“Speech Magicians”

I liked this blog post I read recently. Here is the opening paragraph:

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

She goes on to encourage women to phrase their desires in terms of what they want, rather than what they don’t want (similar to what I wrote here). Then she talks about “indirect hypnosis” by which she speaks to her client what she wants the doctor to hear, rather than talking directly to the doctor: to help her client avoid an episiotomy, she might say, “You’re stretching beautifully; there’s plenty of room down there”; rather than telling the doctor, “she doesn’t want an episiotomy,” or “she doesn’t need an episiotomy.” It made me think of “the old Jedi mind trick” from the Star Wars movies: “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for… move along…”

Philip K. Dick, who wrote the stories that many movies (including Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck, and Blade Runner) were based on, said, “The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.”

While I like a lot of the variations in speech I’ve heard — intentional attempts to change people’s minds and attitudes by the use of words — I do have some quibbles with some words and phrases used at times. Obviously, it depends on the forum. People judge you by your words, so it would be good to think before you speak. For instance, some people will call the vagina a “yoni”. I understand that to be the Sanskrit word for “vagina”. It’s fine to use it whenever and wherever…except at the hospital (especially if you’re a doula or midwife who has transferred from a home birth), because in one word you will announce about yourself that you cannot, do not, or will not use the clinical terms, and they will probably think less of you — that your IQ has dropped dramatically, or that you’re one of those hippie natural-birth women whom they think ill of. I’ve heard from women who are justifiably angry and upset about unnecessary interventions, especially Cesareans, and they use terms which strongly highlight their feelings. That’s fine in many forums; but it will turn off your listeners in other forums. Friendly people will say, “Wow, she must be upset, and rightly so,” and will listen intently and sympathetically to your story. Others will say, “Boy, she’s angry — must be a nut-case!” and will not believe you no matter what you say.

What terms have you heard that you either love or make you cringe (or both, depending on the situation)?


4 Responses

  1. Ha! I’m still hung up on “mass psychosis about childbirth.” Funny how childbirth itself was once seen as hysteria, yet the real “hysteria” now is the outrageously fearful medical attitude toward each and every birth.

    Hope you’re well. =)

  2. I was really interested in the manipulation of terms that I learned in my hypnobirthing class – if you’ve read the book, you’ll know what I mean (wave instead of contraction, birth show instead of bloody show, etc.). In some ways I thought it was sensible and in some ways I thought it was silly. I’m kind of stuck in the middle. I agree with what your article said – it’s one’s manner of speech rather than one’s individual terms that counts. If one can frame one’s thoughts and wishes in a positive way, i.e. “I want to use a variety of positions” instead of “I don’t want to be restricted to bed,” etc., one will be received much more positively.

    I recently experienced this with a document I had to present. I was very angry when I wrote the document and knew that I came across that way, so I had some friends review it and tone it down. In the end it was much more positively written, even though the content was exactly the same, and I think the result was more positive than it would have been. It’s all in the phraseology.

  3. Ah, yes — I’ve heard many terms used in HypnoBabies — pressure waves, release of membranes, transformation (instead of “transition”), and so forth, to avoid triggering the associations the brain has with the terms as being harsh or painful. I remember reading some of Ina May Gaskin’s books, and other things in which they try not to use the word “contraction” because it sounds painful — someone calls them “baby hugs” because the uterus is hugging the baby. [Fwiw, I tried using those terms, and abandoned them because what I felt in labor was *contractions* not “waves” or “hugs” or any such thing. More power to those for whom it works, but it didn’t work for me either time! ;-)]

    As long as everyone in the room understands what is being meant and is respectful of the terms and the people who use them, I have no problem with using any terms. I’ve seen, however, many snide comments from Dr. Amy types, or on more-medical forums (as opposed to somebody’s personal blog, for example, where they are welcome to use whichever terms they darn well please) in which not only are the terms thought ill of, but so are the people who use the terms.

  4. I think the power of words is amazing. Positive words are so much more motivating than negative ones. I wish that care providers realized the power of their words, or even the tone of their voices.

    I can’t think of my favorites right now. But great topic!

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