Construction site to delivery room How I became one of Ireland's few male midwives

Dan Oakes worked as a project manager building skyscrapers. But when the bust came along, he decided to retrain as a midwife.

I HAVE HELD many different titles so far. I began with the title Open Championship Irish Step Dancer, with hundreds of hard won, first place trophies from the US and UK. I loved to step dance and still do when I have the chance. I always enjoyed the adventure of traveling to different competitions.

I then trained as a journeyman technician around the time I met my soon-to-be wife. Agility and courage are the requirements for the job of technician in San Francisco.

I found the adventure I craved on the top of forty storey high-rise construction projects. I can still feel the thrill of looking down on the beautiful city of San Francisco from hundreds of feet up, with nothing but one metal rope at the very perimeter. I quickly became foreman after qualifying as a journeyman and then project manager on new skyscrapers.

The move to Ireland 

Now, one of the first questions I am asked by new acquaintances is: “Why did you move from California to Ireland?”

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I always smile at that one. My father is Irish and Ireland always played a major role in my life. Ireland enthralled me when I visited for the world Irish Step Dancing competitions. I love Irish people, culture and the sense of belonging here.

I always felt like the only redhead in San Francisco when I lived there. Fortunately, my wife, Heather, is as much an adventurer as myself, and we decided to move to Ireland soon after we were married.

It was the life changing experience of my first son’s home birth that opened my eyes to the world of childbirth.

The birth of my son 

Birth transformed my wife, my family, and me. Finn’s birth shattered my old view of reality. After the Irish property bubble burst around 2007, I was laid off and I knew I wanted to retrain.

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My wife suggested midwifery and I felt it was the right course. I wanted to help families through their overwhelming life changes. I became the first direct entry male midwife trained in Ireland.

Midwife: “with woman”, a title that has been handed down for millennia and predates recorded history. But why would a man, used to working on construction sites, have any interest in becoming a midwife?

I have learnt so much since Finn’s birth about midwifery, childbirth and physiology. I have recognised, with our current approach to childbirth, the cornerstone has been lost.

Modern society has eroded confidence in birth and women’s bodies. In the current system, mothers may never meet the same caregiver twice. Leading research has proved that continuity of care with one midwife increases positive outcomes: healthy mother and baby, satisfying birth experience, positive mental health, and supportive partner involvement.

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Birth is the foundation of life. Hotly contested issues in childbirth go straight to our hearts and question our humanity. Birth politics shape the fabric of our society; what does it mean to be a family, freedom of choice, the definition of life?

Birth is transformative. There are still parts of pregnancy and childbirth that cannot be explained by science. The amazing mothers who perform these miracles are nothing short of heroic and follow a journey that will change themselves and their families forever.

Returning to traditional care 

With the foundation of birth at risk, it’s vital we return to the traditional care surrounding birth. Midwife led care offers the best outcomes.

Access to this tremendously beneficial model of care was very limited when I started my midwifery training and it only got more restrictive. I surrounded myself with people as passionate as myself and began working on a new, more innovative model of maternity care.

The blood, sweat and tears I have put into the project has paid off; over 50 more families have had the beautiful birth experiences they deserved in the last year alone. We will continue to innovate and open more options to families. I will continue to love and serve the families of Ireland, as a professional midwife.

Dan Oakes is from Alaska but now lives in Dundalk. You can find out more information at Neighbourhood Midwives and Juno and the Midwife. Dan recently featured on Maia Dunphy’s new documentary The Truth About Child Birth on RTÉ 2.

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