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Power People: Najell x Tobias Richter

Power People: Najell x Tobias Richter "It should always be about my role as a midwife and not my gender" 

Midwifery* is a women dominated field in Germany. According to estimates, only 30 of 27,000 midwives are male. But why is that? In this interview in our series Najell x Power People, we talk to Tobias Richter (@heb.tobi98). He is a 26-year-old midwife from Berlin who works as a teacher for future midwives and is committed to diversity in midwifery. 

 *There isn’t a gender-neutral term for midwife in English while one exists for German. While the etymology for midwife is “with woman”, the common usage implies a woman is performing the role. The term “with woman”, however, does not cover the full spectrum of people who are able to become pregnant and give birth. This post will use the term midwife and midwifery because we don’t have common language to gender neutrally describe the profession. 

Why did you become a midwife? What fascinates you about the profession? 

"I became a midwife because I love working with expectant families. The opportunity to accompany people in such an important phase of life really spoke to me. The mix of medical expertise, empathy, and emotional support this profession entails is so fascinating." 

In another interview, you said that your male Italian colleague (who also works as a midwife) was surprised that it is so unusual for a man to work in this profession in Germany. What are the differences in Germany compared to other countries, such as Italy?       

"In Italy and many other countries, it is more common for men to work as midwives. There are many countries in Africa which lead the trend because there were not enough midwives who wanted to or could work in rural areas; So, men were permitted to undergo training. In Germany, men have only been allowed to train as midwives since 1985. However, you can see that the field is also becoming more inclusive and open minded. There were simply countries that were clearly ahead of us." 

Did that make it harder for you as a man to be taken seriously in your apprenticeship? 

"Yes, in the early days it was sometimes difficult to be taken seriously - I even thought about quitting. But it didn’t just happen to me- it also happened to my female classmates sometimes. Good work was almost never appreciated. It was an extremely hard and intense time that demanded a lot from me." 

As far as you know, how many male midwives are there currently in Germany? Has the number increased in recent years?

"There are only a few male midwives in Germany, estimated at about 25-30. The number has increased slightly in recent years compared to when I applied for an apprenticeship in 2015." 

As a delegate in the Federal Council of Midwife Trainees, you helped to ensure that your professional title was changed from "Entbindungspfleger” (Roughly, “male-maternity carer”, that implies less responsibilities) to “Hebamme” (professional term already used by women) in 2020 with the reform of midwifery training. Were there also dissenting voices? And isn't it still sometimes strange to have a title that has a mostly female connotation?  

"In fact, I don't remember any votes against this decision. For me, it's not strange to use the term "hebamme". Quite the opposite! I see it as recognition of equality in the workplace. In the end, it should always be about my function and role as a midwife and not necessarily about gender." 

How many births have you attended and which of them do you remember most? 

"I have attended about 600 births so far. Over the years, there have been some beautiful ones that I like to think back to. There was a spontaneous birth of twins (I, myself, am a twin child), the water birth of a friend, and families that I had already cared for who I got to work with again for the birth of their last child." 

On your Instagram account @heb.tobi98 you also talk openly about topics such as miscarriages or consent during childbirth. What support options are available for women after such traumatic events? Are midwives the best point of contact for this?   

"There are various support options, such as mental health support, specialized counseling centers and/or self-help groups. Midwives are often the first point of contact and can provide important emotional support, as well as refer them to the appropriate specialists. However, midwives are also sometimes affected by violence in the workplace themselves. Here, too, there is an acute need for action so that all people come out of birth with a good outcome." 

Do you see yourself as an ambassador for the profession? And what reactions do you get on your Instagram account or on the "anonymous internet" in general?  

"Yes, I think over the years I have been given this kind of "ambassador role". On my Instagram account I try to share insights into my everyday work, but I don’t put pressure on myself to post. The reactions on the internet are mostly positive. Sometimes there are isolated negative comments and unfortunately very tasteless comments, which clearly come from very frustrated anonymous people. But that's just how the internet is." 

 

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