The Power of our Childbirth Language

The Power of our Childbirth Language

Introduction to the Author

I am a prenatal and perinatal psychologist, which means I earned a PhD in the only graduate program in existence in the United States during the first decade of the 21st Century.  That school – Santa Barbara Graduate Institute – was sold to The Chicago School of Professional Psychology and has been absorbed into their traditional psychology curriculum.  So there is currently no graduate degree program that offers masters or doctorates focusing on this vital subject.

While studying I learned a lot about what goes on in the womb, at birth, and the months immediately after birth.  I learned about prevention of difficulties and more about therapies that address the challenges people face as a result of the imprints made during those pre- and perinatal periods.  Remediation is particularly good for those who recognize that their challenges arise from the earliest moments in their lives.  Prevention, at least on a physical level, is good as well.  However, attending to women’s – and men’s – physical health even prior to conception, is not the only concern.  Psychological health is important too.

The Basics

Prenatal refers to the time before birth.  Perinatal refers to the time around birth so it can include pregnancy, labor, the arrival of the baby into the world of light and breath, and the post partum period.  What seems to get lost is that, imbedded in the very language we use every day, are assumptions about what all this is going to be like.

Psychology – the word – is a combination of two words: psyche which means soul, and -ology which means the study of.  No one I know goes to a psychologist to discuss the Soul.  What psychology has come to mean is the study of the mental, emotional, and behavioral aspects of our lives.  It focuses on what we think, feel, and do.

What I intend to discuss in this blog

I would like to change the paradigm of childbirth.  First, a paradigm is the model or the accepted way in which our society thinks about a particular subject.  Webster’s New College Dictionary (2008) defines paradigm as ”a set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that share them” (p. 815).  Today the paradigm of childbirth is a medical model.  Ninety nine percent of pregnant women give birth in hospitals—and that is the reality we have collectively agreed to.  Most of these birthing moms are attended by medical doctors.  I’ll give you the statistics on interventions used later.

The point I want to make here is that I will be blogging on this site periodically.  My commitment is post every two weeks.  Since I have reached threescore and ten, I am not as comfortable with computer technology as I’d like, but I do like to write.  And, I feel passionately about what I see as mothers give birth in hospitals, and what I think we can do to change the paradigm.

I’ll be talking about the childbirth language we use without really being conscious of how the existing paradigm is imbedded in our speech.  When we take our words for granted, we essentially support the prevailing system.  We need to become conscious of what we message we are delivering!

So the first change is STOP using the word DELIVERY!  I’ll tell you why in the next blog.

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Life Song

There is a tribe in east Africa in which the art of true intimacy is fostered even before birth. In this tribe, the birth date of a child is not counted from the day of its physical birth nor even the day of conception as in other village cultures. For this tribe the birth date comes the first time the child is a thought in its mother’s mind. Aware of her intention to conceive a child with a particular father, the mother then goes off to sit alone under a tree. There she sits and listens until she can hear the song of the child that she hopes to conceive. Once she has heard it, she returns to her village and teaches it to the father so that they can sing it together as they make love, inviting the child to join them. After the child is conceived, she sings it to the baby in her womb. Then she teaches it to the old women and midwives of the village, so that throughout the labor and at the miraculous moment of birth itself, the child is greeted with its song. After the birth all the villagers learn the song of their new member and sing it to the child when it falls or hurts itself. It is sung in times of triumph, or in rituals and initiations. This song becomes a part of the marriage ceremony when the child is grown, and at the end of life, his or her loved ones will gather around the deathbed and sing this song for the last time.

Quoted from Jack Kornfield, A Path with Heart (Bantam Books, 1993), p. 334

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