Optimal Use of Language for Creating Birth Outcomes

The only way we can undo the mass psychosis about childbirth in North America is to invent new language and new images. Midwives must make a conscious and disciplined effort to become “speech magicians.”

I train my clients to ask for what they WANT rather than what they DON’T want. For example, the client doesn’t want an episiotomy = the client wants an intact perineum. Or a client says “I don’t want my baby taken away from me! = the client says “I want my baby ‘Velcroed’ to my skin from the moment he/she is born.” All my notes in my chart are what the client WANTS, not the “Don’t” instructions. This way, I am constantly picturing the image of what is wanted and so are my assistants. When everyone is picturing “Baby Velcroed to skin” then it happens. This technique is particularly effective at hospital births.

Another good way to create what you want with doctors is by using “indirect” hypnosis. For example, the doctor is starting to fidget as the baby’s head distends the perineum.

blunt/sharp scissors

He reaches for the scissors and you know he’s getting ready to do an episiotomy. So you speak to your client, not to him, by saying something like “Linda, you are stretching beautifully; there’s lots of space for your baby to come through. Everything is healthy and normal — there’s lots of room to stretch even wider. Breathe some oxygen down to your muscles.” Everything you are saying to your client is really intended to chill out the doctor. Speaking to him directly is less effective (it makes him more resistant to your message) than speaking obliquely to him through your words to the mother. Once the doctor starts taking deep oxygenated breaths down to his muscles, you’ll see him put down the scissors.

You’ll notice that Dr. Odent does word magic, too. He talks about the “fetus ejection reflex” and the “ancient reptilian brain.” I don’t think anyone has ever located these things in the physical universe, but they are most useful concepts and ways of languaging that lead to better births for women and help undo some of the fear-based pseudo science that passes for obstetrics.

first published in Midwifery Today E News June 12, 2002
Volume 4, Issue 24

15 thoughts on “Optimal Use of Language for Creating Birth Outcomes

  1. I agree that it is important to think about what you *want* instead of what you *don’t* want.

    When you were talking about the “indirect hypnosis,” I had to laugh, because it made me think of Star Wars and the “Jedi mind trick” — “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” (Sorry if you’re not a Star Wars fan.) 🙂

    • This made me laugh, because my response was just the same! “Your focus determines your reality.” (If you’re not a Star Wars fan, sorry, and if you are – REALLY SORRY!)

      I do talk to the mum, but for the midwife to hear too (I am a doula). It also works the other way – I talk to the midwife for the mums ears as well. Everything said in that room is very powerful.

  2. Hey Gloria,

    Your gulf island hospital birthing client visiting you here 🙂 I’ve read your entire blog and enjoyed it all, you have such a distinctive speaking voice and I can hear how you would say so many of your words. We are doing well, though it is a freakin’ circus with three 5 and under! Please say hi to Kristen, does she have a blog? We’ll be in town at some point over the holidays, will return your book then. Ciao ciao! ~ Rachel

  3. Pingback: “Speech Magicians” « Woman to Woman Childbirth Education

    • I used that same term in my birth plans for babies that were born at the hospital with a home-style birth. Rita Barron was my midwife and she was absolutely a fabulous midwife for three of the seven babies I birthed….she followed my wishes and I caught the babies and they were velcroed to my chest. I dont know about now but back then Kawea Delta Hospital ( Visalia, CA) even had a doula for every birthing mom.

  4. Thanks, Gloria – I agree that the language that we use has a huge effect on our thinking and on our behaviour. You have identified two very important language tricks:

    ** Use positive language (I use this is parenting as well – “walk please” instead of “don’t run”)

    ** Use indirect commentary to influence the crowd

    Excellent article.

  5. Vocabulary is so important! And knowing what you want is always more positive than what you don’t want. (And I totally thought of Jedi mind trick as well!)

  6. Well, I love this. I believe that language is so important.

    I was taught about words that encourage and those that stop the “flow” of things. I was also taught to create a concrete picture of what is desired because the Universe will not process a “not” thing and such a “picture” will backfire, in fact, if we try it that way.

    And… like Rachel, I can somehow “hear” you speaking as I read. BONUS!

    Big hugs from Adirondack mountains… Joyce

  7. I’ve just been at a Conference where over and over again, I heard the term “health care” used when people actually meant “medical care”. It’s important to find the accurate term when using language, not necessarily “positive”. There’s nothing wrong with medical care so why call it health care? Health care is when you take your vitamins, excercise, go for a massage, get a Shiatsu treatment. Medical care is very different. We need to stop calling it health care and then being disappointed when medical care happens.

    I also discussed with a man at the conference the words “intact boy”. He said he found it a bit offensive that I use the term ” intact penis” as if something was wrong with a circumcised penis. I explained to him that the alternative was to say that an intact boy is “uncircumcised” which I hear a lot in the U.S. This would make “circumcised” seems like the norm. . . it is not. I gave him the example that if he were discussing my breasts with someone he would not be saying “Gloria is unmastectomized.” He would, more likely say, “Gloria’s breasts are _ _ _ _(fill in something complimentary)” In order to end male genital mutilation we must speak into existence exactly what is the norm (intact) and what a surgical reduction of the penis really is (a surgical reduction). Through that example, he agreed with me that “intact penis” is accurately descriptive.

    • I love how you always make so much sense! I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when you used your breasts as an analogy to an intact penis….that must have been something to witness!

  8. Our bodies respond to language with emotion. For every thought there is a corresponding physical response in the body. When we choose to use positive, gentle language in our preparation for birth and in the birthing room, we, and our caregivers can often avoid the flight or fight response resulting in calm, gentle, beautiful birth.
    Love this post, Gloria. You are so right! One of the things I so love about Hypnobirthing…

  9. Thank you for commenting on the “health care” thing, Gloria. It’s one of my pet peeves that we (Canadians and Americans) consistently refer to medical care and health care as though they’re the same thing – medical care. Health care is something completely different. As you said, it’s eating well, getting exercise, meditating, walking in the woods, taking some deep breaths of fresh air, etc. Medical care is completely different.

  10. It’s funny this should pop up in my news feed today! I just finished creating my workbook for a training I have coming up. There’s a section about optimization of the birth plan and one of the points I make is for the client to ask for what they want, not the usual “I want to avoid x” stuff that’s typical of birth plan examples. Pretty sure that’s been a game-changer for a lot of the moms I have helped over the last 7 years!

    Language is such a simple thing to help shift someone’s mindset. The trick of course is getting new parents who were indoctrinated in the mainstream birth culture to understand and start using these new words and phrases in place of the old ones, and continue to plant those seeds for change.

    Thank you for continuing to pass on your wisdom to us all so that we can go forward and bring it to the families we serve.

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