Tag Archive | language of birth

Consumer Blame

Two things came to my attention today that made me think about how ironic it is that the medical system “lets” or doesn’t “let” women do so many things with regard to pregnancy and birth care and yet if something goes wrong, the locus of control shifts suddenly and it is now her fault for the situation. I see this often with things like “failure to progress”—“she’s just not dilating”—and even with fetal heart decelerations (“the baby just isn’t cooperating”). With induction—“her body just isn’t going to go into labor on its own”—and with pain relief—“she’s just not able to cope anymore” (yes, but is she also restrained on her back and denied food and drink?!). There are other ugly terms associated with women’s health that blame the “victim” as well such as “incompetent cervix” and “irritable uterus” and even “miscarriage” (and its even uglier associate, “spontaneous abortion.” And then for women with recurrent pregnancy losses we have the lovely, woman honoring term, “habitual aborter.” EXCUSE me?!). And then today, via The Unnecesarean, I read about a doctor inducing “labor” and then performing a cesarean on a non-pregnant woman.

Okay wow. So much could be said about that, but the kicker for me is that the woman was blamed—“The bottom line is the woman convinced everybody she was pregnant.” Huh?! So random surgery is totally acceptable if the person is “convincing” enough? What happened to diagnosing something first? Or, for taking responsibility for an inaccurate diagnosis?

The final thing that happened is that I got a completely unexpected refund check for over $400 today from my own local medical care system. While I’m not complaining about $400 that I thought I’d seen the last of, I had to shake my head in disbelief at the reason for the refund—“you overpaid”—excuse me, but I think the real reason is, “you overcharged me.” I checked back through my bills and I paid what I was billed (which, now that I think about, did seem like a heck of a lot for services NOT-rendered. If I had been in less of a state of grief and shock perhaps I would have questioned it more!), but now it has become “my fault” (in a sense) by switching the language to my overpaying vs. them overcharging.

What interesting dynamics these are…

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!

Cut here?? What not to say to pregnant or laboring women…

The Rebirth blog is having a “blog carnival” with “what what not to say to a pregnant or laboring woman” as the theme. When I read the theme, two personal occurrences immediately sprang to mind:

After my Blessingway ceremony with my first baby, all the guests got into the pool (it was August). I changed out of my Blessingway finery and came out in my cute little two piece bathing suit with my big, pregnant belly leading the way. One of the Blessingway attendees looked at me and at the brown “linea nigra” line on my belly and said, “What’s that line mean? Cut here!” and laughed. I was appalled! And at my Blessingway too! I will never forget how it felt to hear something like that on my special day.

Less bothersome, but something that undermined my confidence in following my instincts was when I was laboring with my first son. I said I felt ready to go in to the birth center, but my doula suggested I take a shower first (and relax). When I went in to the bathroom to do so, I heard her say to my mom and husband outside the door, “first time moms always think they need to go in too soon.” I am a people-pleaser and it took a lot for me to come back out of the bathroom (without taking a shower) and say, “no, I want to go to the birth center now.” We went (and I was 10 centimeters dilated when we got there). I felt like I had super-amplified hearing during labor and heard everything that people said even though they thought I didn’t (eyes closed, very inwardly focused). This was one example of several similar occurrences during my first birthing.

I also thought of an experience of one of my birth class clients. As she was pushing and the baby’s head was crowning, her doctor said “I wouldn’t rule out a c-section just yet…”

One of the reasons that I actually called this blog “Talk Birth” is because I have a special interest in the language of birth and the impact of the lexicon of birth on pregnant and birthing women.

The experiences above and the theme in general reminded me of a quote I really liked from an article I read recently:

“Since beliefs affect physiologic functions, how women and men discuss the process of pregnancy and birth can have a negative or positive effect on the women that are involved in the discussion. Our words are powerful and either reinforce or undermine the power of women and their bodies.”–Debra Bingham