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Semantics of Birth


Brittany Sharpe McCollum, CCE(BWI), CD(DONA)

Language has incredible potential to build community, strengthen concepts and definitions, and create empowerment. With these great strengths comes the conflicting  potential to to segregate, disempower, and induce fear. Just recently in a class I facilitated, an expectant dad brought up the hypocrisy of the term “natural birth.” As a class, we chuckled and briefly discussed what reality would be like if birth was the norm and interventions were not. People would be coming to class, heading to hospital labor rooms, preparing for birthing, actually interested in “birth” and looking to avoid “intervention birth.”
The way we discuss contractions as pain and tension, versus discussing waves as sensation and release are building a framework for how one approaches these challenges of labor. When asked what labor feels like, legendary midwife Ina May Gaskin states “Contractions are intense sensations that require all of your focus.” Pain brings on feelings of tension, the term contraction builds a tightness in the pit of the belly. When we open the mind to new terminology, we approach a new space of understanding, perspective, and, ultimately, ability.
When I practice visualization techniques with my clients, one of  my main goals is to help them recognize the control they have over their bodily response - the great impact the mind has to positively affect bodily function. We dive into green pastures, softly cresting and ebbing waves, and the rustle of leaves surrounding us but not before, first, thinking intently upon our favorite treat. Imagine warm, slightly fudgy, chocolate cake, layered with whipped dark chocolate frosting that careens down the side and forms soft peaks overtop. The smell of cacao that wafts up when the fork sets slowly through the pillow of cake and draws it upwards to the mouth. The sensation of chocolate and fudge blanketing tastebuds. The final tongue swipe that pulls the last bit of icing from the lips.  You may already have watering of the mouth which  is a bodily response showing how powerful language can be.
As a society, as a culture, if we are able to reorganize the language norms surrounding labor, we gain the ability to approach birth fearlessly, with empowerment, relaxation, and excitement.  Yes, birth is challenging,  and yes, birth can be uncomfortable.  Birth is not all roses, but discomfort is manageable. Tightness is temporary. And the ebb and flow is exhilarating.
Let’s say for a moment that larger society phrased things differently - midwives catch babies, women give birth, couples are clients. The empowerment, sensation, and potential that comes from the change in perspective that language can offer is astounding. When we discuss our births with our children and our friends and in our birthing circles, let’s talk about waves, and sensations, and challenges. Let’s leave behind contractions, pain, and tension. In doing so, we can further encourage women to embrace their births and their bodies, rise up to take back the fluidity of labor, and settling in to enjoy birth as an extraordinary rite of passage.