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Midwife – a norm-breaking profession for Swedish men

| Text: Fayme Alm

The Swedish labour market is very gender segregated. But some go against the grain. Like the men choosing to become midwives.

“I was a little bit nervous on the first day of midwifery training, but when I walked into the classroom and saw another man, I was happy. I wasn’t alone,” says Henrik Lundius. 

It is nearly a year since he graduated as a midwife. He financed the first semester of his education by working weekends at the paediatric emergency department and then through an education job which gave him a basic salary.

Photo: Private

Henrik Lundius, one of the few men who has become a midwife in the last years. Photo: private.

He has never regretted his choice of specialist education even though he has faced some scepticism during his journey.

“When I studied to become a midwife five, six years ago, there were some teachers who expected that only women wanted to become midwives,” he tells the Nordic Labour Journal.

Male midwife students

In Sweden, between one and three male midwives have been trained per year since 1996. The statistics show those who started each semester, beginning in 1996-97. In total, between 136 and 387 midwives were examined during the same time period. Source: University Chancellor's Office.

To become a licenced midwife in Sweden, you first have to be a licensed nurse. In total, the two courses take four-and-a-half years.

Mistrust and privileges

When Henrik Lundius worked as an assistant nurse at a maternity ward the summer before he graduated as a nurse, some of his colleagues there did not believe a man would function on the ward. 

“They expected me to spend most of my time at the reception desk, but they were wrong.”

But there were also low expectations which were easy to meet.

“Part of my job was to make sandwiches. Then I might hear: ‘God, you make such great sandwiches!’ So in some cases, it was not that hard to be good,” he says with a smile.

Asking for female midwives

Today, he encounters no resistance or mistrust towards his professional choice. However, it does happen that the woman who is about to give birth requests a female midwife, although it does not happen very often, according to Henrik Lundius. 

He works at Skåne University Hospital in Malmö, Sweden's third-largest city with residents from 186 different countries, according to the city's own website.

“No matter how you look at it, you do take such a request personally in a way. But on the other hand, I don’t know what the woman has experienced and I cannot force her to accept my help. That would feel like an intrusion,” he says.

At a larger hospital like the one in Malmö, it might be possible to change to a female midwife, but if several births are going on at once this is not always possible. 

“But with time I have learned to solve the situation by building a relationship before performing a vaginal examination. Once the woman is in labour, she has other things to worry about and afterwards, it feels especially nice – that things worked out even though I am a man,” he says.

Unusual male support

There are several male doctors on Henrik Lundius’ ward, an occupation he describes as being more medical and technical.

“The doctors come in when there are problems that must be solved. Being a midwife is far more intimate, it’s a more feminine occupation. As a midwife, I must provide support in a tough situation. For the woman, it's about being able to receive the support that is both intimate and emotional from a man. It can feel unfamiliar," he says. 

He has no intention of changing to a more male-dominated sector. Henrik Lundius says he has a lot of fun with his female colleagues. 

"It's an incredibly strong and fantastic professional group, not just the midwives but also the assistant nurses we work closely with. The atmosphere when the baby is born and the parents receive it is magical. But sometimes it's incredibly tough with a very high workload, and there are times I don't even have time to go to the bathroom for a whole night." 

No longer “the only one”

Another thing Henrik Lundius is happy about is that he is no longer the only male midwife on the ward – something he actually was during his midwifery training. The man he had seen turned out to be a technician who was helping set up the projector. 

A few months ago, Henrik Lundius got a male colleague who previously worked at Helsingborg Hospital. His name is Anders Lindbäck and the Nordic Labour Journal spoke to him too.

Photo: Private“I worked as a nurse at a youth clinic for several years and was very happy there. The reason I took midwifery training was to be able to perform gynaecological examinations and provide contraceptive counselling," he says.

Although Anders Lindbäck was employed as a nurse by Region Skåne, one of Sweden's 21 regions responsible for healthcare, he did not receive any salary or financial support from them during the first semester of the midwifery program he attended in 2018. 

"Then the rules changed, and for the remaining two semesters, I received a little over half of my salary, and I had to supplement it with loans from CSN (the Swedish Board of Student Finance). Now, thankfully, the financial compensation is better when pursuing a specialist education. Here in Region Skåne, you receive the full base salary," he says. 

New dimensions as a nurse

Anders Lindbäcks’ plan was to return to the youth clinic after his studies, but the weeks he spent practicing at a maternity ward opened up a new world to him, he says.

“It was a world I had never before set foot in, and I discovered that it was fantastic.”

Like Henrik Lundius he occasionally meets women who ask for a female midwife, which he perceives to be for cultural and religious reasons. When it is possible, a change can be arranged but that is not always achievable.

“There is sometimes a very high pressure on the maternity ward in Malmö, and this can make it difficult to change in the middle of a shift when other midwives are very busy. As a general rule, I don’t think it should be possible to change. Gender is a discriminatory factor,” says Anders Lindbäck, who also tells us that during his nursing training, he did not have any practical training related to pregnancy and childbirth.

“That made it difficult to figure out just how exciting this is. To be part of the moment when a child is born is wonderful. I want to be a reassuring presence and ensure that everything goes as smoothly as possible.

Gender equality definition

”Gender equality means that women and men have the same rights, obligations and opportunities. Gender equality covers all aspects of life. The political concept of gender equality signifies equality between the sexes, and that the genders have equal value.”

Source: Jämställdhetsmyndigheten (in Swedish)

Median salary for midwives

Midwives who work in the regions earned 42,236 Swedish kronor (€3,679) a month before tax in 2022. The amount includes base salary and fixed salary supplements but does not include, for example, on-call supplements.

Source: Vårdförbundet (in Swedish)


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