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Would You Want a Male Midwife?

Image Courtesy of Otis Kryzanauskas

It's common to hear about, and applaud, women who break into predominantly male professions. I read this week (and applauded, from my home office) about 25-year-old Otis Kryzanauskas, who recently graduated with a bachelor of sciences in midwifery from McMaster University in Canada, making him the country's first male midwife. Ever. As he told , he came up against some resistance (and raised brows), from both peers and pregnant women, during his training. But Krysanauskas, whose was delivered by midwives at home, who witnessed his younger brother's home-birth, and whose mother is a practicing midwife, as well, has felt from a young age that a natural, midwife-assisted birth is "the right way to bring a baby into the world.”

Canada, like the United States, has seen a recent rise in the number of women seeking this type of birth. In fact, there aren't enough midwives in Canada to keep up with demand; 40% of women who want a midwife-assisted birth can't secure a midwife, and thus end up going with another option, like a hospital birth. Kryzanauskas is therefore entering a a market that's far from saturated, and perhaps-- hopefully-- paving the way for other men to follow in his footsteps and help deliver more babies in the ways (and places) their families desire. And while he may be the only male midwife in Canada, he's not the only one in the world. Men in countries ranging from Liberia (where safe, professionally-assisted births are not guaranteed, and make all the difference in saving women's and babies' lives), to Switzerland to the United States are breaking the gender barrier and broadening public perceptions around who can contribute to the development of natural birth practices, now and in the future.

It strikes me as strange that these pioneering male midwives have each, in their own ways and their different contexts, created a stir by their very presence in the midwifery profession; men have long delivered babies as obstetricians. (My baby was delivered by a male doctor; I was cool with that). Of course, midwifery and natural birth are a choice many women make as a deliberate move to reclaim an inherently female power: the power to grow and birth babies. On a physical level, this is something only women can do. Ani DiFranco, in her introduction to Ina May Gaskin 's Birth Matters: A Midwife's Manifesta , highlights this reclaiming of female power as a major part of many women's positive experiences in delivering their babies with the assistance of midwives. But she also writes, "I long for this book to be read not just by pregnant women but by all women, and indeed men." Natural, midwife-assisted birth is distinctly different from medical birth in many ways, and advocates raise important questions and criticisms around the latter category, but we should be careful not to assume that the medical birth profession belongs to men, or men to it. Just as women can work as effective doctors and obstetricians, can't men work as effective, compassionate, empowering midwives? Should men not be a part of a cultural shift toward more human-centered hospital practices, and mama/baby-centered births?

What do you think? Would you want a male midwife at your birth?