Changing the Language of Childbirth
by Susan Highsmith

[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt of an article which appears in Midwifery Today, Issue 118, Summer 2016. View other great articles and columns in the table of contents. To read the rest of this article, order your copy of Midwifery Today, Issue 118.]

The words we use express our subconscious beliefs. We can perpetuate society’s paradigms by using its language, or we can choose our words to create the change we want to see.

What is important to realize is that the system that dominates our society has coopted our thinking. When we take our language for granted, our dialogues are full of words and expressions that keep us trapped in the very system we want to change.

T.S. Elliott said, “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language, and next year’s words await another voice.” We must be the voice of next year. Next year is happening now, and another voice is one that empowers women to give birth. This other voice helps us reclaim our innate wisdom to do what Nature designed us to do without having to abdicate our right to choose the option we think best.

What is important to realize is that the system that dominates our society has coopted our thinking. When we take our language for granted, our dialogues are full of words and expressions that keep us trapped in the very system we want to change. Rayna Rapp, in the foreword to Childbirth and Authoritative Knowledge, emphasizes how medical authority is socially constructed. She eloquently describes how women have lost their authority by having it subverted by the authority of a socially constructed institution. “Authoritative knowledge isn’t produced simply by access to complex technology, or an abstract will to hierarchy. It is a way of organizing power relations in a room that makes them seem literally unthinkable in any other way” (Davis-Floyd and Sargent 1997, vi). Our everyday language perpetuates the diminished power and authority of pregnant women in favor of a system designed to do just that.

We all know that patriarchy has dominated women for eons of time. The answer is not, in my opinion, to replace a patriarchal system with a matriarchal one but to bring into balance the best of what both women and men have to contribute. It still takes an egg and a sperm to create a baby, the union of feminine and masculine. How can we, as women promoting the empowerment of our gender, do so without engaging in a very masculine way of thinking and behaving, waging a gender war in which one side seeks to overpower the other?


References:

  • Davis-Floyd, Robbie E, and Carolyn F Sargent, eds. 1997. Childbirth and Authoritative Knowledge: Cross-Cultural Perspectives. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Susan Highsmith is an author, educator and counselor. She has a BA in women’s studies, an MA in counseling and guidance and a doctorate in prenatal and perinatal psychology. She seeks to balance psychological theory and practice with holistic and spiritual wisdom.


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