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Meet Canada’s first male midwifery graduate

Otis Kryzanauskas graduates from McMaster


 

Story by Gabriela Perdomo.

What do you call a male midwife? “Well, a male midwife,” says Juana Berinstein of the Association of Ontario Midwives. The word midwife means “with woman,” she says; it doesn’t actually refer to the professional, but to the client.

A male midwife, then, is how Otis Kryzanauskas, the first man to ever graduate from a midwifery program in Canada, will be known from now on. At 25, Kryzanauskas has completed a bachelor of sciences in midwifery from McMaster University to become the only registered male midwife in Canada. He expects to deliver his first babies as a professional midwife as early as August at his new job with Community Midwives of Hamilton.

Though seven Canadian universities offer midwifery degrees, in their almost two decades of existence no man has ever enrolled in the program. Kryzanauskas, who has participated in about 100 births already as part of his training, says it was hard being the only male student. People would sometimes tease him, mainly about the title—not unlike the ribbing that male nurses often face. He admits there have been times when clients have balked at the idea of having a man participate in the delivery. “Sometimes people don’t want you involved in their care,” he says. “Or their partners don’t want you in the room.” He’s learned not to take it personally.

Kryzanauskas was well acquainted with midwifery before he enrolled in the program. He was born at home in Kimberley, Ont., delivered by two midwives and an apprentice. His mother, Michelle Kryzanauskas, is a practising midwife. “To me it always seemed reasonable that, since he was a little kid, Otis wanted to be a midwife,” she says. Kryzanauskas remembers witnessing his own brother’s home birth when he was four; he got to cut the umbilical cord. “The actual delivery was so calm,” he says. “It seemed like the right way to bring a baby into the world.”

Vicki Van Wagner, the very midwife who delivered Kryzanauskas 25 years ago, still practises and teaches at the Ryerson University midwifery program. “It’s an important moment for the profession,” Van Wagner says. She hopes more men will follow Kryzanauskas into the field to boost the overall number of midwives in Canada, currently at slightly more than 1,000, at a time when growing numbers of women are seeking their care. For instance, Ontario may be home to the largest number of midwives in Canada, but even then, four out of every 10 pregnant women who want to have a midwife go without because there aren’t enough to meet demand. Whether they are open to having male midwives make up for the shortfall remains to be seen.

Larry Lenske, the only other man to have worked as a midwife in Canada, and who started before midwifery became a regulated practice in 1994, says he’s puzzled as to why no other men have entered the profession. Now retired, he acknowledges it’s tough to break into an occupation dominated by one gender. “Maybe it takes someone who is brave or stupid [to break the status quo],” he says. Whatever the reason for the absence of male midwives, now that Kryzanauskas has gone where few other men have, the question is, will he remain alone?


 

Meet Canada’s first male midwifery graduate

  1. I think it’s so interesting that women would balk at having a male midwife but male OB/GYNs are very common and men aren’t sneered at or considered odd for choosing that medical specialty. As a mother who has delivered at home twice with midwives, I wish Otis the best and I hope that more men follow in his footsteps!

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  2. Emily, I was thinking exactly the same thing. Does the title makes a difference for some as to how comfortable people feel about the involvement of someone in their birth? I wonder though, would women who might balk at a male midwife feel similar about a male OB/GYN? Maybe the negative reaction he has experienced is from people who would be uncomfortable with a male doctor as well (but perhaps not feeling as comfortable with voicing their discomfort)?

  3. Why is the headline Canada’s first male midwife, when the story states there was another male midwife, Larry Lenske, who is now retired? Shouldn’t be Canada’s only practising male midwife? (Since Lenske is retired that would be accurate.)

    • Thanks for pointing this out. The headline has been changed.

  4. I’m happy for him professionally, but I must say he is not doing a good job supporting that newborn’s neck in the photo. Newborns don’t have head control and this is a very awkward way to hold a newborn!

  5. In regards to doctors vs. midwifes, I always understood that a doctor takes care of the medical aspect of birth while a midwife acts as a spiritual guide and support system in addition to the medical training. In this context, it makes sense that people would be more wary of a male midwife versus a male doctor.

    Consider it analogous to a mentoring program. If the program was for low-income youth, it would make sense to have a leader who themselves came from a poor upbringing versus an upper class trust fund protege.

  6. I used a midwife for my second child (Toronto Midwives Collective). I got excellent care — 30 minute appointments to discuss issues rather than five minute appointments with the OB (for my first child — with up to half-hour waits for the five minute appointment). I had a drug-free delivery at a hospital and was home a few hours later. Although it was very successful, there was nothing “spiritual” about it.

  7. Jenn: with respect, I think you are a little confused. Midwives are health care professionals who look after the medical aspects of the birth and pregnancy. While they may be quite supportive, that is not their main role. Doulas are labour and birth support professionals who deal with supporting the mother. With respect to not wanting a man involved in their care, I know that some women feel that birth is simply a woman’s space and would be uncomfortable for this reason. I also know that some women may be uncomfortable with a male health care professional of any kind due to their cultural background.

  8. @ Laura
    Perhaps spiritual is the wrong word. But your experiences illustrate the point I’m trying to get at; midwifes are more focused on the mom as a whole versus a doctor, who takes a more clinical approach.

  9. Actually Jenn, midwives are experts in normal birth (the full spectrum of normal) while OB/GYNs are experts in pathology. They are both medical professionals and while midwives provide more holistic care, I think ‘spiritual’ would depend largely on the individual midwife. There are certainly many female midwives who have not (or not yet) had children.

  10. @Emily I think it IS weird for men to want to be OBGYNs… but then I also find it strange that anyone would want to do it. And I find it strange that anyone would want to be a Urologist and Proctologist too. I think it’s weird that anyone wants to spend that much time around anyone else’s stinky parts.

    Let’s face it: A lot of men won’t go “down there” even in a sexual context. Many men are incredibly squeamish about lady parts, so it does seem strange.

  11. Kryzanauskas i applaud you for your choice of career path, and I for one can identify with you in some ways, being a woman in an engineering program. I rarely see the friendliness i so fondly get from all my girlfriends who are taking other univeristy programs. I of course want to have a midwife deliver my baby. Actually an electrical engineering professor of mine first brought the depths of midwifery to my attention at a lecture he gave to our class just after he had his daughter brought into the word by means of a midwife. I found the whole process to be wonderful, and hope to see Canada and the US change to a more European mindset when it comes to utilizing midwifes!

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