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by Staff reporter
28 April 2022
Trans women can give birth, Edinburgh Napier University midwifery students told

A nurse holds a newborn baby. Pic: Science Photo Library / Alamy Stock Photo

Trans women can give birth, Edinburgh Napier University midwifery students told

Advice given on how to handle male anatomy

A Scottish university is to update "worrying" teaching materials which erroneously tell midwifery students how to treat trans women who are giving birth.

A detailed guide on how to catheterise a "male to female" patient in labour were issued to students. The material — passed on by whistleblowing students who do not wish to be named — describes how a such a patient may "still have external male genitalia" and covers the handling of male anatomy.

Staff later said this was in error and corrected the wording to "female to male", when a suggestion that trans men could give birth through a surgically-constructed penis was then added.

Students were told that "while most times the birthing person will have female genitalia, you may be caring for a pregnant or birthing person while is transitioning from male to female and may still have external male genitalia".

The guidance, seen by Holyrood went on: "You need to be familiar with the catheterisation procedure for both the female and male anatomy. For this reason, where appropriate, this book refers to the person or birthing person."

It was later amended, with the teacher telling learners: “Apologies for the wording being the wrong way round. This situation refers to a female who has transitioned to male. So the person has surgery to construct a penis but still has a uterus and may conceive.”

The material was originally published on the Reduxx website by documentary filmmaker Bryndis Blackadder, and shortly thereafter by the writer Milli Hill. Neither of these reports named the university involved but it has now been confirmed as Edinburgh Napier University.

Obstetrics expert Dr Susan Bewley, of King’s College London, told Reduxx that "there are no circumstances whereby qualified midwives can possibly be asked, or be expected, to catheterise a penis as part of their professional work". She told the website: "These materials are the opposite of the high-quality training that patients need from midwives and doctors. The project may have arisen from compassion and enthusiasm, but it is worrying that the writers don’t seem to know, care about, or check facts." 

Hill, who has written extensively on pregnancy and birth, said that "it is the job of midwifery lecturers" to "deliver training that, whilst it is inclusive of people with different gender identities who give birth, still remains grounded in biological reality and does not confuse or misinform".

A spokesperson for Edinburgh Napier University said it is "committed to upholding the professional standards required" by the National Midwifery Council and wishes to be "inclusive of all people, including those who identify within the LGBTQ+ communities", adding: "The teaching materials will be updated as required.”

Joanna Cherry MP, whose constituency includes Edinburgh Napier University, told Holyrood: "It is very worrying that in an attempt to produce trans inclusive language it appears students have been provided with such poor quality, scientifically inaccurate teaching materials. I’m in touch with healthcare professionals who, like the whistleblowing students are appalled by this nonsense. Stonewall finally dropped their guidance on removing the word mother in favour of gender neutral terms late last year and I hope the university will remove these materials and focus on the importance of training midwives to provide birthing mothers' with the support and care necessary to ensure a safe pregnancy and labour."

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