Stereotypes hold their own birthing story. And, if we know anything as true advocates for birthing families, it’s that life is constantly evolving and taking on a new truth based on the context around it. Looking at life without the surrounding context is like taking a shortcut without considering the scenic route; you’ll never know the beauty you missed by jumping to a conclusion without pausing to consider and ask questions. In order for our full spectrum of support to be offered and effective, the language we use needs to make space for the students, clients, and professionals we work with, regardless of where we are in our journey, and always honoring where they are on theirs. For our communication to be effective, we need to ensure mutual benefits and respect for all, including making space for positive representations.
In other words, language matters. Communication is often presented as a one-way avenue without regard for the receiving party. As educators, it is our responsibility to build the scenic route of inclusivity and representation, limiting our preconceived notions, into the layers of our profession: teaching examples, materials, web copy, and content.
Consider the impact on our students, the families we serve, and the relationships we build if our language holds space and is representative in a positive way for everyone. The people we work directly with come to us in multiple ways, but always with their own, often unspoken, vulnerabilities. Consider the preconceived notions standing in their way:
- Types of birthing professionals (from midwives to obstetricians)
- Types of family units (from single-parent, single-culture households to combined families
- and mixed cultures)
- Non-binary gender roles (transgender, sexually fluid, non-female identifying birthing
- Types of birthing context (from adoption to surrogacy)
- Decisions made in the birthing room (from using pharmaceutical pain relief to not, or
- Parenting decisions made after birth (from feeding to diaper solutions and beyond)
How can we hold space and offer more inclusivity in our work? In short, by choosing variety. Here are a few examples:
The intake process can make space to determine whether attendees are coming with partner(s). Consider the birthing person that is solo parenting: how would it feel to walk in a world typically set up for twos? Similarly, consider the families with multiple partners: we can make space and offer activities that work with 2 or more partners with a minor adjustment to the intake process.
Consider the examples given in our trainings — do they affirm widely-held notions? Do the examples of interventions feature obstetricians while stories of “natural” births highlight midwives? Our stories can build bridges for all birthing professionals when we place them on a level playing field. The same can be said for choices around birthing — let’s put them on a level playing field. For example, we can make space for and accommodate examples of people that choose, and are 100% happy with, their experience of cesarean births. Do our examples only show heterosexual couples? Is there space and discussion for scenarios with same-sex or transgender families? Do we include examples around adoption, placing for adoption, and surrogacy?
Web Content & Language
One of the easiest ways we can build bridges of inclusivity is in our messaging online and offline. Simple changes like adjusting “mom” to “birthing person” makes room for people not identifying as women, as well as people not planning to parent the baby, and can make an enormous impact on prospective clients and students. Similarly, “they” is commonplace as a gender-neutral pronoun. Outside of language, our materials can use a variety of pictures — involved fathers, multiracial families, same-sex and single parents — to represent the cultural truths of our clients and students.
These changes are simple, but have great impact for the people around us. So yes, stereotypes hold their own birthing story. Our responsibility lies in how we choose to respond to new truths evolving around us. We are often the only place families get truly non-judgmental support during a deep, transitional time of their lives. Let’s all take a moment to think about how we can take it a step further and build bridges proactively with each layer of our business.
Tiffany began her career in 2012, training as both a labor and postpartum doula in the same summer. She attended an intensive 6 month internship for labor doulas, and quickly started working full time as a doula. Within a few years she launched her own full service agent, Birthing Stone Doula, that has steadily grown, despite high competition and being located in “the burbs.” Her passion for training doulas in the nuances of our work began in 2014 when she started training postpartum doulas, and kept growing as she developed a business and advanced training mentorship for her locally based doula community. You can find more about Tiffany at Portland Doula Training.