On Being Gender Inclusive as Birth Professionals

inclusive as birth professonals women give birth

We want to be inclusive as birth professionals; to be kind, and caring to all who cross our path.

Doulas are well-versed in becoming whatever our clients need to be supportive of their unique birth experience.

We know that one-size-fits-all narratives are ill-fitting at best, and can be extremely damaging when someone doesn’t “fit the template”.

That said – there’s a doula for every client, and not every doula is a great fit for every client. This is a feature, not a bug!

Birth professionals (like their clients) are whole people, full of nuanced insights and experiences that set them apart from other birth professionals.

Individualization is at the very core of doula work. When you hire a birth professional, it’s less about getting a standardized service, and more about vibing well with the person you choose to invite into your birthing space. It’s a very intimate, custom, and dynamic position to hold.

Individualized care offers profoundly better outcomes, and it’s becoming recognized even in mainstream medical practice. Individualized care looks at the whole person, and offers highly customized care that caters to the specific needs of each person.

What exactly does this have to do with being inclusive as birth professionals?

Individualization and inclusivity are both needed in the world of birth professionals – but right now it seems like everyone is so focused on being inclusive as birth professionals that there’s less room for individualized attention, and I think this is a critical misstep.

“Birthing is the most profound initiation to spirituality that a woman can have.” ~ Robin Lim

I have loved this quote for years, and found it such a soothing comfort to me when I was expecting, and especially in labor.

For me, I was never so in touch with my own feminine self as when I was expecting.

I felt primal, fierce and tender at the same time. As a pagan, it gave me profound strength and courage to think of myself as physically manifesting a portal between the spirit world and Earthside, where our physical bodies dwell.

I had never felt particularly connected to my identity as a woman before, but pregnancy brought forth major doses of hormones and more curves than I’d ever had in my life. Suddenly, I saw myself differently…not as a submissive, demure girl – and also not as an empty vessel containing new combinations of DNA strands. 

Pregnancy and birthing awakened me to my own visceral power and attuned me to my intuition – like a wolf; like a Goddess.

Giving birth is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but drawing on the strength and connection I felt as a woman was significant in my journey.

For me, birth is made better because of its connection to womanhood.

However, I’ll be one of the first people to tell you that just because something worked for me, doesn’t mean it will apply to you.

My beloved quote is an example of something that’s currently being labelled as “problematic” in the world of birth professionals, because it uses the word ‘women’ and is therefore viewed as un-inclusive.

Now, of course trans men can and do get pregnant and give birth, and I have zero problems affirming their experience. In fact, it’s understandable that they probably won’t resonate with words like women, mother, breasts, vagina, and so forth. It’s 100% reasonable for them to expect a care provider or doula who affirms their gender identity in all ways, and who uses different language – either inclusive, or (ideally) specific to their personal preferences.

For example, I have remade my Mother Blessings kit to be more inclusive to all those who give birth, because I think that the process of pregnancy and birth is an intense spiritual journey, and that should be no less true regardless of where or how you give birth…and also, regardless of your gender identity.

However, I’m seeing a huge push from birth professionals to erase all references to ‘women’, ‘vagina’, and ‘breasts’ – not just with trans clients, but with ALL of their clientele.

This is becoming widely accepted as the thing we must do to be inclusive and welcoming to trans people – and I think it’s a terrible idea.

I also think that this push is harming trans people just as much as people who identify as women.

In our zeal to be inclusive as birth professionals, we are swapping one one-size-fits-all narrative for another.

Except this new narrative only applies to a very small percentage of birthing people – and the rest of them {who DO identify as women} are feeling like they’re unable to be fully seen or heard by their providers.

By using gender-neutral language 100% of the time, and speaking of the birthing process in detached, increasingly vague terms, we are attempting to recreate birth as a standardized medical procedure.

I think that individuality is critical here – because I believe that we can and should work toward improved support for trans men’s birthing experiences. They most definitely deserve the utmost in tender, mindful care, and we will do well as birth professionals to learn the words that are most supportive and affirming for them.

None of this should require that we scrub women from our entire cultural understanding of birth.

I do /not/ believe for a second that trans people themselves want all birth professionals to erase gender entirely from their materials, classes, and practices. I think this is a red herring, meant to manufacture divisiveness and turn people against each other.

Trans people have dealt with marginalization and discrimination for so long. Therefore, I cannot imagine they wish to turn the tables and erase all references to women or femininity from the birthing process, because a move like that is just shifting the harm onto women instead.

*So who’s actually pushing for this vast gender-neutralization of birth?*

In my experience, it’s largely straight white women who honestly believe that they are doing good work for the marginalized and oppressed, and are maybe not seeing the long-term impact, or thinking of the larger picture.

We cannot heal poverty by becoming poor. We cannot heal racism by insisting we don’t see color. Likewise – we cannot heal trans discrimination in the birth world by removing the concept of gender identity from birth.

Validating and supporting a person in their unique birthing experience is NOT the same thing as insisting that all births and birthing people are the same.

99% of people who give birth identify as women. What happens when we tell them that they can’t say “breasts” in an
OB appointment? Women aren’t likely to feel comfortable talking about the aspects of pregnancy and labor that overwhelm them with a feeling of femininity, if birth is supposed to be gender-neutral.

This is not extrapolation or hyperbole…this is the lived experience of many pregnant women I’m hearing from lately, whose midwives and doulas are so committed to being “inclusive as birth professionals” that their clients do not know where to turn to feel affirmed in their experience as a woman. 

What if this is the first time they’re feeling like being a woman is in fact empowering and exciting, instead of a liability?

Good care – especially health care – is defined by how individualized it is.

We are being told that the phrase “women give birth” is inherently violent and hateful, and shouldn’t be said or even thought of that way. The truth is the truth – except when it isn’t.

While it’s clear that this phrase can be used hatefully, it will never be more inherently hateful than it is true – at least, not so long as we humans are still conceiving babies like we have for thousands of generations, without intervention. Any words can be weaponized by ill intent.

Women are being hurt by this push for so-called inclusivity, and so are trans people.

In order to be truly inclusive as birth professionals, we must individualize our care, our language, and our practices to best fit the individual humans who we meet with for perinatal care.

This is especially true with so many of us relying heavily on virtual doula support, where it can be even more difficult to establish a rapport and feel connected, and understood.

Each person we serve deserves to be treated with dignity, affirmation, and a deep understanding of their unique path toward birth and parenthood.

When we seek to remove the feminine aspect from childbirth, I believe we are limiting, if not erasing, one of the most empowering (and healing) aspects of the process for a huge number of people – i.e, those who do identify as women, and are possibly looking forward to the birthing process as a way to connect more deeply with their matriarchal line and/or their Divine Feminine nature.

For me, and for many, many of my clients, birth was made bearable by our ability to embody and tap into our divine feminine on a spiritual level, and to feel connected to the lineage of women who have gone before us.

Birth is primal, and spiritual, and for many of us, it’s also inherently feminine.

The best way that we can support trans people is by educating ourselves on their needs and feelings, and by LISTENING to them as a primary source on their own lived experience.

Do this – but in a way that does not leave women feeling disillusioned, hollow, and cut off from being able to find strength and solace in a shared feminine experience.

Supporting trans people with compassion and conscientiousness as birth professionals is extremely important as our profession evolves – but it does NOT require us to burn down or cancel the mother-Goddess archetype and erase the lived experience of women in the process.