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Male OB/GYNs…does it matter to you?

If you gave birth in a hospital 50 years ago, the chances that your obstetrician was a male were almost 100 percent. That has changed in recent years as more and more women have gone into the field of medicine. In fact, most recently 82 percent of all doctors graduating from medical school who were entering a residency in OB/GYN were female.

That leaves the question: is it OK for a patient to request a female doctor to deliver her baby?

If you made that request 50 years ago, you’d probably be laughed at and told that wouldn’t even be possible since there might not even be a female obstetrician on staff at the hospital. Nowadays, though, with so many women in the field, that is likely no longer a concern. But is it still right to make such a request?

As a female obstetrician myself, I believe in a patient’s right to choose. This includes choosing who she wants to deliver her baby. If I heard that request, I would want to honor her wishes–but with some educating and explaining first.

Giving birth is an intimate moment for a woman and her family. I believe if birth requests can be honored–from room lighting to cord cutting to who is in the room (or left out)–then we should do our best to do so.

When a blanket statement of “No males” is on a patient’s chart, though, I do give a little pause. I do that not because I think it is unreasonable, but because I want to understand this request more.

I will often clarify this with the pregnant woman by saying, “Can you help me understand why you don’t want a male doctor?” Some may say that they prefer a female but in the end are OK with whomever shows up, while others are really against it. There may be a history of sexual abuse or cultural or religious preferences behind this. Once I know more, I can counsel a bit better.

I will then discuss that we always do our best to honor our patient’s preferences, but I can never guarantee anything. I will then say in an emergency situation, if a male physician is the best person around to help me, then that is who I will recommend. I will clarify if that is alright, and often my patients have no problem understanding and accepting this.

I will be honest and tell you that I think women who think a female obstetrician are better at commiserating about birth might not be right. It is true that a guy might never experience the pain of contractions or the joys of breastfeeding, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t phenomenal at supporting a woman while giving birth.

In fact…I will be the first to admit that I think men are more compassionate in some ways when it comes to being empathetic with pregnancy and labor pains. Some of us women who have given birth before might have more of a grin-and-bear-it attitude than some male coworkers I have known!

In the end, who delivers your baby–doctor or midwife, male or female–are deeply personal decisions. Ideally, this is discussed well ahead of the time you head to the hospital. I think male OB/GYNs are wonderful, and some of my favorite doctors with whom I have trained and worked are male.

I don’t think a medical specialty ever benefits from having all of the same kind of people, whether that is gender or race or age. I hope men continue to choose to become obstetricians, and I hope women continue to choose them for the breadth of medical care they can provide.

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