San Francisco

'Boys Just Don’t Do That': Meet The Castro's Pioneering Male Nurse Midwife

Back in nursing school, John Fassett decided to specialize in obstetrics on a dare. But more than 30 years and 4,000 deliveries later, the certified nurse midwife will now tell you that it was just one of those things in life that worked out for the best.

Fassett, a Bay Area native and longtime Castro resident, is San Francisco's only practicing male certified nurse midwife, and one of only about 100 nationwide. In a profession dominated by some 15,000 women, his journey hasn’t been an easy one, but he told us can’t imagine doing anything else. (Update: tipster Kim D. notes that there's another: Julio Diaz-Abarca at Zuckerberg San Francisco General.)

John Fassett is San Francisco's sole male nurse midwife. | Photo: Facebook

Initially, Fassett wanted to become a pediatric nurse practitioner. But out of 80 nursing students in his class, only eight were allowed to specialize in pediatrics, and Fassett’s name wasn’t drawn in the lottery. A classmate suggested that Fassett sign up for obstetrics to freak out his classmates, and then convince somebody to swap positions with him. He took the suggestion, but the ploy didn’t work.

After Fassett completed his 15-week rotation and graduated from nursing school, he went into the Navy, where he was placed in a maternity unit for six months before receiving special training in labor and delivery. He’s been helping to deliver babies ever since.

Seven years later, Fassett left the Navy and started nurse midwifery school at UCSF, where he was the only man in his class of 12 students.

He says he regularly faced discrimination from some of his peers and faculty members. “I was really shocked that on my very first day of midwifery school in 1992, there would be so many issues around having a guy in the program,” he told us. “I had to hear all of the reasons why men aren’t ideal midwives.”

It took Fassett years to overcome these obstacles, and he admits that his sexuality may have played a role in helping to pacify some of his critics. “I’ve had female patients say that if their provider is going to be male, they’re more comfortable with a gay man versus a straight man. But I hope that my patients are coming to see me because of my expertise, not because I’m a big queen.”

Fassett at the Sister Speaks event with Sister Roma in August. | Photo: Shane Downing/Hoodline

Even though some gay men might find the female body, shall we say, foreign, Fassett describes the birth process as “the coolest thing." 

His first solo delivery happened when he was on rotation at SF General. The midwife had stepped out of the room for a minute, and the 16-year-old patient told Fassett that she thought the baby was coming out. “I put gloves on, and by the time I got there, the baby was already halfway out,” he said. “She pushed and I picked the baby up.” After placing the newborn with her mother, Fassett promptly went out into the hallway and started screaming.

After years in the field, labor is now less overwhelming for Fassett, who says he enjoys getting to know his patients over the course of their pregnancies. “The most rewarding thing is following a couple and getting to be a part of that life-changing event for them.” 

Those life-changing events have turned Fassett into something of a local celebrity. "Just the other day, I was in Mollie Stone’s, and I ran into a patient and her 13-year-old son, whom I had delivered," he said. His refrigerator is covered with hundreds of baby pictures, and at his Laurel Heights office, he's been nicknamed "the mayor of Laurel Village" because he can’t go to Starbucks without running into someone he’s helped to deliver.

When asked if he foresees more men becoming midwives, Fassett told us that midwifery is a calling. “Whether you’re called to it and you’re a male, or you’re called to it and you’re a female, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “You’re called to do it.”

Castro, Laurel Heights

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