What's In a Name? Redefining Labor

Kimberly Seals Allers
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Flickr Photo by Mammaloves
Recently, one of my first-time preggers friends asked me, "Why do they call it labor?" 

"Ummm, because it's hard work," I replied.

But then I thought about it. Yes, for many women, labor will be some of the hardest work you will ever do. But why do we call it labor? Nobody likes labor.  There's a national holiday to avoid labor.  And let's face it, nobody gets excited about hard work.  Which made me wonder, could we change the language of labor to make it more positive?

Does using the word labor conjure up fear, pain and something to be dreaded or avoided at all costs?

What if we just called it birth. After all, it is what it is.  Birth sounds less ominous, more forward looking. More something to be done, than something to be feared. Birth doesn't give off any preconceived notions about whether you will or will not enjoy the experience. And birth is more calming ( I worry a lot about hard work!). 

Back in the day, our foremothers birthed their babies in fields, at home and with midwives. That was the norm. But ever since giving birth became a "medical event" there's been a whole lot of fear thrown into the mix.  A thinking from the medical profession that "you need us to do this right."  When, in fact, our bodies know exactly what to do, and we only need a doctor in case of real problem.

Birth sounds like something you don't necessarily need some guy in green scrubs to help you out with. Labor sounds like you need some back up.

And more importantly, birth feels like you have a choice. And you do. You can choose what you'd like your birthing experience to be like. You can choose relaxation. You can even choose for it to be relatively pain-free.  But when a woman chooses, she should choose from free will, not from fear of hard work.

And in the end, you can choose to call it whatever you want.

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