There is no driving force on Earth more powerful than a mother—none of us would be here without our mothers having carried and birthed us, a beautiful and physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing process. Yet the language associated with pregnancy and labor is often hurtful or critical to the mother.
For example, an expectant mother who is in the midst of long and exhausting labor may hear the doctor say something about “poor maternal effort,” the phrase that has been used for years to describe when the fatigue of labor hinders the descent of the baby through the birth canal.
Thanks to those behind a campaign to revise the language surrounding motherhood, “poor maternal effort” is just one out of the 63 “outdated and hurtful” phrases that are being reconceptualized in the Renaming Revolution glossary, published by the parenting app Peanut.
The inspiration behind the campaign was a video that a woman posted on Peanut, in which she describes how she felt when hearing a doctor use the word “geriatric” to describe her when she was trying to conceive. She was only 38. The post triggered other women to share their experience of being identified by other harmful terms.
“Terms such as ‘inhospitable womb,’ ‘geriatric pregnancy,’ ‘spontaneous abortion,’ and ‘advanced maternal age’ have traditionally been used to designate a woman’s reproductive standing. But this terminology is outdated,” says Dr. Somi Javaid, an advisor for the campaign. “The goal with medical terminology should be to educate women and to shift away from blame or hurtful labels, empowering women, rather than shaming them.”
The majority of these terms were historically coined by men at a time when women’s bodies were seen only as objects that needed to be fixed. Milli Hill, author of the Positive Birth Book and Give Birth Like a Feminist, may not agree with all of Peanut’s proposed changes, but agrees that the current vocabulary has its roots in historic misogyny, and it’s time to participate in the conversation that the Renaming Revolution glossary campaign has started.
“Too much of the language of maternity care is misogynistic, dehumanizing, or infantilizing,” Hill says. “Misogynistic language is usually underpinned by 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 blame on the female body, when we know that most often, it is the system that fails women, and that in many cases, they could have had a very different birth experience, had they been given the support and environment their laboring bodies needed.”
Instead of “geriatric pregnancy,” in the new and improved glossary you’ll find “35+ pregnancy,” while “inhospitable womb” becomes “uterine lining challenges,” and “failure to progress,” a term that refers to a slowed labor, becomes simply: “slowed labor.”
As Michelle Kennedy, founder and CEO of Peanut, says, “Words matter. Changing the harmful discourse that’s become so normalized as a way to describe women’s bodies is long overdue.”
Check out the complete Renaming Revolution glossary, which is available for free online, here.