No one bats an eye when a male ob-gyn walks into a delivery room.
And it's more and more common to be coached through labour by nurses who are men. But a male midwife? Chances are you've never seen one. Even the name "midwife" — the root of which means "with woman" — suggests that men need not apply.
But Spencer Sawyer, a second-year midwifery student at Ryerson University in Toronto, is turning that notion on its head. Sawyer is set to become the program's first male graduate. When he starts practising, he'll be one of only a handful registered male midwives in all of Canada.
"I suppose it's like a family business — I come from a family of labour and delivery nurses," Sawyer told Ryerson Today, adding that his mother and grandmother were both labour and delivery nurses, and his own birth was attended by his great aunt.
I spent all day with my adorable nieces, and brought very little of my kit with me to my hometown, so you'll have to settle for a cheesy photo this #skillsunday as I ramble about suturing! As a student midwife, this can be one of the most intimidating, i... https://t.co/QHTYxNB5eA pic.twitter.com/n0F7yo0hAd— Spencer Sawyer, SM (@mr_midwife) December 17, 2017
Sawyer, who goes by the handle "Mr. Midwife" on social media, has been using his novelty to help spread education and awareness about labour and delivery, he told Ryerson Today.
He's been documenting his journey at Ryerson on Instagram since February last year, posting photos of learning clinical skills such as how to insert IVs and suture the perineum, and study sessions dedicated to the pelvic floor.
"As someone without female reproductive anatomy, I'm feeling quite humbled as I dive into this material, and am feeling especially charged to learn this aspect of reproductive health very, VERY well," Sawyer wrote on Instagram.
This morning's study sesh is dedicated to the pelvic floor. (Here's lookin at you, @vaginacoach !) As a future midwife, my awareness and capacity to care for my clients perineal health will have lasting effects on their everyday life. As someone without female reproductive anatomy, I'm feeling quite humbled as I dive into this material, and am feeling especially charged to learn this aspect of reproductive health very, VERY well. As a cisgender guy studying midwifery, I feel a responsibility to work against the history of obstetric violence in North America by being informed and empassioned about parineal health. . In Ontario, midwives are responsible for assessing perineal health after birth, and conduct repairs on first and second degree lacerations that may have resulted from vaginal birth. Ontario midwives are also trained in performing episiotomies, but utilize this skill to expedite the birth of a newborn in distress or to prevent an imminent tear that may infiltrate structures that are best avoided if possible. The use of routine episiotomy has fallen out of practice for many, if not all midwives, as few indiviudals require an episiotomy as a course of routine care. . Any helpful tips on learning pelvic floor health? Cool videos? Link them below! The text on my table is Myles 16th and on screen is Comprehensive Midwifery by McMaster University. . #studentmwlife #midwifery #midwife #midwives #birth #pelvicfloor #ontariomidwives #perineum #postpartum #sutures #study
This past December, Sawyer launched "31 Days of Midwifery" to spend the month "giving out knowledge and celebrating birth," he wrote.
True to his promise, Sawyer posted every day for 31 days on topics ranging from fetal position and oxytocin (a hormone) to hyperemesis gravidarum (a pregnancy complication characterized by severe nausea and vomiting) and fetoscopes (a tool used to listen to a fetus' heart).
It's a short and sweet #tooltuesday tonight as I recover from my exam today and get ready for my last one on Friday. When I was first entering midwifery school, the device that confused me most was the fetoscope. Why couldn't we use a normal stethoscope on a pregnant abdomen? Why wouldn't we just use a Pinard horn if we had one? Why on earth would a midwife want to look like a unicorn when auscultating a fetal heart? . So, it turns out the conic shape of the fetoscope is better for listening to a sound made in a fluid filled cavity, like the uterus. So, that answers my first question. As for the Pinard horn – it seems like there is a difference in the tone and specificity of heart sounds when listened to by these two devices. A fetoscope seems to pick up a narrower range of sounds than a Pinard horn and is a more familiar tool to use if you are used to using a stethoscope for auscultation. As for my third question, the answer might surprise you! . I assumed the headpiece on a fetoscope allowed a midwife to apply pressure to the piece to keep it steady, perhaps using their hands to palpate the abdomen/adjust the uterus while listening. In reality, the headpiece actually conducts the vibrations of a fetal heartbeat INTO THE MIDWIFE'S SKULL. This is called bone conduction, and adds further depth to the sounds picked up by the fetoscope. While I still think midwives like to look as much like unicorns as possible (and really, who doesn't) the purpose is highly practical and scientific – like most things in midwifery!
Sawyer has also used social media to raise awareness about queer parenthood, how LGBTQ people start families, and how midwives can support them. Pregnant people are often a spectacle no matter who they are, Sawyer wrote on Instagram, but that's even more true "when your partnership, or your identity, varies from what people expect of pregnant families."
"I won't assume. I'll spend time on my own learning, so clients don't have to teach me. I'll ask questions to get answers I absolutely need, not to feed my curiosity. I'll apologize, commit to change, and keep from making slip-ups about me. Keep an open heart, an open mind, and a commitment to justice – traits that serve well regardless of who you care for," Sawyer wrote.
What brought Sawyer to midwifery, he wrote in another post, is that midwives support informed choice.
"When you work with a midwife, you enter a relationship where you remain the chief decision-maker of your care. Midwives are committed to providing information and evidence about all of the decisions involved in pregnancy/birth/post-partum, and you decide what is best for you," Sawyer wrote.
"We love that the ranks of male midwives in Canada are growing!" the Canadian Association of Midwives wrote in a Facebook post about Sawyer.
Male midwives in Canada
There are currently over 1,500 midwives working in Canada, according to the Canadian Association of Midwives (CAM) website. In 2012, Otis Kryzanauskas became Canada's only male midwife (his predecessor retired in 1997, according to CBC News). He is the only male midwife to graduate from Canadian midwifery education programs, CAM confirmed in an email to HuffPost Canada.
There is currently one male enrolled in a midwifery program in Quebec, CAM said.
In Manitoba, where registered midwives are not required to be a member of their professional association, there is one male midwife practising in Brandon, the Midwives Association of Manitoba told HuffPost Canada in an email.
Kryzanauskas, who was raised by a midwife, told CBC in 2013 that he believed midwifery was his true calling.
"I think it is a phenomenal opportunity that any person would be lucky to be a part of," he said. "Not just males or females."
Also on HuffPost: