Semantics….

Recently in a prenatal meeting I posed a number of phrases to get the couple’s thoughts- it helps me to understand what is important to them. There was one “I gave birth, I was not delivered,” that I posed to them. Usually it is met with how they feel giving birth is something they do- vs. being delivered is something that is done to them. But this mom did not share until much later what she felt about that phrase. She said, “I actually prefer the word “deliver” because it’s more empowering to me; “birth” seems too passive, as if you’re a bystander.”

This response made me realize that different things provoke different feelings in folks. I have to say this was the very first time in years of using these phrases to promote understanding and dialogue, that a woman shared this thought. I realized that if she felt “deliver” had more power, than by all means I wanted to use the word “delivered” when talking to her about her experience.

But this made me realize that if words are powerful, who gives them the power? Individuals do! It is important to allow a woman to use the words that help her have more power. For instance the hypnobabies program have words they use… deliver is replaced with giving birth, the husband is the birth partner, contractions are pressure waves or sensations, labor is birthing time, pain is discomfort, labor room is birth room, transition is transformation, false labor is pre-birth waves, pushing is ahhhh pushing or breathing your baby out and due dates is guess dates. They want to replace all negative connotations to be positive words.

But wait- who makes words positive or negative? Shouldn’t the mom be able to decide what works for her and what does not? I personally like the word birth more than deliver- but it is not my birth- or not my delivery- it is hers.

Hypnobirthing has their own words to use- some that are considered no nos that promote fear instead of correcting the years of negative subconscious belief. Well again- what if our subconscious belief has been full of positive birth beliefs? And what if we are not afraid of words like powerful contractions or labor is hard work- or labor hurts but I can do this? Shouldn’t I be able to use those words or phrases?

I think women should use the words they want to use. I hate that my phrases that were to promote thought and discussion made this mom feel I was coercing her to believe my words… nope – I wanted it to help her discover what she felt. And it did. Words are only given power by the one using the words or finding the word has power for them. Please share the words you need with those who are there to meet your needs!

My youngest daughter uses words I am not comfortable with sometimes and when I say so to her- she reminds me that we give the power to the words- that words themselves have no power. So, if you want to have specific words used or not used in your labor- then tell those around you what words work and what words you want to have avoided. If you are surrounding yourself with folks to help you achieve the experience you want, help them to help you by sharing the words you desire to hear as well.

But, I think it is unrealistic to expect everyone in a hospital atmosphere to not use their “normal” phrases. At a home birth it may be easier to accomplish this. I think making some birth art or encouragement cards with the phrases would be a great reminder for those around you. I have tried in my years as a doula to help change some semantics by hospital staff thinking I was helping women. For instance I do not like referring to a mom as the cesarean section but instead she is the mom who had a cesarean birth… But much to my surprise, I was taught by some wonderful women in ICAN that they did not like the term cesarean birth- because they felt it softened the surgical experience that they so wanted to avoid in their future.

There are several other phrases- like the word circumcision vs genital mutilation- hmmm you know how one feels based on using that second phrase don’t you? But some words hold less impact on their use- for instance I love the baby who is breastfeeding called a nursling- the mom nurses her baby- because I feel it is much more than just feeding a baby at the breasts. Lactivist call formula artificial breast milk. When a woman says the contraction she just had was a bad one, I do try to get her to use the word powerful instead because I think it helps her to re-identify it in a more positive way. I am not sure I will ever get women to embrace the word rush or surge for contractions… even though I do think labor can be a series of rushes and rhythmic surges… but some moms don’t relate to those words. And who am I to try to make her use my words?

So, rather than forcing a woman to use words that she does not relate to or words that for her have no power- words that she has a hard time embracing- let’s let women decide for themselves what they want to call their experiences… when we force them to embrace our words we dis-empower them by doing so. So, explore new phrases- ask yourself how the words make you feel- then share the ones that work for you with those who are there to help you!