A Man’s Perspective on Midwifery and Gender


October 4-10 is National Midwifery Week!
Each year during National Midwifery Week, midwives across the US raise
awareness of the midwifery profession and the services provided to
women. RH Reality Check will be publishing a series of posts this week
from the American College of Nurse-Midwives blog, Midwife Connection,
to recognize this week – and the care midwives, Certified
Nurse-Midwives and Certified Professional Midwives, provide. Need a
quick Midwife 101? Read more.   

As a man who has dedicated his career to midwifery, I frequently answer
questions like “How can you be a midwife?” “Aren’t you a mid-husband,”
and “Don’t you want to be called something else?”

When I answer
these questions from family, new friends, and acquaintances at parties,
I give a simple answer. Midwife means “with woman.” The gender of the
person with that woman is not the relevant factor. What is relevant is
that the midwife—regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or gender—is
practicing midwifery. The hallmarks of midwifery, like the belief that
birth is normal, that skillful communication is a necessity, and that
women benefit from the sustained presence of another caring human, are
what make our profession unique.

Recently, however, I was
approached with a thought-provoking ethical dilemma: How does midwifery
guard against gender discrimination toward midwives who are men while
simultaneously honoring the rights of women who prefer female care
providers?

There are circumstances where women for religious,
cultural, or personal reasons desire the care of another woman. Of
course, this desire must be honored. I have, however, seen job ads
saying “All-female OB/GYN practice seeking midwife” and hospital
policies forbidding male nurses or midwives on labor and delivery.
These practices make the dangerous assumption that all women seek women
for their care, and these practices are discriminatory and dangerous.

Right
now far more women are entering medical obstetrics than men, and many
of those women are not delivering midwifery care. It is important that
midwives and their supporters recognize that the care we know women
deserve is not directly related to the gender of the care provider.

Midwives, what are you doing to encourage men in midwifery to join your practice, office, or university?

Women, does the gender of your midwife matter to you?

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To schedule an interview with Peter Johnson please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • ameya

    I was just recently wondering about men in the midwifery field & the sexism they must run into! I’ve never seen or heard from any before, though I assumed they were out there.
    For me, personally, yes the sex matters (but not the gender, hmm…) for a midwife. I only want a female gynecologist as well (and even the thought of that disturbs me!) Though I’d be perfectly fine with a male doula, i think it’s just the idea of the up close looking/touching of a MW that bothers me, and that might be due to my personal history.
    I do certainly love to hear about male midwives & I do not believe that all women want or prefer other women… I know many who are as horrified by the idea of going to a female gyno/ob as i am about seeing a male one.
    It really is quite the delimma. Hopefully as midwifery catches back on in the US, the bigger demand for the MWs will naturally give more space and opportunity for the males. Other than that, i wish i had something insightful to contribute :(

  • jacoxe

    To me, it doesn’t matter what sex a midwife is that’s attending me. To me, it’s their compassion, attentivenss, care, knowledge & other skills that matter most. I think it’s nice to see more men finding their niche in the profession of midwifery.

  • passionflowers

    I had my second child in Philadelphia. Prior to that pregnancy, I had an earlier one that ended in a miscarriage. New to Philadelphia, I was seeking out a certified nurse midwife who was covered by my insurance AND would do a home birth. I found that the only CNM who matched that profile was a man–Richard Jennings, now well known in midwifery circles. I was very skeptical about being cared for by a man. However, after 3 visits, I had a miscarriage, and Richard’s attentiveness, not only to my physical but also my emotional needs at that time, far surpassed anything I would have anticipated–given my gender bias. He was just as emotionally available as any midwife I’ve been in the company of (I am a licensed midwife myself and have worked next to many midwives).


    After that miscarriage, I got pregnant again, and Richard followed me through a healthy pregnancy and beautiful home birth. A few years later, I shared the video of the birth with my class at midwifery school, and my midwifery instructor remarked at how he was completely "hands-off" my perineum (honoring my request), and how patiently he set with his hands clasped while my daughter slowly emerged on her own while I barely pushed.


    I’ve also had the honor to know a few wonderful male obstetricians (especially ones who had learned a lot from midwives). Nonetheless, I think it takes a very special man to be a midwife or a good obstetrician for that matter.


    As Peter raises, however, having worked with women whose cultural beliefs prevented them from being comfortable with a male provider, as well as women with sexual abuse histories, who also strongly preferred to be cared for by a woman, I still feel every woman should have a choice in the matter. Unlike other areas of health care where gender may not be as much of an issue, birth is sexual and primal, and if a woman doesn’t feel comfortable being in that space with her caregiver, her experience is likely to be negatively impacted.

  • peter-johnson

    Dear passionflowers,

     

    Thanks for this heartfelt story.  While there are more men in midwifery than one might think and contrary to current believe WE DO NOT ALL KNOW EACH OTHER. I have had the pleasure of knowing Richard for much of my career. (He actually attended my wedding a few years back). I consider him a shining example of what embodies midwifery. I could go on but won’t because I think that you have already illustrated my point quite well…Peter

  • maria19

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