorporate other perspectives and norms.”
One challenge with the project is how to obtain honest responses in the interviews.
“It is possible that there may be a tendency that the persons I interview will say what they believe to be the ‘right answers’ in Sweden. I think they will believe that they have to be careful about what they say. That is why I want to speak with them in more informal contexts, so that their responses will hopefully be more transparent. As I said, more of a field study. If we are unable to have honest interviews, we will not be able to make suitable recommendations on what can be done to increase men’s participation in providing good support to women during childbirth.”
Motivated by personal experiences
Samuel Nambile Cumber has four children. He sees himself more as an engaged, Swedish father than a typical African father. A major factor was the serious accident his wife had while she was expecting their second child. As she needed to be hospitalized, Samuel was home alone with his oldest son for some time. This created a strong bond between father and son, and it has had a lasting effect on his parenting.
“When we later had more children, I was alone with them for long periods of time while my wife needed care and rehabilitation. I am very close to my children because I have spent so much time alone with them. Since I didn’t have a choice in the matter, it is difficult for me to imagine how involved I would have been otherwise. But I am very pleased about the situation. In the past, I had been quite consumed with work, which is what most African men prioritize. Sometimes, when I speak with my African friends, they have the same attitude that I had when I first came to Sweden. I usually ask them if they really don’t want to be involved and offer women their support. They respond that they provide support best by working. We see things from different perspectives and that is one of the things that motivates me. I am very much looking forward to presenting the results of the study.”
BY: LOVISA AIJMER