A labour of love
A male midwife is always going to turn heads, and Bachelor of Midwifery graduate Nate Allen knows he’s not your traditional midwife. But times are changing, and Nate couldn’t be happier with life on the maternity ward.
Nate began his career as an aged care nurse. “I realised very early on this wasn’t for me. I have total respect for those who do it, but I knew it wasn’t an area I would excel in,” he said.
Nate opted to change directions and pursue a career at the other end of the spectrum – leaving behind elderly care homes and moving into maternity wards.
“It’s not like I was baby crazy,” he said. “But more often than not, you’re caring for well women in maternity. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ when a woman gives birth to a baby – and I liked that idea. I enjoyed looking after someone who wasn’t sick, which was obviously very different to aged care.”
Working in the country
After graduating from ACU’s Brisbane Campus, Nate headed west to Roma in rural Queensland to begin his new life as a midwife. “It’s such a small town, so it was very much a case of they knew me before I knew them,” he said.
“It was a total baptism of fire. But this only made it more rewarding and I was able to develop important intuitive skills very early on.
“Also, there’s not a lot of people in Roma – everyone knew me, so it wasn’t a total surprise when women arrived at the hospital to give birth and saw me standing there. Usually they’ve travelled long distances on bumpy roads to get to the hospital, and I found country people just want to get the job done, not worry about me.”
Life as a male midwife
Overall Nate said his experiences in Roma were positive. However, he still had to learn how to navigate this new world, and quickly came to understand that there would always be women who chose not to work with him.
“I used to take it personally when a mum refused my care,” he admits. “It wasn’t until I did an antenatal placement that I came to understand these women have a reason to want a female midwife – and that’s not my fault. Once I realised this, it made everything easier.
“Many women prefer a female midwife for cultural or religious reasons. But it’s never derogatory and it’s never personal. You need to defend yourself, but not become defensive.”
A good laugh
Nate’s other big lesson was learning how to break the ice with humour. “I’m very good at reading body language.
I know within the first 10 seconds of meeting a mum if they’re going to be open to working with me,” he said.
“My approach is to make them smile and laugh right from the start. If I can do that, I think, ‘Yes, I’ve got ‘em!’, and then everything is okay.
I’ve had plenty of people do a double-take and they’ll apologise later, but I always notice the shock on their face. It helps that a lot of women in my care are in their early 30s like me. We can relate to each other because of this similarity.”
With five years of experience now behind him, Nate takes a special interest in working with male midwifery students who are trying to find their way like he once was.
“I see them going through similar situations and taking it personally when a woman chooses to work with another midwife,” he said. “Once they accept these women have all sorts of different aspects to their lives, the lightbulb goes on and they find it gets much easier.”
But Nate’s best advice for other men entering midwifery?
“Never ever say ‘I understand’. You’re just asking for trouble by telling a woman in labour you understand.
It’s about showing empathy and saying something like ‘I can appreciate how this is an extremely painful experience for you.’
The best thing ever
In spite of the ups and downs, Nate is confident he’s found his niche in midwifery. “Having a baby is one of the biggest blessings in life, but it’s also one of the most incredibly vulnerable experiences a woman can have, and guiding them through it is just the best thing ever.
“You don’t become a midwife for the thanks, but when someone attributes their care and a good outcome partly to you, it’s an amazing feeling.”
As for the jokes, Nate has heard them all. “I get people asking me, ‘What do I call you? Midman? Midhusband?’ Midwife actually means ‘with woman’, it’s not a feminine or masculine term. This is actually a nice way to explain midwifery to others.”
Discover where a Bachelor of Midwifery at ACU can lead you.