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The delivery man

With less than one per cent of practising midwives in Australia being male, those few who take on the role tend to turn heads. Danny Ruspandini reports.

When Jason Whileblood registered as only the 52nd male midwife on the UK register, never did he think the job involved delivering babies without his trousers on.

As a soon-to-be mother lay on a mattress on the floor of her home, Whileblood stood to the side as part of support staff in one of his first assisted deliveries.

“She was using my thigh for leverage and every time she pushed, my trousers slid down a little more until they were all the way off. I was sterilised so I couldn’t reach down to pull them back up, and no one in the room was exactly offering to help me out,” he says.

Aside from a few crushed hands and torn shirts, Whileblood’s 17 year career as a male midwife has been a relatively smooth one.

He did his training in general nursing, but says he didn’t enjoy working with the ill and found it “rather depressing”. There was a point when he almost threw in the nursing towel altogether.

A change of direction was needed.

During a maternity placement he realised that playing an active role in caring for mums and bubs might be more his thing.

“I registered to become a male midwife and was only number 52 on the UK list.”

In the UK, and increasingly now in Australia, male midwifery is used as a stepping stone into other areas such as the flying doctor service, says Whileblood. Those already trained in intensive care simply ‘add’ the midwifery feather to their cap to qualify. Management roles are another example that often call for some midwifery experience.

But for those like Whileblood who stick with the career, it has its ups and downs.
Having assisted in the birth of more than 1100 children, he held a team leader role in the maternity ward of Prince of Wales Hospital, and is now six months into a nurse unit manager role in Queensland’s Nambour Selangor Private Hospital.

“I had no idea of the hospitals reputation when I took the role,” he says of Selangor.
Patients who opt for more high-risk deliveries such as natural twin births or VBACs (vaginal birth after caesarian) are often taken on. Every day can have its unique hurdles, says Whileblood.

Added to this is the very real challenge of co-workers who simply aren’t comfortable with the concept of a male in a midwifery role.

“Some staff struggle with it – obstetricians as well. They get caught up in the fact that
I’m a male and haven’t been through child birth myself, which of course is true, but I can empathise. I’ve also never been an amputee or had an operation. It doesn’t take away from evidence based practice.”

There are advantages to being a male midwife however. Fathers appreciate male companionship in the delivery or waiting rooms.

Mums get all the attention, says Whileblood, so dads respond well to some male interaction.

He also says that male midwives will often get more praise or recognition for doing the same task no differently to a female. The downside to that is that any errors, large or small, are also magnified.

He believes it can be a double-edged sword.

According to Whileblood, a trap that some female midwives who have endured childbirth can fall into is moving away from evidence based practice by offering advice based on their own experience. This can be helpful, but he believes will often be quite specific and may not offer real assistance to the expectant mother.

Mothers in the delivery room are typically more concerned with the welfare of their child, says Whileblood. The obstetrician is often male, so the gender of the midwife is irrelevant so long as they are receiving the care and attention they expect.

“I’ve only been refused twice in my career”, he says. Once was for cultural reasons, the other was by an expectant father who was simply not comfortable.”

He understands the discomfort some can feel, and states that he approaches a new delivery cautiously in case of any hesitance from either parent. Less than 1 per cent of midwives in Australia are male so some resistance is to be expected, but according to Whileblood they can certainly hold up against their female counterparts.

But does either do the job better? Seems the jury’s still out on who’s wearing the trousers in that one.

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