by ACNM Guest Blogger KC Bly, CNM, RN, WHNP
“They call you a midwife?”
“Shouldn’t they call you a midhusband?”
These are among the misguided responses I hear when I introduce myself to new patients, and I hear them at least once per week. I can’t blame them; midwifery is a poorly understood profession throughout the country, and we all know it. Following these, I hear the same three questions that all midwives hear: “So what exactly is a midwife?” “So what exactly do you do?” “Oh, like a doula!”
I’m a midwife. I also happen to be a man. I’m not a male midwife, or a man-midwife, any more than you are a female midwife or a woman-midwife. I work for and with women, to improve their health and their birth experiences and their access to adequate and respectful care. And frankly, I can’t imagine a more noble or fulfilling role for myself in this life. I imagine you feel, or at least felt, at some point in your profession, the same way. And it saddens me that more men aren’t interested in or encouraged to make the professional choices we’ve made. But I understand it, from their viewpoint, and yes, even from yours.
The ACNM Ethics Committee recently spearheaded the creation of a Gender Bias Task Force to investigate the issue of “discrimination” against men in midwifery; I use quotation marks because I fought hard not to use that word, or, at least, to use it with forethought and understanding. I’m a firm believer in learning from our past (mistakes), an attitude the United States could stand to adopt on most subjects, and most certainly in the arena of obstetrics and midwifery.
I understand “discrimination” to occur in the context of imbalances of power, and I understand that women in the United States know this discrimination intimately. Men, on the whole, do not. I have studied the gruesome history that marks the beginning of obstetrical practice in this country, because it is our history too, and it angers me in a way that I imagine gender discrimination angers most women. I understand how, historically, midwives in the United States have been women (and, de facto, without institutional power), and obstetricians have been men (and, by definition, with institutional power), and I appreciate how charged and entrenched these associations have become, even if three-fourths of new obstetricians today are women
. However, we need not be defined by our past; our only obligation, as I may have suggested, is to learn from it.
If you are interested in learning more about the Gender Bias Task Force, please contact Ethics Committee Chair Mary Kay Collins at ECOLOBGYN@aol.com