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Language and resistance

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Starting midwifery training, no matter what your previous experience, is a voyage into so much that is completely new, says NT’s student for midwifery, Holly Morse. 

holly morse

That I was expecting, but I hadn’t anticipated having to learn a whole new language of acronyms, abbreviations (many of which are Latin!) and a whole host of professional shorthand.

Whilst many of these are a must-know for competence, team work and mutual understanding, I’ve also found I must filter what I adopt to ensure I maintain best-practice and person-centred care. This isn’t always easy!

Language creates meaning. The words we use when we care for families shapes their experiences and memories.

Midwifery and nursing originate from oral traditions, knowledge passed down person to person, rooted in a philosophy of holism: considering the emotional, social, spiritual and moral aspects as well as the physical.

“By talking about delivering babies we take ownership of a birth which is not ours”

This paradigm focuses on person rather than illness. The greatest challenge is maintaining this philosophy whilst working within the dominant paradigm for healthcare - the biomedical, which values mechanistic, objective ‘hard’ data over emotive and contextual information.

Every piece of documentation relating to labour care will use the words ‘delivery’ and ‘delivered’. In maternity care they will be heard and said dozens of times a day – and yet when we learn about giving woman-centred care it’s easy to see why they are problematic.

Women birth babies and midwives support them to do so… by talking about delivering babies we take ownership of a birth which is not ours. Resisting this is hard when it is so ingrained in the care that is given- the desire to fit in is no small part of life as a student health professional.

“As students we learn much by osmosis from midwifery mentors and are guided by our practical and academic midwifery education”

Whilst pregnancy and birth are increasingly framed by risk, control and management and women ‘fail to progress’ or are ‘not allowed’ to make certain choices, more and more report birth trauma.

As midwives we set out to support women to begin their parenting journey as master of their birth experience. We learn the importance to mental health of new mothers of feeling supported and in control… and yet the language of an institution, the shorthand of obstetrics, no matter how it is intended can often dehumanise and exert control instead.

As students we learn much by osmosis from midwifery mentors and are guided by our practical and academic midwifery education – sometimes along differing and occasionally contradictory paths.

“It remains our responsibility to check and recheck our language and how it may impact on those we care for”

According to Einion (2017), students’ written reflections begin women centred yet become abstract, adopting medicalised and dehumanising terminology in the process of acquiring a ‘professional’ midwifery identity.

Can this be avoided? Is it possible to thrive in the highly medicalised environment that forms such a large part of midwifery training whilst retaining the personal values, embedded in our language, that brought us to the profession in the first place?

There is no easy answer – but, socialised or otherwise, it remains our responsibility to check and recheck our language and how it may impact on those we care for. Personally, I have no intention of ever ‘delivering’ a baby….

Einon, A. (2017). The Socialisation of student midwives: Rewriting the landscape. In C. Squire (Ed.), The Social Context of Birth. 3rd Ed. CRC Press: Oxon

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