Quebec's first male midwife feeling at home in uncharted territory
A woman is examined by a midwife in this Nov. 29, 2005 file photo. (AP / Andrew Shurtleff)
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, November 4, 2018 10:45AM EST
Last Updated Monday, November 5, 2018 7:52AM EST
While the word "midwife" seems to suggest a feminine-only practice, the first Quebec man to enter the profession is adamant that he doesn't need a different title.
Louis Maltais points out that the word, which comes from Old English, actually means "with woman" -- and that it goes straight to the core of what a midwife does.
"It's about women, and it will stay like this, because it's about women's time and their experiences, and the name says that," Maltais said. "We're there for women."
Maltais turned heads earlier this year when he became the first Quebec man to enter and complete the province's only university-level midwife training program.
The months since then have been a whirlwind that included delivering his 100th baby over the summer, moving back to his hometown of Chicoutimi, and attending screenings of a documentary about his experiences, titled "Un homme sage-femme."
Maltais, who is a young-looking 31, said he feels his peers and his patients have been open to having a man in their midst.
Part of the reason he allowed the documentary crew to follow him, he explained, was to share his experience with others -- including men -- who may want to enter the profession.
"I think it's not for every man because it's very feminist, and that's a very important part of it, but when you feel really comfortable with this, women are very open," he said in an interview ahead of the film's first Montreal screening at the Cinematheque quebecoise on Saturday.
The documentary, which is showing until Wednesday, will also be broadcast on French-language TV at a later date.
While about one woman in 20 doesn't want him at their birth, Maltais said most are receptive -- and they generally become more comfortable over time.
Maltais said he debated becoming an osteopath or an acupuncturist before deciding to become a birth specialist, for reasons he's not entirely sure how to explain.
He was looking for a job where he could connect with people, and he started researching the Bachelor of Midwifery program at the Universite du Quebec a Trois-Rivieres, where he was attracted to the profession's patient-centric approach.
"I like the challenge, and to bring something different and something very important for women, to help women find their power to give birth," he said.
"This is huge, and I was looking for something huge that would have many meanings."
While midwifery has been practised in Canada for centuries, notably by Indigenous women, the practice began re-emerging in the mainstream in the 1960s and 70s along with the women's right movement, according to the Canadian Association of Midwives.
Currently, midwives are present at about 11 per cent of births in Canada, although that varies widely by province.
Ontario had the most midwife-led births last year with over 23,400, although B.C. had the highest percentage at over 22 per cent.
Midwives provide health care to women during pregnancy, labour and the post-partum period, with the goal of facilitating a positive experience centred on the mother's needs.
Like any other new midwife, Maltais says he's still learning to navigate the tricky line that requires him to respect women's wishes while occasionally having to set limits to minimize risk.
"We are guides. We follow women, but we have to say no when we have to say no, because (safety) is the first thing," he said.
The Canadian Association of Midwives says it only knows of one other male midwife who was trained in Canada, although there may be a handful who did their training elsewhere.
But while male midwives are extremely rare in Canada, the association points out that's not necessarily the case in other countries.
And as demand rises to the point where many midwives have long waiting lists, the group's president said she's more than happy to welcome Maltais into their ranks.
"From the position of the Canadian Association of Midwives, we want more midwives practising in Canada, whatever gender they may be," Nathalie Pambrun said.