Time to call maternity hospitals ‘pregnant people’ hospitals?

If you give birth you are a mother and if you are pregnant you are an expectant mother?  Well, not anymore, according to the British Medical Association. Now you are a ‘pregnant person’.

A new booklet issued by the BMA and aimed at promoting ‘inclusive’ and non-offensive language in the workplace claims that “A large majority of people that have been pregnant or have given birth identify as women. We can include intersex men and transmen who may get pregnant by saying ‘pregnant people’ instead of ‘expectant mothers’.”

This astonishing advice has obviously no scientific base, unless we change completely the meaning of basic words such as ‘man’ or ‘woman’. It is simply expression of an ideology, of a particular interpretation of the world that is not shared by the whole medical community, never mind the wider community.

The new guidelines, which are inspired by noble intentions, cover other areas such as age, disability, race, religion but the most controversial and confusing parts regard pregnancy and maternity.

What is not clear is how “pregnant people” should be described after birth. Should the word “mother” always be avoided? Let us try for a moment to think from point of view of the child.  Are the “expecting persons” who identify themselves as trans men (meaning someone who is biologically female but identifies as a male), the mothers or the fathers of their children? How should they be described by their kids? Will the child, in those exceptional cases, have two natural fathers and no natural mother? But then what is the meaning of the words ‘mother’, ‘father’ and ‘natural’ in these cases?

In an attempt to impose new meaning on old words the British Medical Association are creating not just more problems and confusion but even more offence, ironically. How many pregnant women will find it acceptable not to be called mothers? If the purpose of the guidelines is “to promote good practice through the use of language that shows respect for, and sensitivity towards everyone”, what about the sensitivity of those who want to be called by British doctors, like everywhere else in the world, mothers?

According to the guidelines, “Discriminatory language includes words and phrases that reinforce stereotypes, reinforce derogatory labels, exclude certain groups of people through assumptions, patronise or trivialise certain people or groups, or their experiences, cause discomfort or offence.” This is certainly true in some cases and genuinely discriminatory language should always be avoided but how is “expectant mother” a derogatory label or a stereotype? How many who have given birth have ever been offended by having been called mothers?

Moreover, if mother is a term to be avoided, then maternity hospitals should now be called pregnant people hospitals, and so on. (‘Maternity’, after all, is a gendered term just as much as ‘mother’ is).

Ironically, even those who wrote the booklet did not follow their own recommendation. For instance, the guidelines advise people to “use the term trans/transsexual/transgender as an adjective rather than a noun” but then in the same document they say that “transmen”, which is a noun, “may get pregnant”.

When language does not match with an objective reality but is simply an expression of subjective feelings then it loses its meaning. Doctors are told to respect their patient’s self-identification. Father or mother will have no objective reference to reality anymore but they will refer simply to the way people identify themselves.

By the same logic, if I am 75 but I feel much younger and identify myself as a teenager, should the doctors use a language that respects my perceived identity? Should the hospitals accommodate my requests and put me with other teenagers? The guidelines don’t provide us with clear answers but I suppose that in order to fight age discrimination every age self-identification should be respected as well. (This suggestion is not outlandish. There is an actual case of a middle-aged man who self-identifies as a six year old girl).


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