Birth Talk

As I have referenced several times before I have a special interest in the language of birth. That is part of the reason my blog/business is so-named—because is it is a blog that “talks birth” (as in, “let’s get together and talk birth!”), but also because the way you talk about birth matters. I have also referenced before that it was originally going to be called Birth Talk, but when I went to get the gmail address, it was already taken (by a childbirth educator I coincidentally later came to know!). I’ve come to really “bond” with my Talk Birth name and now “birth talk” sounds slightly odd to me (though “talk birth” is really the odder phrasing).

A couple of months ago, I read an interesting article by Debra Bingham about Taking Birth Back. It it, she asks you to consider–when talking about birth–how your basic assumptions affect your discourse (the way you talk about birth):

1. Does your discourse include stories about the power of women?
2. Or do the stories shift the locus of control away from women and their bodies to other authority figures such as nurses, physicians, or machines?
3. Does your discourse assume that women are physiologically capable of giving birth and nourishing their own children?
4. Or does your discourse assume that women’s bodies are fundamentally flawed and in need of medical attention and intervention?

I am frequently attempting to shift the locus of control from “authority” figures back to women–it is shocking to me how ingrained the terminology is about medical care providers (even midwives!), “letting” someone do something, etc.

And, an enormous part of my life revolves around stories about the power of women, so I think I have that one down 😉

The prevailing social discourse about birth assumes a locus of control external to the woman and you rarely hear stories about the “power of women” amongst the general public or mainstream media. Ditto for the assumption of women’s bodies as fundamentally flawed, except replace “rarely” with “frequently.” These messages are so dominating that I think it is hard for women to really “hear” positive birth talk–it seems like a “joyful birth” must be a myth or impossible. Likewise, when a woman is striving to keep the birth talk around her positive, it can be very difficult to override the predominately negative messages coming at her from every side. I see this in my classes, “I believe birth is a natural event, etc., etc. BUT….” (followed by a  “I trust my doctor’s judgment and if he wants me to have this GTT test or this extra ultrasound to check my fluid level, etc. I guess I will do it…” comment that contributes to the “climate of doubt” in her life). There are also the woman’s own “inner voices” to contend with—I hypothesize that the loudly-shouted cultural voices about birth contribute a good deal to the “negative voice” in her inner dialog.

I don’t know any way to “fix” this  other than to continue “talking birth”–good, healthy, positive, normal, humanistic, natural, joyful birth–as widely and frequently as I can!

6 thoughts on “Birth Talk

  1. I think this is one of the areas in which your typical “birth junkie” or “home birther” or “natural birther” is going to differ from the average woman. As I read birth stories written by women in the two different groups, that’s a subtle difference I pick up on — in the former group, it’s a lot of “I did this… this is how I felt… this is what I did… this is what my birth team did for me…”; and in the latter group, there is a shift — the focus seems to be external — the monitors, the tests, the drugs, “then she broke my water… then they broke down the bed and put my legs in the stirrups… then they counted so I could push…” I don’t know if the average person picks up on that, (especially since I’ve only been able to nebulously define it and pick up on it myself!), but it’s definitely there, even if subtle.

    • I think you’re definitely onto something there, Kathy. Much less “letting” going on in the language of natural birth/homebirth. Since I tend to be surrounded by people who are of this mindset, it is startling to enter the “real world” and realize that this is not that way that 95% of women talk about birth! 😦

      I know I was a bit taken aback when a woman inquired with me about taking birth classes and referred to her first birth as a birth at home “with NO medications”–the language choice didn’t add up to me somehow, which means I’m definitely used to the subtly different language from women who birth at home. I think that was the only time I’d had someone stress the medication-less experience of homebirth.

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