by Peter Johnson, CNM, PhD, FACNM
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 midwiferegardless of race, ethnicity, religion or genderis 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?