Removing Women from the World of Birth: On Gender Inclusivity

Rethink Birth

Something weird is happening to my beloved profession of birthwork…

We are calling it ‘inclusiveness’, but in fact, I don’t think we’re using that word correctly anymore [Insert Princess Bride reference to Inigo Montoya here.]

We want to be inclusive as birth professionals - in other words - to be kind and caring to all who cross our path.

Can an over-commitment to inclusiveness get in the way of offering individualized care? I think yes.

Doulas are well-versed in becoming whatever our clients need to be supportive of their unique birth experience. We know that one-size-fits-all narratives are ill-fitting at best, and can be extremely damaging when someone doesn't "fit the template".

FACT: Not every doula is a great fit for every client. This is a feature, not a bug!

Birth professionals (like their clients) are whole people, full of nuanced insights and experiences that set them apart from other birth professionals.

Individualization is at the core of birthwork.

When you hire a birth professional, it's less about getting a standardized service, and more about vibing well with the professional you choose to invite into your birthing space.

Individualized care offers profoundly better outcomes, and that is becoming recognized even in mainstream medical practice.

Ok - individualized care matters. But lately, there is a huge push for us to become inclusive as birth professionals.

Being ‘inclusive’ as birth professionals sounds like something we should all strive for, right? However - in practice, we’re being pressured (often by white, straight women) to edit our language to erase any references to femininity.

Why? Because a small percentage of people who give birth do not identify as women…and so we’re being asked to erase the feminine majority to benefit the few.

To be viewed as ‘progressive’ birthworkers who are committed to compassionate care, it’s becoming the standard to remove words like 'women', 'mother', and 'breastfeeding' from our classes, paperwork, social media, and even in-person client interactions - to replace them with gender-neutral terms instead.

The first time I learned of this was in 2019 - when a prominent childbirth educator and birth advocate drew major online hate, and was called a derogatory term I hadn’t heard before (“TERF”) - because she uttered the phrase, “women give birth”.

I remember reading the social media comments on that post, and feeling a strong sense of being in a parallel reality.

The meaning of ‘hate’ was being conscripted in real time, and I was shocked that so few were willing to speak up. The emperor had no clothes..

Let me not mince words here:

I believe the erasure of femininity in birthwork is actively harmful to women.

Pretending that gestation is not inherently tied to our feminine lineage and biology waters down our potency and detracts from our innate power.

I also believe that we can absolutely be sensitive to trans individuals without erasing women and femininity from the entirety of our work!

When we smooth the edges of our language to be inclusive, we end up with phrases like "birthing person," "gestating parent," or “cervix-owners”.

These may be free of gender assumptions, but they are also less warm, less human, and less specific to the reality of 99+% of so-called birthing people - i.e, WOMEN.

This push for pseudo-inclusivity leaves less room for individualized care, and leaves women feeling dehumanized in order to prop up political rhetoric that does not benefit trans people as much as it harms women.

I think this is a critical misstep, and far more violent than the simple phrase, "Women give birth".

My particular approach to birth is highly intuitive, feminine, and women-centered. This means my birth education resources likely won't be a good fit for folks who don’t identify as women.

However, women who wish to deepen their connection to their intuition and femininity will find my approach refreshing and nourishing.

As more birth professionals (including doulas, midwives, and OBs) pander to the gender-neutral narrative, I’m hearing from women who want prenatal support from a distinctly feminine perspective - and they aren’t getting it.

This leaves them feeling confused, ignored, and effectively reduced to gestation-vessels by their care providers!

This is clearly the opposite of compassionate, indivudualized care.

I'm a sociology major and have been studying this issue from multiple perspectives for years - and I must return to my OWN perespective, my place of authority:

As a woman, I recognize birth, pregnancy, and breastfeeding as inherently feminine, because we derive a unique POWER and STRENGTH from that femininity.

The emperor has no clothes on, and it's time we said so.

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