“Come on my girl, it’s not called ‘labour’ for nothing!” These words stand out in my mind from my midwifery training. A very experienced, but perhaps not so empathetic, midwife had entered the room. I, in my naïve state, stood and looked on in misguided awe as this midwife then quickly made the poor girl push her baby out. Upon reflection, I can now see that that all the midwife did was to reinforce her power of position by using strong language and there was no empathy or being ‘with woman’- the true meaning of the word ‘midwife’.
The language that is used in pregnancy and childbirth is so powerful and can lead to a woman achieving truly amazing things or losing faith in herself and her body. The word ‘labour’ is a prime example of setting women up for a task they may not believe themselves capable of.
‘Hard labour’, ‘labour camps’ and ‘labour market’ are terms that are commonly used but have very negative connotations. Why then do we use the word ‘labour’, often used to describe brutal and difficult situations that ultimately bring little or no reward, to describe the wonderful act of birthing a baby?
In hypnobirthing and the positive birthing movement, terminology has evolved in such a way as to try and turn negative birth language around. Instead of ‘labour’ we use ‘birthing’. So, ‘the day of your birthing’, ‘the birthing process/journey’ can be used positively instead of ‘labour’ and all that can negatively follow on from there in a woman’s mind.
Another word that can easily be changed is ‘contraction’. This word can conjure an unpleasant, tight, period like pain that must be endured, like ’labour’.
A different word, ‘surge’ can help to change so much in the thinking around these sensations. If we view these really strong sensations as surges of positive energy that are working with our bodies to help us to meet our babies then we may learn to embrace them rather than fear them. Surges can be intense as our bodies work hard to bring our babies to us but what is needed are the strategies to deal with this normal, birthing sensation. Ina May Gaskin, author of many books on promoting normality in birth suggests: “Don’t think of it as pain. Think of it as an interesting sensation that requires all of your attention”.
It can be useful to move away from describing surges as painful. If we are told to expect that surges will be very painful and hard to cope with, that is almost certainly how our experience of them will be. Our expectations guide how we cope with the sensations of birthing. If we expect, as Ina May says, the sensations to be intense and require all our attention, that expectation is much more positive than awful pain. Instead of using a level of pain to measure the effectiveness of the surges, it is less subjective and more positive to view them in terms of their length, frequency and intensity.
As a species, humans are the only ones that view birth negatively. By changing the language we use around it we can start to view it in an increasingly positive way.
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Read the Birth stories!
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