There are around 3,000 midwives currently working in New Zealand and just six of them are male. Simon Bibby is one. Simon, a former nurse, completed his medical training in the UK (where around 100 of the 31,000 or so midwives are men) and moved to New Zealand 12 years ago.
“I just kind of fell into nursing,” Simon tells me. “Someone said that they thought I would be good at it, so I applied, and became interested in midwifery from there. It was the thing I enjoyed the most. I was the only guy studying midwifery at the time, and, wherever I go, I’ve always seemed to be the only one.”
How accepting were others in the industry?
“I have experienced a lot of prejudice over the years – probably more in the UK – but, over time, you just grow a thick skin. By the time I arrived in New Zealand I’d reached the point where I was no longer bothered by the judgements of others. I learnt how to deal with it. I know I’m a good midwife and I just want to do the best I can. I love the job. I think it’s the best career in the world.”
The term ‘midwife’ technically bears no relation to the actual medical professional, rather, it stems from an old English expression meaning to be with the woman giving birth. But, for obvious — and perhaps old fashioned — reasons, it’s always been a female-centric profession. I ask Simon what benefits he brings.
“Well, obviously I’ve never given birth and I never will, but sometimes having experience of something isn’t necessarily the best way of learning. You don’t get the differing viewpoints. You lose objectivity. I learn so much from the women I look after. They’ve taught me everything over the years, and it’s been an amazing learning experience.”
Simon, 49, has 21 years experience as a midwife. “I still believe it’s a privilege that someone trusts you wit their most vulnerable, and precious, moment,” he says. “I’ve delivered somewhere between four- and five thousand babies and it still amazes me each time.”
His record for the most deliveries with one woman stands at six, and she’s planning for a seventh next year. He often works with the same families over and over again. “As an independent midwife, you get to know families really well and develop very strong bonds,” says Simon. “It’s one of the things I most love about the job, but, when things go wrong it can be very emotional. What independent midwives won’t tell you is when they wake up in the middle of the night questioning whether they should have done this, or done that, but, after 21 years in the business, you know you’ve done everything you possibly you can.”
Simon has always been so conspicuous (“Everyone remembers the male midwife!”) for his entire career he’s had to ensure that he’s remembered for the right reasons. Back in the UK, he cut his teeth working with vulnerable groups such as drug addicts, prostitutes and teenagers. Now he works with Dr Nayars, a GP in Otahuhu, and also has his own clinic with LMC Services in Papatoetoe. Simon doesn’t advertise, preferring his caseload be built on word-of-mouth.
“There have been occasions where husbands have had an issue with their wives being looked after by a male midwife,” admits Simon, “but then they come along and see I’m ageing, balding and a little bit chubby and certainly no Brad Pitt! Plus, I have a knack for making people laugh which tends to put everyone at ease.” But more often, he says, it’s the mothers of the mothers-to-be that most need to be won over. “They can be scary! They are understandably very protective and want to make sure their daughters are being well looked after. But once people see how much you care, that you are good at your job, then they are very accepting.”
Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces