The “D” Word

I really just don’t like the word “delivery” in reference to the birth of a child. I just hate it. I didn’t used to think this way, and I commonly used it like everyone else. But when I gave birth to my first child, I had such a feeling of empowerment that I just couldn’t bear to think that I had been “delivered.” Nor did it ever seem like my baby was in danger, and needing “deliverance” from my body.

From the OneLook Dictionary Search, here are the “quick definitions” of the word deliver:

verb: carry out or perform (“Deliver an attack, deliver a blow”)
verb: save from sins
verb: deliver (a speech, oration, or idea)
verb: utter (an exclamation, noise, etc.) (“The students delivered a cry of joy”)
verb: bring to a destination, make a delivery (“Our local super market delivers”)
verb: throw or hurl from the mound to the batter, as in baseball (“The pitcher delivered the ball”)
verb: hand over to the authorities of another country
verb: free from harm or evil
verb: give birth (to a newborn)
verb: pass down (“Deliver a judgment”)
verb: relinquish possession or control over
verb: to surrender someone or something to another (“The guard delivered the criminal to the police”)

In general, the word deliver means to take from yourself or your possession or your control and give it to another (such as a pizza delivery guy), or else it means to save from a negative outcome (as in God saving you from your sins). Even in “deliver a speech” the thought is that you have an idea in your head that you take from your brain and give it to the people in your audience. But did you notice that not one of those “quick definitions” says that “deliver” means the act of catching a baby at his or her birth. Yet isn’t that one of the most common usages?

When I had my second baby, I didn’t call the midwife in time, so my sister caught the baby. I can’t tell you how it grated on my nerves to hear my mother and everyone else say, “You know that Lisa delivered him!?!” Oh, she did, did she?? And what did *I* do, sit on my thumbs all day?? All the focus was on my sister who showed up just a few minutes before the birth, and who simply did not drop the baby. Where is “delivery” or “deliverance” in that?

In the old days, as you can see from reading the King James Version of the Bible, which was first published in 1611, it was said when Mary gave birth to Jesus, that she “brought forth her first-born son.”

In Jane Austen’s book Sense and Sensibility (written exactly two centuries later), one minor character gives birth, and the birth announcement in the newspaper said that she “…was delivered of a healthy son…” While this shows that the verbiage was changed — deliver is in the passive sense, rather than the active “bring forth” — it still has much of the focus on the woman or the birth-passage itself, in using the word.

Fast-forward yet another two centuries, and we see that when we say that someone “delivers” a baby, we refer almost exclusively to the person who catches the baby — it may be a doctor, nurse, midwife, passerby, or someone else, but the woman is not even in consideration at all, except if she catches her own baby, in which case it is usually said with much surprise — “Did you know that she delivered her own baby??” How did we get to this point — to go from all women delivering their babies to no women doing so?

This is not just a matter of semantics. Words are powerful! I don’t like “deliver” because of the passivity it currently implies — at least in the area of birth — as well as the emphasis it places on the birth attendant, to the exclusion of the women who do the work of birth. How many women look to their doctors for salvation, unnecessarily? How many women look to their doctors to bring their babies out of their own bodies and into their own hands (perhaps by way of forceps, and almost always by way of the hands of several other strangers, and many times with an enforced separation of hours in those first precious hours after birth). Of course, sometimes doctors do actually deliver mothers and/or babies from harm — they save them; and they do deliver the baby from the woman’s body to her arms by way of a beneficial C-section. How much better it would be, though, if women could harness their own power, and feel their own ability in giving birth, rather than looking to those who are outside their bodies to see how to do it. What a change occurs when women give birth, rather than are delivered!

So, as long as the word “deliver” means the one who receives the baby at birth, I do not use it to describe the act of giving birth (with rare exceptions). Yes, I have it as a tag sometimes; and it is implicit in “Labor and Delivery”; but for the most part, I simply refuse to use the word. Which makes it difficult when talking about when the placenta follows the baby, because it sounds weird to say that “the placenta is born.” I suppose that’s what it is, but the typical clinical term is the “delivery of the placenta” which I don’t like. However, I do occasionally use that phrase, simply because it’s easy, and as long as the mother births* the baby, I’m okay with the placenta being delivered.

[Yeah, I know “birth” is technically not a verb, but that is a discussion for a future post.]

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4 Responses

  1. I tried explaining this to someone the other day…you did it much better than I did!

    And my midwife, after my son was born said that they would “wait a few minutes and then it would be time to birth the placenta..”

    thank you

  2. I completely agree about the “D” word being a horrible description of birth, especially in a normal (unmedicated) birth. When interventions and medications are used I don’t really have a problem calling it a delivery because mostly what those moms do is lie around, even sleeping some, and little if any work is actually done on their part. When an epidural is administered, usually they can’t even feel what is going on with their body well enough to push or participate in anything…so delivered seems to fit there. Your explanation was great though!

    Oh, and about birth not being a verb, not so! 🙂 I checked Merriam-Webster just to be sure, so here it is.

  3. Just a quick note to mention again how much I love your blog. You’re such a treasure! 🙂

  4. At one of my prenatal visits during my first pregnancy (somewhere near the end) I was talking to my doctor about my hugely swollen feet and he replied, “do you know what solves that?” and I asked what and he said, “the delivery of the baby.”

    It sucked all the air out of the room and I was suddenly afraid. He cut my baby out a few weeks later.

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