Background: Preterm birth in the United States is associated with maternal clinical factors such as diabetes, hypertension and social factors including race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. In California, 8.7% of all live births are preterm, with African American and Black families experiencing the greatest burden. The impact of paternal factors on birth outcomes has been studied, but little is known about the experience of men of color (MOC). The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences of MOC who are partners to women at medical and social risk for preterm birth.
Methods: This study used a qualitative research design and focus group methods. The research was embedded within an existing study exploring experiences of women of color at risk for preterm birth conducted by the California Preterm Birth Initiative.
Results: Twelve MOC participated in the study and among them had 9 preterm children. Four themes emerged from thematic analysis of men's experiences: (1) "Being the Rock": Providing comfort and security; (2) "It's a blessing all the way around": Keeping faith during uncertainty; (3) "Tell me EVERYTHING": Unmet needs during pregnancy and delivery; (4) "Like a guinea pig": Frustration with the healthcare system. Participants identified many barriers to having a healthy pregnancy and birth including inadequate support for decision making, differential treatment, and discrimination.
Conclusions: This study shows novel and shared narratives regarding MOC experiences during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum periods. Healthcare providers have an essential role to acknowledge MOC, their experience of discrimination and mistrust, and to assess needs for support that can improve birth outcomes. As MOC and their families are at especially high social and medical risk for preterm birth, their voice and experience should be central in all future research on this topic.
Keywords: Discrimination; Fatherhood; Fathers; Men of color; Neonatal intensive care unit; Parental role; Patient-provider communication; Pregnancy; Preterm birth.