What does it mean to be a male midwife in Italy, in a traditionally female-dominated field?

We spoke to Francesco Rasi, a midwife and lecturer at UniCamillus, who told us that being a man helping women in childbirth is not only possible but also a wonderful experience.

Is midwifery a woman’s job? Absolutely not. Or to be more accurate, not exclusively. While the Italian language predominantly uses “ostetrica” to refer to experts in monitoring mother and fetus during pregnancy, labour, and childbirth, it is definitely not a profession solely for women. Since the enactment of the Italian Law on Equal Treatment between Men and Women in Employment (903/1977), the midwifery profession is open to both genders.

However, the statistics are heavily skewed towards women: in Italy, there are around 22,000 female midwives compared to 300 male ones. And this gap is not just an Italian phenomenon, considering that in the English language, too, the most common term is “midwife”, while men sometimes have to specify their gender by adding “male” to it.

There may be several reasons for this. First, the decision to work in pregnancy and childbirth might come from a personal connection with these experiences. Second, as the field is mainly populated by women, men may fear judgement and discrimination or—worse—not being chosen by patients.

But these are myths that need to be debunked, as explained by Francesco Rasi, lecturer in Obstetrical-Gynaecological Nursing Sciences at UniCamillus University, as well as a midwife at the San Camillo Forlanini Hospital in Rome. 

What was your main motivation in pursuing a career as a midwife?

“To be honest, my decision to become a midwife was taken somewhat by chance. After my A-levels I realized I wanted to study Medicine. Unfortunately, that summer I neither had the resources nor the time to properly prepare for the dreaded entrance exams, so in order not to waste a year, I decided to apply for the admissions test for three-year health professions degree courses, among which I chose Midwifery. I knew that I could still try Medicine the following year if I didn’t get in immediately. I didn’t get in to Medicine, but I did manage to get in to Midwifery. The first year flew by, and I realised I liked it and that it could be my life’s work—so much so that I completely forgot the deadline to apply for the Medicine admissions test the following year. I took it as a clear sign from fate: my decision was made.”

What challenges have you faced in the field of midwifery as a man in a traditionally female-dominated profession?

“I cannot speak of specific challenges arising from being a man in a ‘women’s world. The challenges I have faced are those I believe any professional has to deal with when starting a new job: presenting yourself through your qualities and skills, proving your ability to do the job, being known as a reliable and well-prepared person while remaining humble, always willing to learn and admitting your shortcomings. I can say I’ve always been greeted with a lot of curiosity, perhaps as one of the few men in this job, and this has focused attention and expectations on me, giving me an extra push to grow and always do my best.”

How would you describe the reception you received from colleagues and patients in your professional journey?

“I have a fairly open, extroverted and cheerful character, so I rarely have trouble making friends or establishing productive and motivating working relationships. Probably also due to my personality, the reception from my colleagues has always been cordial, friendly, and mutually respectful. Of course, there are always people with who interaction is more challenging, apparently without reason. In these cases, I can confidently say that the professional aspect of the working relationship has allowed us to overcome the initial mistrust.

Patients have always welcomed me with curiosity, kindness, politeness, and trust, aware that they are entrusting themselves to a healthcare professional, regardless of gender.”

Have you noticed any differences in how patients react to your presence as opposed to female midwives? And if you have, could you describe them?

“I wouldn’t say there are differences per se. In the hospital environment, my main working context, women meet us in unique and special life situations, and the role of the midwife is seen by patients as essential for guiding them through these moments with professionalism and empathy. Women do not react significantly differently depending on whether the midwife is a man or a woman. Perhaps the only real limitation is sometimes given by cultural barriers: when facing women from different cultures who may not accept a man seeing them unclothed, I try to have them assisted by female colleagues, out of respect. 

Sure, there have been times when some patients initially felt uncomfortable at the thought of being seen in certain situations–such as labour or childbirth–by a male midwife. But I’ve always tried to overcome this initial ‘hesitation’ with a bit of charm and, most importantly, by showing the professionalism with which I do my job, and everything has always gone smoothly.”

What common myths or stereotypes do you encounter regarding male midwives, and how do you address them?

“I have never felt ‘ghettoised’, nor have I perceived any myths or false beliefs aimed at discrediting myself or my male colleagues. Am I just lucky? I hope not. I hope it is the same in every workplace where female and male midwives work together for the wellbeing of women and their children. 

I am often asked why I chose this profession, and I always answer honestly and sincerely: I embarked on this career by pure chance, not out of a lifelong desire, but my passion grew every day. Today, I can confidently say I have the honour of doing one of the most beautiful jobs in the world, with all the satisfaction that comes with it.”

What do you believe are the essential qualities of a good midwife, regardless of gender?

“Preparation, research, continuous training, empathy, dynamism, and the ability to treat every childbirth as if it were the first.”

What professional growth opportunities do you see for men in midwifery? Have you witnessed any significant changes or developments in this regard over time?

“I see growth opportunities for the entire midwifery category, regardless of gender. One of my roles, as a Council Member of the Board of Midwives of Rome and its province, is to protect and represent the midwifery category, in my small way. I see great margins for professional growth, starting with the ever-increasing quality of education that our future colleagues receive during their studies. 

Unfortunately, we still have to fight hard for recognition, and there is still a lot to be done: we carry forward battles for a national collective contract that recognises not just our responsibilities, but also our peculiarities and skills, to fairly translate them into increasingly important professional positions and appropriate remuneration for healthcare professionals responsible for the entire physiological processes of women’s lives, their babies, and the wider community. I dream of seeing ourselves in roles and contexts we deserve to occupy because of our specific legal competencies: clinical, educational, and managerial. I hope for ever more ‘complete’ degree courses that keep pace with the changing needs of a constantly evolving society and care requirements that demand continuous updates, especially in the context of evidence-based medicine and increasingly specific, professionalizing, and recognised first and second-level study programmes. In short, I think you get the idea: I’m not a dreamer… far from it! And that is why I would like to see concrete recognition of our professions specific skills, regardless of gender.”

Do you have any advice for men wanting to pursue a career in midwifery in Italy, considering the unfavourable numerical ratio?

“No specific advice. I would give them the same advice I’d give to newly graduated female students entering this world: your degree is not the end; it’s just the beginning of your journey! To put it in male terms, for the sake of easy expression, I’d say: always be curious, keep studying, keep doing research, put your heart into what you do, and above all, have the ability to be moved, just like I believe happens to everyone when they have their first baby.

In a world of women, being in a minority is not always bad, as long as you make yourself valued for what you are: a good professional.”