Inarguably, language is a tool, and our word choice transmits thoughts, ideas, and preconceptions. Author Austin Channing Brown writes in her book, “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness”, about being seven years old and understanding that her parents had named her with the hopes to pass at least the resumé-reading phase of job searches as a white man. Unfortunately, job applications can be tossed-aside simply because of the name at the top of the page. If even the very name of an individual paints a picture for us as to who they are or what they are capable of doing, then pronouns certainly do as well.
That’s why the city of Berkeley, California is actively changing the language they use in their law books. According to this The New York Times article, they will be eliminating several gendered terms and replacing them with more non-binary and inclusive ones. For example, “Manhole will be replaced with maintenance hole. Sisters and brothers will be replaced with siblings. And he or she will be banished in favor of they, even if referring to one person.” As a midwife, it is crucial to respect the pronoun choices of clients. One of the core values that Midwifery Care NYC upholds is maintaining a healthy and individualized relationship that encourages clients to make informed decisions about their medical care. Misgendering or assuming something about a birth-person that just simply might not be true can cause that person to feel unwelcome and unsafe, limiting the agency that they have over their own bodies. Using non-binary language around pregnancy allows for clients of all backgrounds to feel more included in the conversation.
Thoughtful word choice is also why we refer to our clients as such and not as “patients”. In a hospital setting, very often, the “patient” can find themselves being talked-over and not actually included in the decisions related to their own health. Whether it is subconscious or not, the underlying idea is that a “patient” is sick and does not know enough or have sufficient expertise to be able to advocate for themselves. However, we understand that pregnancy is a normal and natural part of life. Pregnant people are not sick people. Referring to them as such often reduces their agency. Clients, on the flip side, are empowered to make choices and the people who serve the client are much more inclined to listen.
Katharine Graves, in her blog about hypnobirthing, states that:
“Many women comment on how, when they’re pregnant, it seems as though the world and his wife now feel they have ample reason to vocalize their experiences and opinions. This comes with little to no consideration as to how this will affect the mother and the subsequent environment for her baby.”
In the theory of hypnobirth, words like “surges” instead of “contractions” are encouraged because it sounds less harsh. There is also a large focus on how statements and questions are phrased so that something that could come across as being negative is positively transformed. For example, when wanting to know if the client is experiencing pain, it is better to ask, “Are you comfortable?” rather than “Are you hurting?”
Another example of this is the common practice that midwives and home-birth professionals alike tend to agree upon is veering away from saying that a baby was “delivered” because babies are not packages! Babies are born. All across the board it is crucial to pay attention to and consider the power of words if you want to make sure that clients feel content, included, and empowered.
Written by Gabrielle Cappelletti, the intern.