Mothers and Pregnant People

The British Medical Association is following the Midwives Alliance of North America’s step (criticised in this open letter) last year in suggesting that pregnant women – expectant mothers – should be called ‘pregnant people’. See here for the BMA literature.
I addressed this issue in Liberating Motherhood in my chapter on birth. I wrote this: “are losing our village of wisdom and womanly experience about birthing. Are we starting to lose our language of birth? Are we as women losing something: a right to name ourselves, our condition or our needs? For what? For whom? Why? What are the implications? How do we feel? Do these things matter? Of course they do. And we have the right to say so.” 
In response to this BMA policy, it has to be said: It is extremely rare – vastly statistically insignificant – for transmen to become pregnant. In the extremely rare case of transmen becoming pregnant, it is directly because of their biological and physiologically female capability to bear children. It goes without saying that no transwoman has ever become pregnant: because they are biologically male.
*One born every minute, as they say. To women. To mothers.
*One born once in a blue moon to a transman, yet, according to the BMA, this somehow justifies fundamental change in the language of birth and maternity to ‘pregnant people’ so as not to offend those who do not identify as women or mothers.
This is not OK.
By all means refer to individuals with language that is respectful and courteous in their individual circumstances. The importance of compassionate and humane care in pregnancy and birth is at the cornerstone of maternal feminism. A transman is no less deserving of this compassionate care.
However, that does not justify the change in language to describe the near total majority historically and presently of pregnant and birthing mothers as ‘pregnant people’. Many women fight hard to become mothers. Not pregnant ‘patients’ (we are not ill). Not pregnant *people*. We are *mothers*.
The day it is deemed bigoted, hateful or exclusionary to say so, we will have lost more than simply the right to speak. In the political climate, our reproductive rights are precarious indeed.
For myself, I had never feel fully at ease with my body, nor fully reconciled with the power and beauty of the female body, until I became pregnant and gave birth. Becoming a mother has been of life-changing importance to me. I will not apologise for that and I am sad to think that many women will feel under pressure not to claim the word which they deserve and which is their right. A word which somehow links us with our maternal ancestors and our maternal sisters: ‘mother’.
It is also disrespectful not to acknowledge the woman at the heart of something so sex-specific (maternity) and it fails women not to wholly celebrate the power of women in pregnancy and birth. Whilst we are expected to be fully considerate of the feelings of individuals who do not identify as women, one has to wonder at what point did the BMA stop to consider the feelings of those women to whom the word ‘mother’ is unspeakably important.
Importantly, too, language matters in wider issues of policy. In policy, if women are not named, if mothers are not named, we can easily lose sight that policies are affecting women, potentially disproportionately. Maternal mortality, for example, is something which directly involves mothers. Not people. Not men. Not males. It is a peculiarly female risk: injury or death through childbirth. To suggest that pregnancy and birth is something which somehow affects people -not females – is double-think, anti-women, anti-feminist and highly suspect.
See here Julie Bindel’s excellent commentary on this:

In particular, she wrote, “…women are angry and upset about the erasure of their identities to the point where they are being told it is transphobic to even use the correct language to describe our reproductive systems.

Accusing us of bigotry for telling the truth is a new way of attacking the advancement of women – only this time those doing the attacking are being supported by the very organisations that should know better.” 

Amen to that.

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3 thoughts on “Mothers and Pregnant People

  1. Thank you so much for writing this.  I listened to Woman’s Hour last week where a transman was talking about this subject and I had the same feelings as you and was thinking surely I’m not a bigot for feeling this way.  It is this man’s female makeup that makes him able to beat a child,  it cannot be denied.  Thank you.  Am absolutely loving your book,  thank you so much for writing it.  I was in tears many times just reading the first few pages as you put my feelings into words. 

    Hayley x

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android


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