The Importance Of Adopting Inclusive Language When Discussing Pregnancy

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When Unicode initially announced that they were unveiling a pregnant man and pregnant person emoji to help make emojis more inclusive, many queer and trans people were thrilled to see the increased visibility of gender-diverse pregnant people. For years, queer and trans communities have been attempting to promote more inclusive language around pregnancy to recognize that people of any gender, not just cis-women, can have babies. Unfortunately, this language has yet to enter mainstream conversations about pregnancy. The recent World Breastfeeding Week was yet another reminder of how gendered and cisnormative large pregnancy-related campaigns remain.

Trans and non-binary pregnancies have become increasingly visible in media. In 2019, the film Seahorse was released, documenting the journey of  Freddy McConnell, a transgender man giving birth to his son. Other trans men and non-binary people such as Kayden X Coleman, Bennett Kaspar Williams and Trevor MacDonald have also told their story. A common thread in all of these experiences is discomfort at how the language around pregnancy almost always focuses on womanhood. This association of pregnancy with femininity can give trans and non-binary people gender dysphoria and make them feel uncomfortable; an extra hurdle on top of the regular challenges of pregnancy.

Every person has different terminology that they prefer when talking about their body and their health. Nevertheless, a good rule of thumb when discussing pregnancy is to avoid using language that is gendered.

“Instead of conversations about motherhood, change the conversation to ‘parenthood’. Discuss more specifically about the culture of child-carrying, rather than reducing it to gender.”

Bennett Kaspar-Williams

For example, replacing ‘expectant mothers’ or ‘pregnant mothers’ with ‘pregnant people’ or ‘birthing people’, a term recently employed by US Rep Cori Bush when discussing the health crisis Black pregnant people face.

Using inclusive language doesn’t end when the pregnancy is over. Trans and non-binary birthing people run into the same cisnormative environment when feeding their babies. While feeding a baby is usually referred to as ‘breastfeeding’ many trans and non-binary people are uncomfortable with that word as it can trigger chest dysphoria. Instead, ‘chestfeeding’ is often used, as well as neutral terms such as ‘nursing’ or ‘feeding’. Although trans and non-binary people are able to chestfeed, even if they’ve had chest masculinization surgery, they encounter many obstacles when doing so, often the result of their healthcare provider’s poor education.

It is also important to use the correct pronouns for pregnant people. As the general language of pregnancy centres around cis-women, this often leads to trans and non-binary people getting misgendered. Non-binary doula Jenna Brown recommends that pregnant people carry pronoun cards for interactions where they might be misgendered. They offer these cards for free on their website.

Unfortunately, most large organizations advocating for pregnant or nursing people have yet to adopt this inclusive language. The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, which organizes World Breastfeeding Week, has yet to make this change. In February 2021, the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust became the first hospital in the UK to adopt gender-inclusive language for their maternity services, now called perinatal services. They have been accused of misogyny by erasing women’s experiences, but this is not really the case. The hospital is taking a gender-additive approach, which they describe as “using gender-neutral language alongside the language of womanhood, in order to ensure that everyone is represented and included.” Gender-inclusive language does not exclude women, but rather acknowledges that they are not the only ones who have these experiences.

In short, queer and trans people face many obstacles when accessing reproductive healthcare, often the result of our cisnormative society believing that only women can carry and give birth to children. Adopting inclusive language helps to normalize the idea that pregnancy is not limited to a single gender, and allows queer and trans people to feel affirmed when receiving healthcare.

“when talking about reproduction, reproductive rights, and gynaecological health, transgender folks deserve the same inclusive and affirming care as cisgender folks. That starts with language.”

Non-binary writer, Amber Leventry

Words by Emma Bainbridge


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