No boys allowed?

A few different things have come together for this post, but let me say that in referring to “boys” I’m not talking about fathers at birth.

  • Would you hire a male doula to attend you in labor?
  • If a male doula and a female doula were equally qualified and you liked them both equally well in a prenatal interview, which one would you pick?
  • Would you choose a male OB or a female OB — or does sex matter for a doctor?
  • Would you choose a male midwife or a female midwife? — or does sex matter for a midwife?
  • Would you ask your female birth attendants if they have given birth themselves? (doula, midwife, L&D nurse)
  • Would you ask your female OB if she’s given birth, or your male OB if he has any children, and if so, if he attended their births?
  • Would you choose a female OB who has given birth over one who has not?
  • Would you choose a male midwife over a female OB?
  • Would you want a male nurse to attend you in labor?

Rebirth Nurse explored this question a bit in this post, “Revisiting My Barren Uterus.” She just recently became a CNM and was an L&D nurse before this, and has been asked if she has any children. She asked several female OBs if they’ve been asked that question and the universal answer is “no.” Obviously no male has ever given birth. Is it sexist to ask these questions? Is there a subtle thought that midwives (and doulas and L&D nurses) “ought” to have given birth, so they know how it really is? Does this not apply to OBs, either male or female? She garnered quite a few responses, which I think worth reading.

When a male British midwife suggested that epidurals were overused and that labor has benefits for the mom, he was roundly criticized by many a woman, simply because he’s a man so has never been in labor nor given birth. That’s a sexist, knee-jerk reaction. Most birth junkies I know would say exactly the same thing. But they’re women. And have given birth. Without drugs. So they’ve “earned” the right to say that. But here’s the deal — it’s still true, regardless of who says it. Or else it’s false, regardless of who says it.

My “obstetric history” as relates to this question — I’ve had two midwives, each with a birth assistant/doula, and all were female; their backup doctors were both male. Personally, I’d have a hard time hiring a male doula or a male midwife, but I would not necessarily choose a female OB over a male OB. I did not ask any of my female attendants whether or not they had children, although I know all of them did. Honestly, I can’t remember when I found out for sure that they did — in the course of a 30 or 60-minute long prenatal visit, you can talk about a lot of things. I don’t think that any of the midwives (my first pregnancy had two midwives alternating prenatal care and whoever was “on call” when I went into labor would attend my birth, so I’ve technically had three midwives) said at the first visit how many children they had. In fact, I remember wondering about one or both of my CNMs, since neither seemed to be married, and they didn’t mention children — and then finally one or both said something about their children (who were all adults, I think), because I  remember thinking, “AHA! She has had a baby!” So, I wondered, but I didn’t ask. It seems like later I found out she actually had four children, but I could be misremembering. My second pregnancy, the midwife and her doula/assistant/apprentice had pictures of their children up and talked more freely about them (but they were younger, so she sometimes talked about arranging childcare and such).

Is it sexist to want a woman to attend you in birth, rather than a man? Perhaps. But I don’t care. 🙂 There may be very good male midwives and male doulas; but I think I would choose a female, if all other things were equal. And perhaps even if the male were more qualified. I suppose I would have to meet him and see if he could change my mind. Same for a male nurse. There’s just kind of a “woah!” factor in my mind. So I guess I’m sexist. That doesn’t bother me — I’m pretty traditionalist in a lot of ways, so this is just one more thing.

But I don’t have the same feelings about a male OB. Perhaps it’s simply that I’m very accustomed to the idea of doctors being male and obstetricians being male, although there are quite a few female OBs. But I think there is a bigger difference, and that is, that I expect a different kind of care from midwives, doulas and/or nurses. I expect doctors to have clinical knowledge, to “manage” my care prenatally, to be in touch over the phone (but rarely in the building) while I’m in labor (speaking hypothetically, since I’ve not had a doctor-attended hospital birth), and show up while I’m pushing in order to catch the baby. He — or she — will not be there with me when I go into labor, as I go through labor, when I’m in the middle of most of the contractions, while I’m in transition, when I need counterpressure on my back, when I need someone to hold an emesis basin, when I need someone to get me a blanket (or to keep the blanket from touching me at all — love those feverish feelings!), etc. But I expect those things of midwives, doulas, and nurses. Plus, I expect them to be knowledgeable enough to know what to do, and what to say, as I’m going through labor. If a male birth attendant can do these things — fine. But they seem to be things that are more inherently female, or at least, easier for women to intuit and follow through on. I wouldn’t expect them of a doctor of either sex, because that doesn’t seem to be part of their job description — although it probably ought to be. But there is something so “with-woman” about the concept of midwives (and by extension other female attendants), which is why millenia of women have given birth surrounded by other women. And not by men.

But I will say, that I would rather have a supportive male nurse than an unsupportive female nurse. No question about that. I would expect all midwives and doulas to be supportive; but I’ve heard more negative stories about unsupportive nurses than negative stories about midwives or doulas. [Present company, of course, excluded!]

On to the question of having given birth. I think it’s an added bonus — or at least, it can be an added bonus — for birth attendants to have given birth. But I don’t think it’s any more necessary for them to be qualified to attend a birth, than it is necessary for them to have been a cancer patient in order for them to be a hospice nurse. There is an added dimension of knowledge gained from having experienced it. But there are many very excellent and qualified midwives (and nurses and doulas) who have never been pregnant. As others in the discussion I’ve previously linked to said, if we go on this negating mission very far, we will elimate everyone who has had C-sections, or who has had an epidural, or who has in some way not had “our” birth. Yet, what is it that everyone says, but that “every woman is different, and every labor is different”? I could probably give birth a thousand times, and still meet women who had a different experience. And as another commenter pointed out, if a birth attendant has not given birth, then she will have less baggage to bring into your birth — i.e., trying to make your birth be like hers, whether that’s what you want or not, whether that’s the determined course of your labor or not.

So, I’m a modified sexist, I suppose. What about you? Where do you fit in?


6 Responses

  1. I would want a female doula and a female midwife. However, I chose to have a male OB after a bad experience with a female doctor during my first pregnancy (and loss).

    I prefer a doctor that has been through childbirth before. I found it helpful that my doctor could relate to some of what I was going through by his own experiences with his wife’s pregnancies. Although, a doula or midwife most likely has someone in their family (or close friends) that has given birth and they’ve been part of the experience. I think that’s good.

    Still… if I had to pick a midwife or doula, I would be more likely to choose one that had given birth (more than once) before and had a similar birth experience to the one I would be wanting to have.

    I would be willing to pick a woman that has not given birth before if she had attended many births and come highly recommended.

  2. For my first son, I attended an OB practice with mostly male doctors – I felt that the male dr’s had MUCH better bedside manner than the women – took much more time to answer questions, etc…

    However, I switched to a practice of all female midwives for my second son. I don’t think I would have thought twice if there were males there.

    When it came to my doula. I chose some one that had been in the same “place” as me (having had a VBAC). I ended up having 2 doulas, as a friend from church was seeking certification hours. She had never given birth and I was her first mama. She was AMAZING! My “real” doula had to step out for a bit (she found out about 1 week later that she was newly pregnant, lol) and my 2nd doula just stepped right in as if she had done this 100 times! The transition was so smooth (and I was so in labor land) that I didn’t even notice a switch had happened for quite some time!

    I’m not sure I could do a male doula though…that would just feel weird to me (why? not sure, lol)

  3. I’m pretty sexist! I’d really only want a female midwife or a female doula. Frankly, I’d find a male doula really creepy – and so would my husband! I wouldn’t mind a male OB, though – not sure why.

    As to the issue of whether or not a woman has had children – I think that having had a child enriches a woman’s experience as a maternity caregiver, but “the call” is just as strong on a woman before she has kids as after, and she shouldn’t have to wait till she has kids before she follows her instincts into midwifery, obstetrics or doula care. Neither of my midwives has had children yet (one of them is due a few weeks after I am), and one of my doulas has been working as a doula for years and years but didn’t have her first birth (babies 1-3 were c/s) until a year ago – and they are all awesome.

  4. I’d have to land myself firmly in the “it depends on the person more than whether the caregiver is male or female” group. I’ve had more experiences with female caregivers than male, but that doesn’t always mean better.

    I live where there are no midwives to provide care, so I had to pick an OB. I had a horrible experience with my first daughter and firmly believe my doctor’s “care” is what sent her to the NICU. Because, we all know, 2pm is too late in the day to be administering pitocin to help my contractions along after he told me to go the hospital entirely too early.

    I picked a new OB after that. My method for that selection involved looking at the photos to decide who looked the most compassionate. (My former OB still looked like a pompous donkey there.) It was a great decision. Her care is a little more medical than I’d like, but she worked with me to help give me what I wanted. When I had my induction (pre-eclampsia symptoms), she was in and out of my room all day, which was a surprising experience.

    If a guy can be compassionate and understanding, I have no problem. I’ve met some women that are insensitive and uncaring as well.

  5. I too am sexist. I think there is power in women and multiple women together. Have you read “The Red Tent”? I LOVED the first half of that book. My new favorite book I just read “Lady’s Hands, Lion’s Heart” is about a midwife who is trained by a male OB home birth attendant. If it were someone like him, I would maybe consider it, but I don’t think there really are many like him.

    I think I agree with what you said about female OB’s. Not sure if I would care either way, but I would never use an OB unless I absolutely had to. I had a woman OB do some of my prenatal care before I moved to NM and she seemed like a wench. I didn’t do much research because I knew I was leaving. Now I’m in birth paradise in Albuquerque where midwives attend a very large portion of births (I think 30%?). All I have to say is midwives rock! About a male doula….weird.

  6. Oh and yes, I would prefer my midwife to have had children. Before I birthed my son I learned a lot about birth and was really excited, but nothing could have prepared me for the absolute miracle and overwhelmingly spiritual loving experience it would be. Once a woman goes through that, I think it is more magical to see someone become a mother.

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