I've seen eyes roll when I talk about surges instead of saying contractions. I may even get a
'Well they hurt like hell no matter what bullshit word you give them'
if the bottle of prosecco is almost empty.
I respect every woman's experience of birth and right to choose which ever words she wants. But that doesn't mean that the language we use to describe birth doesn't matter. I believe strongly when I teach my hypnobirthing class that I am empowering women by giving them words (often ones they've never used before) to describe their birth. I will also go further and say that the linguistic ability to describe our births on a personal and positive level is necessary for us to have positive thoughts about birth at all.
The book nerd within me always thinks of the conversation Winston Smith (George Orwell's 1984 protagonist) has with Syme, a comrade who is working on the Ministry of Truth's Newspeak Dictionary. When Winston asks about Syme's work on the dictionary Syme is enthusiastic in his reply.
'You think, I dare say, that our chief job is inventing new words. But not a bit of it! We're destroying words - scores of them, hundreds of them, everyday.'
Syme then goes on to explain why not having words to describe certain ideas is such a good thing for his governmental department, The Ministry of Truth, and therefore Big Brother.
'Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.'
Without the words to describe negative ideas the ability to even think negatively about Big Brother would be impossible.
This principle can be applied to any ideas including those surrounding birth.
If we do not have the words to describe birth in a positive manner how can we think positively about birth? If all the terminology we have about birth is medical how can we think about our births as a natural process brought about by our bodies? How can we believe that birth is inherently a natural process which is better left alone, unless intervention is needed, if we only use external medical language?
If we can only describe the contracting of our uterus as, well, contractions and if that word in our mind equals pain it is far harder to ever think of them as useful sensations, let alone unpainful ones. Contraction is a perfectly good medical word as it describes what the uterus does, but is this the best language when attributed to our person? Though of course the beauty in language is that the meaning has personal connotations, that doesn't mean we may not need additional words.
Equally to know the anatomically correct names for our bodies is empowering. My children know they have a penis, or a vulva and vagina as the case maybe. However I also call it a willy or a fanny as I believe there is a softness and more possession in the colloquial terms. I may say 'God I've got massive tit sweat' to my mum, but ask the doctor about a lump on my breast. It is important to have both options.
When we are talking about empowering women. Encouraging women to think differently about our bodies and about our births the language we use should reflect what we want to achieve in those thoughts. Empowering, positive, and personal.
It is not just flowery, hippie dippie language. The language we use shapes the thoughts we have and the thoughts we have shapes the language we use. To create new thoughts we need to expand our vocabulary. We need to change how we talk about birth and then we can change how we think about birth. The words we use when we talk to our daughters and sons will shape the thoughts they have around birth, shaping the next generation's collective opinion.
Let us spread the birth confidence by spreading this new language. Here's your cheat sheet to empowered birth language and share with me your favourite empowering birth speak.