Monday, 15 October 2012

It's in the words

Two weeks ago, I took my three home-educated children along to the Science Museum to enjoy The Human Body film on their IMAX screen.  The film was really interesting, with lots of amazing facts, clever imagery and clear explanation.

Then, we get to the 'birth bit'; I am an experienced 'TV birth' avoider now, having wasted too much energy shouting at rubbish programmes (OBEM is right up there in my list of hates), so I tried not to get too excited, so as not to be disappointed   That was the right decision, as four-hundred children of varying ages were presented with the typical birth scene I strongly feel should not be broadcast: the woman, on her back, full epidural, stirrups, a team of people (I think they edited out what was clearly an assisted birth), baby taken away, wrapped and returned to the proud mother.  And the icing on the cake..... the midwives phrase that makes me want to want to jump up and down like a raving bloody looney (and that is being tame on what I really want to say):
"come on, push, push, push, push, push,....
get ANGRY (with your baby?)".
Get Angry?  Angry....... so is what we're really saying, is that we want the woman to be this:

and then expect to her be this:

A diametrical concept to the extreme.

And it's not just here that the language of midwifery needs addressing;  how many times do we need to remind women and midwives that pizzas are delivered, shopping is delivered, parcels are delivered.  Babies are BORN. I do not deliver babies; I facilitate birth, I support, I catch, I guide.  I am in awe as a woman delivers her own baby.  Not me.

To empower women, we need to think carefully about the language we use: midwives are in a very powerful position.  Women listen to us, they value us, they (hopefully) respect us: what we say and how we say it sticks.  Let's look at some other examples:
"ohh.... that's a big baby your growing there."  ( Woman hears "oohh, I ain't ever gonna get this baby out of my vagina.")
"would you like some pain-relief?"   (Woman hears "midwife thinks I can't cope; better get some drugs before this gets worse")
"just pop up here on the bed, there's a good girl"   (Woman hears "I better stay here where I am told")
In a recent issue of the Midirs Essentials, there was an interactive section encouraging the reader to reflect on some of the common phrases used and often said to women;  I, even as a student, have never told a women to get angry, have never asked a women to "take a deep breath and push", and have always encouraged women to listen to their body.  I have seen students swiftly adopt these 'standard phrases', as if these mantras somehow make them a midwife, a part of the 'gang', or somehow more competent in their mentors eyes?

As a midwife, my aim and hope is to empower a woman to feel like this:

because, I believe, that only when she has released her inner-lioness, only when she has birthed her baby (in her own unique way), only when she has felt that she did it (even with an assisted birth), that she is the woman, the mother, the strong-one, can I expect her to be this:

Words are powerful.  Women should be central to that power.

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any. – Alice Walker.

angela x


  1. Yet again Angela you have said exactly what I think. I am writing an article about Birth Noises and was aiming to include women's birth noises as well as the things midwives say which may help and those which almost certainly don't!
    AND I was planning to call my blog Roaring Tigress!

  2. I guess when you become the midwife who is there but isn't feeling the need to see the show, nature - both human and animalistic - reveals itself in all its (un)glory!

  3. I love midwives like you Angela, can we arrange to have you cloned please? :D

  4. Thank you Tina; cloning would be good if only to help me keep on top of things! IN the meantime, I will just keep trying to inspire students and aspiring students.... they are the midwives of the future and could lead the change!