On Being Gender Inclusive as Birth Professionals

inclusive as birth professonals women give birth

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

BUT – can inclusiveness get in the way of offering individualized care? I think yes.

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 – 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 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 professional you choose to invite into your birthing space.

Individualized care offers profoundly better outcomes, and that is becoming recognized even in mainstream medical practice.

Ok – individualized care matters. So what exactly does that have to do with being inclusive as birth professionals?

Because right now, there is a huge push for us to become inclusive as birth professionals.

To those who may not be aware, “being inclusive as birth professionals” is defined as removing words like ‘women’, ‘mother’, and ‘breastfeeding’ from our classes, paperwork, social media, and even in-person client interactions, to replace them with gender-neutral terms.

Why? Because we are trying to be sensitive to the small percentage of people who give birth who do not identify as women.

I believe that this is actively harmful, that it’s watering down the potency of feminine power as the root of the birthing experience – and that we can be sensitive to trans individuals without erasing women and femininity.

When we smooth the edges of our language to be inclusive, we end up with phrases like “birthing person” or “gestating parent”.

These are free of gender assumptions, but they are also less warm, less human, and less specific to the reality of 99+% of “birthing people” who are and identify as WOMEN.

This push for so-called inclusivity leaves less room for individualized care, and leaves women feeling dehumanized at the expense of pro-trans rhetoric.

I think this is a critical misstep, and far more violent than the simple phrase, “Women give birth”.

I recognize that these statements place me at odds with the current ‘woke’ climate of birthwork. I know that my particular approach to birth (women-centered) means that my birth education materials won’t be a good fit for them, and that’s completely okay.

I’m a sociology major and have been studying this issue from multiple perspectives for years – and I must return to my OWN perespective, my place of authority:

As a woman, I recognize birth, pregnancy, and breastfeeding as inherently feminine, and deriving a unique POWER and STRENGTH from that femininity.

This push for all birth prosfessionals to be gender-inclusive, even when they are serving women, is unreasonable and harmful to everyone involved.

The emperor has no clothes on, and it’s time I said so.

 

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“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 to think of myself as physically manifesting a portal between the ether, and Earthside, where our physical bodies dwell.

I had never felt strongly 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.

Birth is an alchemy of pain-into-power, through its connection to womanhood.

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However – my beloved quote is probably labelled as “problematic” right now, because it uses the word ‘women’ and is therefore un-inclusive.

So, I am aware that trans men (i.e. people who were assigned female at birth, have the necessary biological equipment for gestation, but now identify as men) can and do get pregnant and give birth, and I have zero problems affirming their experience.

It’s understandable that this small group of humans who give birth 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 knows how to affirm their gender identity, and who uses different language that is specific to their personal preferences.

I get that compassionate birth pros need to be aware and sensitive to the diverse realities of anyone who may seek their care.

However – why does it make sense for birth professionals to erase all references to ‘women’, ‘vagina’, and ‘breasts’ with ALL of their clientele?

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

In our zeal to be inclusive as birth professionals, we are alienating the majority of women and minimizing their lived experience of the childbearing year as profoundly, distinctly feminine.

The need for phrases like “gestating parent” only applies to a very small percentage – and the rest {who DO identify as women} are left feeling like they’re unable to be fully seen by their care providers.

Pregnant women in 2021 are being robbed of the language of initiation into the mysteries of feminine empowerment.

Pregnancy and birth are deeply visceral and primal, and our reality of awakening into womanhood from the maiden-stage is being dismissed, erased, and ignored.

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 ALL birthing experiences. We do well as birth professionals when we learn how we may be supportive and affirming for everyone – to tailor our care and language to the individual.

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

Validating and supporting a person in their unique birthing experience is NOT the same thing as insisting that birth has nothing to do with womanhood and only using non-gendered langage.

99%+ of people who give birth identify as women. What happens when a women cannot seek validation of her pregnancy experience in the context of womanhood, even with her care providers? How does she feel when her care providers refuse to communicate with her using terms that are familiar to her body?

What if this is the first time she’s feeling empowered and excited about being a woman, and her care providers refuse to acknowledge it?

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. 

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Good care – especially health care – is increasingly 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 thought of that way.

The truth is the truth – except when it isn’t?

“Women give birth” 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.

In order to be truly inclusive as birth professionals, we must individualize our practices to best fit the individuals in our care.

In my opinion, the best way to do this is to leave the inclusive language to corporations and PR groups.

When we try to include everyone, what often happens is that we make a space so generic and impersonal that it doesn’t feel like a warm welcome to anyone. I’ve seen this for 20 years in homeschool groups, and now I’m seeing it in the birth community as well.

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

In my experience, many women look forward to pregnancy and birth as a way to connect more deeply with their matriarchal line, and to their Divine Feminine nature.

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

Birth is primal, and spiritual, and for most of us + from the dawn of time, it’s also inherently feminine.

We can support trans people by educating ourselves on their needs and feelings, and by LISTENING to them as a primary source on their own lived experience – AND – we can do this in a way that does not leave women feeling disillusioned, hollow, or cut off from the shared feminine experience of birth.

Supporting trans people with compassion and conscientiousness as birth professionals is extremely important – but we should never allow the virtue of inclusivity to erase the lived experiences of women.

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I’m Krystal, and I am a woman and mother who teaches about birth as the highest expression of the sacred feminine.