Birth work and disability justice

Disability and disability justice, as it intersects with broader social justice movements and particularly birth work, is something I have been thinking about for a while now, inspired by some amazing disability justice activists that I have come across. (h/t Mia Mingus, for example).

For those of us in the birthwork world (or reproductive justice more broadly) it’s extremely important to keep issues of disability in mind and as part of our practice as doulas. There are many types of disabilities which might impact what kind of birth a person has access to. For example I received an email not too long ago from a person with a mental health issue that required a type of medication.

Because of that mental health issue (and resultant medication) she was finding that she couldn’t go to the local birth center, because simply taking that medication to deal with her mental health issues ruled her out.

One could think of similar issues around access to certain types of birth settings (and even types of birth) for those who have physical disabilities that restrict their movement, or simply just make midwives or birth centers too afraid to provide care for them (because of liability, or ableism, or whatever the reason might be).

We all know that a fundamental problem with birth care today is that only the person with the “healthiest” most “ideal” pregnancy can have access to alternative birth settings and providers.

This is an area that I know little about, and am interested in learning more from those in the disability justice community, or birth workers who have experience working with disabled folks.

One place that I can start educating myself is the issue of ableist language. There is a lot of language that we use everyday whose origins are derogatory terms for disabled folks. As a writer and activist, my belief is that I can do the work to find different terms, and different language, in a good faith effort to avoid words which have these ableist origins and meanings.

I recently came across this resource, from If I Can’t Dance is it Still My Revolution? which breaks down each word that is commonly used, why it’s ableist, what folks who are using it are trying to say and alternate words you can use.

One example, which I’m still struggling to excise from my vocabulary. From the resource:

What you said: Lame.

What you meant to say: Bad; Boring; Cheesy; Faulty; Inadequate; Inefficient; Insufficient; Unconvincing; Unpersuasive; Unpleasing.

What you might not have known: Derogatory term for physically disabled, particularly referring to one’s gait.

Language is a small thing, but it can have all sorts of impacts. It’s a place to start educating ourselves and shifting our behaviors, but it is by no means the end.

If you have any resources to share about disability and birth work, please leave them in comments or email me!


3 thoughts on “Birth work and disability justice

  1. reproductiverites September 14, 2010 / 9:27 pm

    Thank you for getting me thinking about this. I’ve even seen women encounter trouble with their birth plans because they had been treated for mental health problems years in the past.

    It’s not about birth specifically, but one writer who’s work has helped me think a lot about disability is Eli Clare.

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