The 'Accidental' Male Midwife And Why The Industry Needs More

Jack Jiang dreamed of becoming a paramedic, but one act changed his fate.

Jack Jiang is 24-years-old and has a job he says his grandmother still doesn't quite understand.

He's a midwife at Sydney's Westmead Hospital -- which means he assists women in childbirth.

"Some people are quite indifferent when they first see me and are happy for the help I provide.  Other people find it strange and surprising and don't expect me to be the midwife because I am a man," he told ten daily.

Given the word 'wife' is in the job title, there's a common misconception that the job is a gendered one -- however the origin of the word simply means "with woman."

Westmead Hospital midwife Jack Jiang with newborn Caleb and mother Laura Weatherstone. IMAGE: Jara Pinheiro.

According to midwife and nurse registration data from March 2018 , there are 490 male midwives in Australia and they account for just 1.5% of the workforce. In 2012, there were 643 men in this job.

Jiang understands the reluctance some men would have in pursuing this career path, and admits it's not a choice he actually made "on purpose".

"When I entered midwifery it was sort of an accident but what kept me in midwifery was that I loved the longer term continuity of care ... and I love babies."

"Originally I was applying for nursing and paramedics combined and I must have mis-clicked something that meant I accidentally selected to study nursing and midwifery," he admitted.

He's now 18 months into the job and says it's the best mistake he's ever made.

"I never thought I would end up here, or that I would love doing this. So I would say if you have a chance as part of a school program to do work experience definitely take it and see what its all about it."

WHY WE NEED MORE MIDWIVES

Midwifery is an ageing profession, with around 40% of staff over the age of 50.

There's also a shortage of midwives that are also trained as nurses, which the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association says is often needed at hospitals outside of metropolitan areas.

Midwifery is an ageing workforce. IMAGE: Getty Images

"There are some universities in the state that have stopped teaching midwifery altogether, so finding a course has gotten a bit harder," Judith Kiejda, from the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association told ten daily.

Unlike nursing, midwifery is failing to attract more men.  There are currently 360 000 registered male nurses, accounting for around 7 out of every 50 nurses. For midwives, it's a little over 1 in 100.

"Many obstetricians -- and I dare so most --  are male, and women don't have an issue with being treated by a man.  For some faiths its a problem but that can easily be dealt with and is only a minority really," she said. 

She said workplaces and families would benefit from having more men in the midwifery profession.

"Just culturally in the tea room, it would be great to have more men in the mix. But also, as dads get more hands on, having male midwives there to teach bathing and feeding techniques and schedules, and talk about mum's recovery could really help dads connect and understand," she said.

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Jiang knows of only one other male midwife working at the same hospital.

He says despite his love of his job, he says it's high pressure and can be quite difficult.

"Sometimes its really hard to see babies pass away especially when they are so life like when they come out you would almost think that baby is just sleeping, its really hard to acknowledge the baby is dead and preparing the baby for the mortuary that is really heartbreaking."

Featured Image: Jara Pinheiro, Western Sydney Local Health District

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au