A Man’s Perspective on Midwifery and Gender

Peter Johnson

It's National Midwifery Week! Today a male midwife asks how midwifery can guard against gender discrimination against male midwives while also honoring the rights of women who prefer female care providers.

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. Rewire 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?

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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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