Male OBs are not the least bit unusual and, in fact, used to be the standard. But male midwives? That doesn’t even sound right. Our notion of midwifery almost invariably is of a female birth attendant.
But that’s not always the case. Though rare in the U.S, there are men working as midwives — some quite popular and in high demand. A shortage of trained birth attendants has forced one country to allow men to go through midwifery training, though they have met resistance from the very women they are supposed to help.
In Liberia, women face some of the highest risks in the world of dying during childbirth. Almost 80 percent of those deaths could be prevented if they were attended by trained professionals. Due to a decades-long war, the country has lagged in training women in those roles. For 3.8 million people, there are only 400 professional midwives. To meet the needs, an additional 1,200 must be trained and put to work.
Last year, a national program admitted 32 men into a midwifery training program. Had they based entrance on school grades alone, they would have admitted men only, since parents spent what little they had on educating their boys and not girls. This year, because of women’s reluctance to allow men at their births, they only admitted two.
It would be easy to criticize Liberians as being ignorant for passing up these attempts to better women’s lives, but there are cultural biases against male midwives in developed countries, t0o. One of the most prominent voices in support of midwifery, obstetrician Michel Odent, thinks men shouldn’t be around birth. The first male midwife in Switzerland caused a bit of a stir five years ago.
And here’s a male midwife in the U.K. talking a bit about his experiences:
Would you do it? Would you go with a male midwife? There’s a Facebook page for supporters of male midwives. One member posted on the wall that she would have preferred a male midwife, since her female birth attendants were anti-male. Interesting!