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‘Words matter’: the campaign to change the language of maternity care


A glossary of more ’empowering’ phrases about motherhood is being made available to healthcare professionals to help frame conversations around fertility, pregnancy and loss.

Imagine the scene: after nine months of pregnancy, you’ve been in labor for days. You are more exhausted than ever, worrying about your unborn child and trying to gather energy for the next contraction, when you hear the midwife or doctor mutter something about “poor maternal effort.”

The phrase has been used at the bedside of pregnant women for years to describe the fatigue of labor that interferes with the baby’s descent through the birth canal. But should it be used at all?

The response of those behind a campaign to improve the guilty or hurtful labels associated with motherhood is a resounding “no.” It is one of the 63 “outdated and hurtful” phrases to reboot in the Renaming Revolution glossary, published by the Peanut parenting app.

“Terms like ‘inhospitable uterus’, ‘geriatric pregnancy’, ‘miscarriage’ and ‘advanced maternal age’ have traditionally been used to designate a woman’s reproductive position. But this terminology is out of date, ”says Dr Somi Javaid, who advised on the campaign. “The goal of medical terminology should be to educate women and move away from blame or hurtful labels, empowering women, rather than shaming them.”

The campaign was inspired by a video that a woman posted on the app, in which she says she heard a doctor use the word “geriatric” to describe her when she was trying to conceive at the age of 38. The post sparked an outpouring of support from women and shared their experience of other hurtful terms.

Words matter. Changing the harmful discourse that has become so normalized as a way of describing women’s bodies has been a long-standing necessity, ”says Michelle Kennedy, Founder and CEO of Peanut.

Maternity care

Michelle Kennedy, founder of the Peanut app, who is behind the name change campaign. Credit: peanut

In the glossary, ‘geriatric pregnancy’ becomes ‘pregnancy over 35 years’, ‘inhospitable uterus’ becomes ‘challenges of the uterine lining’; and “lack of progress,” an outdated term for slow labor, turns into, well, “slow labor.”

Many of these terms were created by men at a time when medicine seemed to view women’s bodies as objects that needed to be healed or fixed. Rooted in historical misogyny, it’s time for our vocabulary to support women, says Milli Hill, author of the Positive Birth Book and Give Birth Like a Feminist. While Hill disagrees with all of Peanut’s proposed changes, he welcomes the conversation that starts the campaign.

Medical terminology should empower women, rather than embarrass them

“Much of the language of maternity care is misogynistic, dehumanizing, or infantilizing,” says Hill. “Misogynistic language is generally based on the idea that women’s bodies don’t work particularly well, for example phrases like ‘incompetent cervix.’ It also very cleverly puts the emphasis of guilt on the female body, when we know that most of the time, it is the system that fails women, and that in many cases they could have had a very different birth experience, if they were I would have given them support. and the environment that their worker bodies needed. “

Dehumanizing language adds to this, Hill believes, “by suggesting that it doesn’t matter that so many women are damaged and traumatized by the current birth system, because women don’t really matter. We see this embedded in language like ‘a healthy baby is all that matters’, or when women are referred to as ‘mom’.

Some 63 ‘outdated and hurtful’ phrases reset in Renaming Revolution glossary

“This idea of ​​the woman as ‘vessel’, a disposable container for the baby, has very old and deep roots. We also have childish language, like women being called a ‘good girl’. This paternalistic approach implies that women must do what they are told in the delivery room, as if they were girls, and it allows a really shocking lack of understanding on the part of some health professionals about the principles of consent ”.

The complet Name change revolution The glossary is available free of charge online, with hard copies being distributed to clinics, classes and other centers in the UK and US.

Motherhood doesn’t come with a manual, but language that doesn’t make women feel like they failed before their child is born seems like an empowering start.

Lead Image: Anna Hecker



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