Thursday 9 September 2010

The Labour of Language

Language is paradoxical.  We need it to describe life.  Yet it can only ever be a mere description, a shadow of an event; it can never be the event itself.

Yet language has profound power to shape how we experience life events.  It creates expectations, whether good or bad, almost before we know it.  It sets the stage, creates the atmosphere and it can even pre-programme our physical, emotional and mental reactions to events.

With only 4-5 weeks left before the baby's birth day, I find myself increasingly concerned by the language of birth. 

The concept of Labour has the immediate effect of putting me off giving birth: the word Labour carries within it the unpleasant, ardous, grey and, quite possibly, thankless odour of great physical toil.

The concept of Contractions, literally closes me down at an unconscious level.  A contraction is about closing down, the word evokes smallness, constriction, closure and narrowness.  Surely this is exactly the opposite of child birth.

Birth is expansive, it is regenerative... It affirms humanity's existance and ensures our future.  It propogates our species.  Why does the language used to describe this event embody the very antithesis of this primary biological function?

What if labour was called birthing?  Rather than hard graft, birthing evokes the hope, joy and newness that accompany child-birth.

What if contractions were called surges?  Rather than the body closing down, it is in fact, opening up.  It is expanding, growing, and pushing forth new life.  It has its own rhythm. It is a dance that neither the mother nor the child need to coordinate, they simply need to be willing to be led, as the steps unfold in this most intimate dance of life.

The very language used to describe birth may accurately describe many women's experience of birth.  But this may also be because that very language set, created the expectation of those negative experiences.  Could we not reconceptualise the dance of birth by replacing the hard cold language with ideas and words that point towards the inherently expansive potential of the moment? 

Having never experienced childbirth, I appreciate I may seem naive.  I'm happy to be naive.  I'm happy to consider the possiblity that while this may be one of the most physically challenging events of my life, it is a great gift and, furthermore, that my body can cope with that challenge with some degree of grace and inner wisdom. 

They thought humans could not run a mile in under 4 minutes.  Until humans did.  In decades to come, will we also look back with wonderment at  the negative and painful portrayal of childbirth that, unsurprising, may have created negative and painful experiences of childbirth?

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