Thursday, October 20, 2005

My Pet Peeve

I have to write this, because it's been bothering me for years now, but for some reason the last few days it won't leave me alone.

I hate the way we refer to doctors' involvement in a birth in this country. It drives me absolutely batty. And I know I said "doctors", but I mean midwives too, most of them (and most of us) use this terminology and when I'm dictator, I'm going to glare very sternly at anyone who uses it, and maybe make them give me five dollars. For now I'm just going to beg all of you lovely, mindful people to pretty please think about the language we use and decide for yourself if my objections are valid.

Women say in this country "Dr/Midwife Sally delivered my baby". It's like fingernails on a chalkboard for me, people. Like someone peeing in my Coca-Cola.

The problems with this:
1. In most cases, the only thing a doctor does at a birth is arrive in time for the grand finale, coach the woman in pushing (which she doesn't need anyway), and announce the baby's sex (again, unnecessary...I'm guessing most people able to have sex can figure out on their own which one the baby is).

2. Even in cases which require some sort of dramatic intervention (forceps, surgery, whatever), saying that the doctor delivered the baby completely robs the woman of any sort of crucial role in what happened. In this phrasing, the doctor, not the woman laboring, is the star. I always want to ask, "So, what were you doing while the doctor was delivering your baby?" not out of a desire to humiliate, but because I want women to realize that the doctor is there for them. The show can't go on without them.

3. It implies passivity. That birth is something that is done to us, not something we participate in. I think it was Henci Goer who put it like this: "There's a big difference between being the magician who pulls a rabbit out of a hat and merely being the hat." Who wants to be the hat?

4. It's just sloppy English. The word "deliver" (as a transitive verb) has 9 meanings at Only one (#7) concerns birth. The rest are either nonsense in this context (#1-6, #8), or truly horrible when applied to the doctor's role in birth (#9). There's got to be a better way to say this.

I'm open to any and all suggestions for a replacement phrase. Sadly, I have caught myself saying this from time to time, and it always makes me sad. Because any doctor worth the money knows that s/he's not the magician when it comes to a birth. The laboring woman is. The doctor is more akin to the magician's lovely assistant- sometimes crucial, sometimes clumsy, but always second fiddle. Stand there, look pretty, help me if I need it...good doctor.

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