When I teach childbirth classes, I ask expectant parents what word comes to mind when they hear the word labor.
Answers typically include words like pain, beautiful, challenging, hard and the list goes on.
One word that doesn't come up? Failure.
Yet the language used during pregnancy and birth is, in my opinion, an epic fail.
Let's start with pregnancy. There is a condition clinically described as an "incompetent" cervix. A potentially dangerous condition that can cause premature labor or worse? Yes. An indication for possible bed rest or sewing the cervix closed as long as possible so a pregnancy can reach full term? Yes. An incompetent woman? No way.
But incompetent is how a woman may feel about her body. Herself.
Let's move onto birth.
The real failure
Mothers are not failures if labor and delivery don't go as planned. Yet, failure is a word thrown around casually during labor. "Failure to progress" is what happens when the labor process stalls and Mom's cervix doesn't completely dilate to 10 centimeters. It can happen.
I repeat, mothers are not failures. But they sure feel like it when they are told they're not doing this whole birthing a baby thing as quickly as doctors would like them to.
I get these are textbook definitions. I get these words are what doctors are taught in medical school. I also get that a woman's experience of giving birth to a child — and how she is treated during that awesome experience — stays with her for the rest of her life.
What should we say, then?
I believe a simple change in language can help. How about, "Sometimes things happen. You are beautiful and strong no matter what?" or "I know this isn't the labor and delivery experience you planned. I am here for you if you need to talk about it."
Give birth a chance
OK, so you know I feel we should stop using these words. But I think there's something that needs to start, too. Women should be given the opportunity to let their bodies do what they were made to do. Unless there's a medical reason to intervene during labor, women — and their babies — deserve the simple gift of time.
"Failure" to progress? No. Failing moms and babies? Yes.