In Canada, male midwives are scarce – if not almost nonexistent.
Only three men have ever ventured into the profession: one is practising, one has retired and the third is studying to join the overwhelmingly female midwifery ranks.
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There are more than 1,000 midwives across Canada's provinces and territories, according to the Canadian Association of Midwives. Only one of them is a man.
"There's always a little look of shock when I tell people that I'm a midwife," says Otis Kryzanauskas, 26, who has delivered between 300 and 350 babies since he became certified in 2012.
Kryzanauskas's predecessor, a man who delivered infants alongside his wife, retired in 1997, following an 11-year run.
Canada's gender disparity in this field is not unusual. Midwifery is one of the most female dominated professions in the world.
This year, only nine men worked as registered midwives in Australia. More than 2,200 women fill the same health-care role on the continent, according to the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia. To the south, about two per cent of America's certified nurse midwives are men, according to the American College of Nurse-Midwives.
'There's always a little look of shock when I tell people that I'm a midwife.' -Otis Kryzanauskas, Canada's only made midwife
In 2008, nearly 90 per cent of the United Kingdom's midwives were female, according to the Nursing and Midwifery Council's most recent figures.
The root of the term midwife, which means with woman, even seems to suggest men ought to be excluded.
Historically, midwives have mostly been female. Though, in the 1700s, so-called man-midwives or he-midwives started infiltrating the ranks in England.
"It doesn't mean you have to be a woman to be with a woman," says Mary Sharpe, who has been delivering babies since 1979 and is the director of the midwifery program at Ryerson University in Toronto.
'Someone has to go 1st'
Kryzanauskas knew he would be an anomaly when he applied to get into the midwifery program at McMaster University in Hamilton.
Midwives in Canada
- There are more than 1,000 midwives registered in Canada.
- One out of four Ontario women who choose midwives plan on giving birth at home.
- Since 1994, Ontario's midwives have attended more than 150,000 births.
- Seven Canadian universities offer midwifery degrees, but only one male is currently enrolled across all programs.
Raised by a midwife, it was the first career a young Kryzanauskas was introduced to, attending some births alongside his mom.
He once flirted with the idea of attending medical school, but decided to "leave surgery to those with stronger stomachs," believing that midwifery was his true calling.
Kryzanauskas felt it was his calling to venture into the unknown. "Someone has to go first," he explained.
He applied to McMaster while finishing a physiology degree. When he attended the university's interviews for candidates, many of his future classmates were stunned to see a man in the room.
"I figured, especially with my background, if I could be a good lead-in for other males to come into the profession," he explains, "then I almost had a responsibility to do that."
He encourages any men seriously considering the profession to apply — so long as they are committed to women's health and have the drive for labour and delivery, including being on call 24/7.
"I think it is a phenomenal opportunity that any person would be lucky to be a part of," he says. "Not just males or females."
1 male studying midwifery
Slowly, it appears more men are expressing interest in the birthing profession. Across Canada's seven undergraduate midwifery programs, one man is enrolled as a first-year student at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont.
"The numbers are growing," says Sharpe of Ryerson's program.
'Some people would claim that women understand women better. I'm just not sure that's always the case.' - Mary Sharpe, director of Ryerson University's midwifery program
Several years ago, not a single male sent in an application. Last year, Ryerson's selection committee interviewed 76 applicants, including one man — though he did not land one of the program's 31 spots.
Sharpe says the university's information sessions are now attended by at least one prospective male student annually.
This year, Sharpe says three men have expressed interest in applying and she encourages applications from anyone, regardless of their gender. Though, she says, it helps if the individual is:
- Responsive to women's needs.
"Some people would claim that women understand women better. I'm just not sure that's always the case," she says. "I've seen fantastically compassionate care provided by male physicians and male midwives, and sometimes not so caring work by females."
Equity in the workplace
Still, Kryzanauskas admits he has "definitely missed out on births" because of his gender.
But he says the community and other midwives are very supportive of him.
He has never struggled to find clients during his 18 months of practising at a Hamilton clinic. Enough clients call in to keep all the midwives busy, he says.
It is actually the profession's women who feel discriminated against.
In late November, the Association of Ontario Midwives filed a lawsuit against the provincial government, which sets the pay for the province's midwives. The association wants the government to double the pay of midwives, to almost $200,000 annually.
With 681 female midwives and Kryzanauskas, the association claims the career women pay a "gender penalty."
The association filed an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario on Nov. 27, hoping to force the government to close what their lawyer, Mary Cornish, said is "the biggest pay equity gap I've ever seen."