Men in Midwifery

Midwifery in the news: check out the latest article by Anemona Hartocollis on men in midwifery (specifically, Richard Jennings, a midwife who practices at Bellvue), in last week’s NY Times (7/31/05).

To quote a very small snippet:

    Many of his colleagues are more ambivalent about his role. “Most of us tend to think of ourselves as being really open-minded and not discriminatory,” said Joan Bryson, a midwife in private practice and chairwoman of the New York chapter of the American College of Nurse-Midwives, a professional organization. “But we’re not sure if we think there should be male midwives.”

Personally, I’m all for it. Sure, it might buck the status quo, but that’s a good thing, isn’t it? Midwifery is a way of caring for someone; it’s a state of mind, an attitude, a belief that birth is safe, that women are strong, that healthcare should be open and patient-driven, that support should be unequivocal, interventions used only when necessary, and all of it done with gentleness and respect. A man can practice this way as easily as a woman, although it’s very rare that men are able to do so. Some people may argue that women are better able to deliver this care because they are women, they have the requisite plumbing, and are therefore much better able to empathize, but then, how do you explain female obstetricians who can’t empathize to save their lives, or female midwives who are amazingly empathetic, but have never given birth themselves? And what about men like Grantly Dick-Read, Michael Odent and Robert Bradley, who have done more to support women, pioneer natural childbirth, and provide gentle, holistic care than many women in their entire lifetimes? True, midwifery has been a traditionally female role, but that’s probably just because women tend to have more of the qualities needed to make a good midwife, thanks to socialization and our ideas of what a “man” and “woman” is, but women don’t have the patent on midwifery. It has nothing to do with gender or personally experiencing birth (although I’m sure that giving birth yourself doesn’t hurt one bit in the empathy department). Instead, it has everything to do with attitude, patience, outlook, communication and fundamental beliefs.

Shouldn’t we be more alarmed about a world where there are so few men out there who are able to deliver this kind of care? Shouldn’t we be more concerned about the way we’re raising our little boys? Why is it surprising to us that a man is able to care for women the way a midwife should? Rather than wondering whether men should be allowed to be midwives or not, we should be wondering why there aren’t more male midwives in the first place.

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