In the world of having babies it has been my experience that as well-meaning as people are, we’re not very good at being inclusive in our language. As such, we can be exclusive to queer-identifying people and families having babies. In the field of midwifery, we are taught to care for “women” not “patients” as they aren’t necessarily sick. As a concept this would be great, but what about when we are caring for people and families that don’t identify as women? Yes, the majority of the population having babies identify as women, however, is it enough to simply modify our language on a case-by-case basis? What about the concept of “woman-centred care”? As a student midwife, I’m exposed to this kind of language daily. It is so normalised that very few health care professionals working with and caring for parents and families realise how uncomfortable it can be for queer-identifying individuals, specifically trans and gender diverse people.
So, what can be done? For a start, education. Upon arrival at university, perhaps even in the first lecture, students need to be educated on appropriate and inclusive language. It would also be appropriate to normalise asking the person in your care what are their preferred pronouns, even when you think you can assume. Something else to keep in mind, not all parents are going to be “mothers” or “fathers”. It is entirely possible that the person in your care doesn’t identify as a woman, or trans man, and will not identify with these terms. They may, in fact, identify as genderfluid, genderqueer, agender, non-binary or something else! The take-home message is, you just don’t know until you ask the person in a respectful and genuine manner.
So, what about “woman-centred care”? It’s supposed to be about empowering women to be the decision makers in their care and to make informed choices. That’s great, but wouldn’t it be just as easy to call it “person-centred care”? The trouble is, even the midwifery governing bodies use this exclusive language. It’s obviously an attempt to appear receptive to the needs of people having babies (women), but it excludes trans and gender diverse people. And at what cost? Many queer identifying families turn to private practice and away from the public system if they can afford to, due to the lack of inclusivity. And those left to navigate the public system have little support for their individual needs, or continuity in their care; often with lack of continuity, important details such as preferred pronouns, may not get handed over. Even how we name our birthing hospitals excludes trans and gender diverse people having babies.
As you can see, language use in the specific field of midwifery is important, but let’s not stop there. The more the general population normalise asking pronouns and using gender-neutral terminology, the more likely it is to seep into the wonderful world of midwifery.