Would you be surprised if you were joined in the delivery room by a male midwife?
Jean Laurilla has worked as a midwife at Sunshine Hospital for ten years and laughingly refers to himself as a “delivery boy”. His experience is an enlightening case study into the way gender is still seen as important in some careers.
Jean revealed some of the difficulties he had as a student midwife, saying “I was assigned to a Sudanese woman who was in labour, and she looked at me and asked me, “How would you be able to take care of me when you yourself haven’t had a baby?” So the interpreter told me that, and I was a bit embarrassed. She was right. But in hindsight, pain is pain; pain is universal. I try to imagine the worst pain that you can possibly experience; I try my very best to be sympathetic with these labouring women.”
Similarly, when he was still studying to be a qualified midwife (and was the only male in the whole course), he had to care for a certain number of patients to pass his degree. This proved difficult, as women were reluctant to have him present at their births. “The reception of a male student looking after pregnant women was not very good. See, when I was studying, you have to attend 40 births, and out of those 40 women that I recruited, only one called me for the birth,” Jean remembered.
Even now, a decade into his time at Sunshine hospital, some patients and their families flinch at having Jean care for them. “A bad experience is when the husband looks at you and asks you to get out because he doesn’t want a male midwife examining his wife.” Jean says sadly.
He believes this is because of the assumptions people make about him, and what it means for men to be in his profession. When asked about the reaction he sometimes gets, he says, “They’re quite surprised at finding out that I’m a midwife. I think they assume that it’s very unusual for a male to be in a female-dominated field, that it’s just weird, you know? Dealing with female private parts at birth and women in general.”