The Mid-Person

Menstuff® has compiled the following information on Male Mid-Wives and Male Nurses.

Men Who Deliver
Expecting a delivery by male?
Marilyn's Comments
Related Issue: 
Male Nurses



The men who deliver

An article in today’s Guardian takes on the issue of male midwives. The newspaper interviews a number of men working in the profession.

According to the latest NMC figures, there are only 93 male midwives in current practice, representing just 0.3 percent of all practising midwives. This compares to an overall figure of 10 percent for males on the NMC register (see News story 19/11/02).

The article describes how a mother who was unhappy with her antenatal care at a hospital birth centre was referred to a community midwife who turned out to be a 55-year-old man. She says she was initially “dumbfounded and embarrassed" and could not see how any man could grasp the emotions involved in pregnancy or the agonies of childbirth.

However, once she overcame these concerns she found that he was actually “much more caring and sympathetic” than the female midwives she had met previously.

Men first won the right to be registered as midwives just 20 years ago, following a long legal battle. They faced opposition from female midwives and expectant mums. Even today, not all women are comfortable with a man delivering their baby. Some are suspicious of men's motives while others reject them on religious grounds. Occasionally the woman's partner might decide he doesn't want another man in the delivery room.

Another male midwife interviewed by the paper describes the qualities required: “You have to be a people person. Of course you need to be aware of women's needs and it helps if you can talk the hind legs off a donkey. If you can communicate well with people it makes life so much easier."

Beverley Beech, chairwoman of the Association for Improvements in Maternity Services (AIMS) says that she as originally a fierce opponent of male midwives, but has since had to change her mind. However, she would still not encourage men to enter the profession. "The male midwives in this country are excellent - they are very gentle people and they like helping women. But you don't find many men like that around."

Expecting a delivery by male?

Midwives who are men are still a very small minority - but some women prefer them

As a male midwife, Alan Jenkins often gets a reaction from women and their families when he walks through the door, but he finds it easy to develop a rapport. "If you have the skills and attributes that midwives need, it doesn't matter what your gender is and it's usually pretty easy to convince women of that," explains Mr Jenkins, who works at Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals Trust.

Although he has been rejected at times, it is increasingly rare. "I think you have to try to understand each individual situation on the few occasions that happens," he says. "There could be religious reasons or it could be because women have been treated badly by men. It could be that the partner doesn't like the idea of a man handling her. In defence, some people suggest that having a male midwife is no different from having a male doctor - but it is. Midwifery is a much more intimate form of caring."

David Cunningham, a midwife in Shotts, Lanarkshire, believes men are far more accepted within the profession than even a decade ago. He recalls being asked by a female student nurse how he could possibly understand the pain that women experience in childbirth. "Obviously I don't know what it feels like," he says. "But I can empathise, just as any doctor can empathise with his patient's pain."

Some women prefer having a male midwife. Kirsty Briggs from Anglesey, says: "I think having a man as a midwife actually made things less complicated because many female midwives have had children themselves and so they have set ideas."

Meanwhile, Marie Swoboda from Bournemouth, says: "I was worried how I would feel letting a man look at my body so intimately and that he wouldn't understand what I was going through. However, as soon as I met him, I was immediately put at ease. There was simply no question of me being embarrassed."

Only 98 of Britain's 36,000 practising midwives are men and with the current huge shortages of midwives, the profession is keen to attract more. Melanie Every of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) explains: "There are many reasons for the shortages. Men weren't allowed to enter the profession until 1983. Low salaries and the fact that midwifery was seen as more of a vocation than a profession have also been a problem. Both areas are improving."

Indeed, Ms Every expects that as media images and recruitment campaigns feature more male midwives - and as a career in midwifery becomes recognised as worthwhile - more men will start applying.

"I think the blurring of what were historically gendered jobs is also helping. In the same way that it's no longer odd for a man to be a secretary, it's no longer strange for a man to be a midwife," says Ms Every.

But Paul Lewis, professor of midwifery at Bournemouth University, believes that men should not be specifically targeted. 'This profession needs to embrace diversity, but that should be about encouraging people to join midwifery from a range of backgrounds, be they men or women. I don't think we should try to get 'x' number of male midwives any more than Indian midwives. Men are very welcome, but more important than their gender is the fact that this is a career that really appeals to them." Source:  

Marilyn's Comments

In the last year, it has come to my attention that male midwives are not only discriminated against due to the fact that they are midwives, but also by female members of their profession. I find this to be very unfair. I believe that we all need to be able to differentiate between our own choices and the ones made by other women. A certain midwife would feel that she would prefer a female attendant but must also realize that she cannot make this choice for all women. I personally would look beyond gender when choosing a birth attendant. I would want my midwife to be caring and competent no matter what gender they were. I have been in contact by e-mail with three male midwives. I find this discrimination varies from situation to situation. The FAQ’S below were written by a male midwife who practices in California. I hope in the future other male midwives will add to these so we might get a broader understanding of their situation.

Thomas's FAQ'S

A couple of questions I get asked by patients or their partners:

1. Aren't you called a midhusband?

Answer: I then explain that midwife means "with woman", not "with husband".

2. Aren't you going to medical school?

Answer: No, I like midwifery and never had thought of going to med. school

3. Being addressed, "Doctor"

Answer: Then explaining that I am a midwife.

4. Well, what do your patients think of a man being a midwife? (typical question asked at a get together or party when they find out that I am a midwife)

Answer: I don't know, maybe the same thing that they think when they go to a male ObGyn

5. Once I had a thank you letter from a female coach (sister)of one of my patients. She thanked me for helping her sister through labor, then asked me out (if I wasn't gay or married).

Answer: I thanked her for the card, and told her that I was married. (My wife got a kick out of that one.

Usually towards the end of midwifery school you are sent out to different sites around the U.S. to do a 8-10 week "Integration" rotation. The only time that I experience discrimination (second hand), was when a student came back from another integration site and told me that the place she was at was looking for midwives.

She told them about me and they told her that they wouldn't hire a male midwife. I did not pursue this job.

Well, here are a few things I've encountered over the last 6 1/2 years. Like I mentioned before, I've been pretty lucky and haven't had any problems.

Thomas Morrison, CNM, Cypress, CA

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