Thursday, June 9, 2011

Another thought on Spritual Midwifery

Why do I keep breaking these things into two posts lately? Mainly because I forget to include some point, and I write such long posts as it is that it seems like a bad idea to just make the previous post even longer, I suppose.

Anyway, one thing I forgot to write about is the way that Spiritual Midwifery tries very hard to be as accessible as possible in the medical/technical chapters. It does this mainly by trying to avoid medical jargon as much as possible. So, she writes pee-hole instead of urethra, butthole instead of anus, taint instead of perineum, etc.

Personally, I found this quite off-putting. I'm a scientist. I like technical language. I prefer it. I'd much rather talk about urethras than pee-holes. And I've been a birth nerd for long enough to know very well what a perineum is.

But I just started reading Robbie Davis-Floyd's Birth as an American Rite of Passage, and she makes the point in Chapter 1 that "technical jargon... shouts 'off-limits to the unitiated" (p. 30). She also notes that one way that men historically created power over women was by creating "spheres of authoritative knowledge" to which they then denied women access. To put it more simply, using technical language can be way of asserting "I'm the expert, and you're not, so just listen to me." Technical language in writing can be a way of signalling to a reader, "If you're not comfortable with this language, you probably shouldn't be reading this. You don't have a right to this knowledge if you don't understand this vocabulary."

By using language that is very common, sometimes vulgar but always comprehensible, Gaskin is asserting that the knowledge she puts down in her book is for everyone. It's knowledge that is available to someone who doesn't know the difference between a urethra and a ureter. Gaskin is saying that it doesn't matter if you know what a urethra is; you don't need fancy vocabulary to understand your body. You know where your pee comes out, and that's what you need to know to understand your body!

So, although it may not be my preferred language, I acknowledge that Gaskin may be doing a great service to the average woman by using such plain and easy-to-understand language.

I also find it interesting to think about what sort of language I should use with clients, someday, when I'm a midwife. In my ideal of midwifery, the midwife should not be an authority figure who has power over the birthing woman. She should be a source of knowledge and skills who offers up that knowledge in service, and works with the woman to communicate that knowledge and assist the woman in making her own choices. In my mind, I imagined that this would include educating the woman on technical terms for anatomy, but now I wonder, how important is very technical language? Does it not in some ways go against the ideals of midwifery to use technical language that functions to set up the midwife as the expert, the authority figure, the guardian and sole holder of knowledge? We know that many doctors use knowledge to give themselves control: some doctors say that their great knowledge gives them the right to command and control the birthing woman. If a midwife uses technical language that sets up her client as an outsider, unitiated, does it set up the expectation in the woman that she ought to be obedient and is not the one in control?

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