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Changing the Language of Birth

I have a pet peeve that I need to talk about. I hate certain terms used in pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Here is the big one that is used in a lot of scenarios: fail, failure, failed. I'm going to be real honest, it is a bullshit term used to place blame on the pregnant person or new parent(s). Today I want to discuss some examples of how we can adjust our language to help change our perceptions of birth.

Failed glucose tolerance test. To say that a person has failed this routine test makes it seem like it is somehow their fault. How is it even remotely anyone's fault? No one has control over how their bodies react in pregnancy. The hormones produced can throw our bodies out of whack, it doesn't mean they have failed or that their body has failed them. Might it not be more beneficial for the birthing person to hear the words "elevated glucose levels" instead of "failed glucose test"? See how easy it is to change the language and in turn can alternate the tone of information received. It becomes a simple fact and not a blanket form of failure.

Failure to progress. When in labor the medical model expects your body to dilate and efface at a certain rate. When a person is in labor and their cervix doesn't change they diagnosis them with "failure to progress" and either add medications to help "speed" things along or recommend a c-section. Again, it implies that your body has failed you or that you are broken. How does this terminology help the birthing person? It makes them question their body which provokes stress, which disrupts their natural hormonal cascade, ultimately delaying or slowing down labor. So instead of saying "failure to progress" why not say something like, "patient experiencing a long labor". A lot more happens to our bodies in labor than just dilation and effacement. Contractions help push baby down, get baby into a position to pass through the birth canal, open the hips to allow said passage. Some people have long labors for all sorts of reasons, it doesn't mean they have failed, it just means their body is taking it's time.

Failure to thrive. As a new parent one of the worst things is hearing these words. Your baby can't fend for themselves so this statement or diagnosis implies that you are failing your baby. That you aren't adequately taking care of them. This diagnosis can destroy a person's confidence in themselves as a parent. Let's get rid of this statement and merely address the facts. Baby has not gained weight. These gentler choice of words can then allow a provider to explore the needs of the parent and baby without placing blame. It simply means that maybe the parent and/or baby needs assistance. When we point fingers, place blame, imply inadequacy then people shut down. It would be infinitely better to support the parents and lift them up during such a difficult time; Build their confidence as a parent so that they can pass that confidence on to their child.

These are just a few examples of an overall tone surrounding birth and parenting that just bug me and the doulas I work with. It is a sign that there is a lack of compassion in healthcare, too many policies and procedures that dictate how we care for each other. And this is such a simple and easy change. Adjusting our language can change the way a person perceives their experience and how they feel about themselves. Why wouldn't we want to help others feel good about themselves? How does providing compassionate care hurt us?

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