One example is “active labor”. What is active labor? Well, there doesn’t seem to be one accepted definition and that can cause confusion. A quick Google search told me that “Active Labor” is when you are at 4cm or more – or when your contractions are “more coordinated” – or when you can no longer walk and talk during labor – or when your contractions average about 60 seconds long. So what if you are dilated to 5cm but not having regular contractions? One doctor tells clients that active labor isn’t until 6cm, and then on the hospital tour, when the guide said that if you aren’t in active labor you won’t be admitted, the mother-to-be who heard this became worried! A mother who has had regular, strong contractions and gets to the hospital to be told she has progressed to 3cm may be very frightened or discouraged that she is already having intense contractions and isn’t even in “active” labor. Conversely, a mother might be better off not admitted to the hospital if her contractions are faint and irregular, even at 4 or 5cm!
The words “still” and “only” can be devastating to laboring women. When a cervical check includes these words, progress that has been made is ignored and a tired, frustrated mom believes her contractions have been in vain. So, while a healthcare professional might say, “You’re still at 4cm”, what may be missed is progress in effacement, station, or position of the baby. Even if the HCP follows up with that, leading with the “bad news” often means that is what gets the focus.
Some women have unpleasant associations with words or phrases. It’s not uncommon for a HCP to tell a laboring woman “Good girl!” or to tell women that they have to push like they are pooping the biggest poop of their lives. Neither of these is inherently bad, but some moms dislike being called “girl” or find that phrase condescending, even if not meant that way. Clients have asked us to remind people not to talk about poop when they are laboring, because even though it is the same muscles, and yes, feels very much like a large bowel movement, they don’t want to feel like their baby is being compared to poop.
Paying attention to what we say and asking for clarification when needed helps cut back on some of the stresses of ambiguous or discouraging conversations. Remember that even doctors have different definitions of some terms. Words are powerful and during labor, we should use them with great care.