Mother & newborn sleeping. David J Laport / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)


Did you know that describing the state of pregnancy as being solely applicable to women is considered offensive?  No, dear reader, neither did I, until I read this earnestly written column, stating that transphobia is rampant in the midwifery world.

Up until 2014, the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA) had, sensibly and reasonably enough, referred to their clients as women and mothers. Then at some point last year, presumably having imbibed the gender theory Kool-Aid at some diversity conference or other, they changed most of the language in their core competency documents to reflect the notion that some transgender, gender queer and intersex individuals may require midwifery care and do not identify as women. 

Well I hate to burst your navel-gazing bubbles, but frankly it doesn’t matter if you identify as next-door’s cat. If you are in possession of a uterus which contains a baby, the indisputable truth is that you are a woman. Even if, as in the case of our HuffPo blogger, you chose to call yourself “Trevor MacDonald”.

Indeed, when Mr MacDonald describes his own experience of giving birth as a man, in an attempt to reinforce his point that gender-neutral language is desperately needed, he notes that it was agreed by the head of obstetrics at the local hospital that his situation was “obstetrically normal”. The birth was planned as a natural delivery and the hospital only needed to be consulted in case of the need for an emergency transfer. So this person who was carrying a baby in their womb, one whom they intended to birth through their female sex organs, bristles at the nomenclature of woman?

Don’t get me wrong: in the words of the Kinks (whose hit 1970 record Lola, is probably now banned for transphobia and reinforcing gender stereotypes), “girls will be boys and boys will be girls, it’s a mixed-up, muddled-up shook up world”, but if you are born a woman and yet believe passionately that you are a man and identify as one, why on earth would you be wanting to do something that is uniquely reserved for the female sex? You really can’t get any more feminine than in the whole business of childbirth.

Before I get lynched on the inevitable charge of transphobia, I ought to mention that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a few well-known transgender activists, one just a few weeks ago. All of them are personable, charming, genuinely engaging and kind people. Coming out as transgender is still an incredibly difficult and brave thing to do and just spending a few hours in the company of a transgender woman, makes you realise the enormous amount of hostility, aggression and derision they are subject to on an everyday basis. You wouldn’t put yourself through that experience, nor the gruelling experience of gender-reassignment surgery, unless you were 100 percent convinced. It’s also worth noting the extraordinarily high suicide rate amongst the transsexual community. Regardless of how you identify, you still remain a human being with the same dignity and deserving of the same respect accorded to anyone else. 

But what makes me bristle is the idea that my own sex and identity in the area of childbirth is being erased by those who have rejected it for themselves while continuing to hang on to the biology. It seems I am not alone. A collective of American midwives, calling themselves women-centred midwifery, have written to NAMA protesting against the gender neutral language of their professional body, and saying that women are all but missing from the wording of clinical care norms. They have set up a petition which has so far garnered over 1,000 signatures. 

This counter movement needs to be stopped, says Mr MacDonald because it is, yes, you guessed it, the most heinous crime of the modern age – ‘hurtful’. Both him and his friend who transitioned to male after giving birth, felt quite sick when they saw the names of their midwives on the petition. They claim that it protests their right to a safe and welcoming healthcare environment at a time when they were vulnerable. One could argue that they should man up. 

But the petition does no such thing. It’s a recognition of the fact that only biological women can give birth, the vast majority of whom wish to be identified by their birth sex and given the title, “mother”. Mr MacDonald does not claim that he was treated as an inferior person when giving birth. He takes issue with the idea that the care provider (namely, the medically qualified person) could decide on the gender of the person, as opposed to listening to the client. It places a “burden of conformity on the client”. 

As I said, no doubt a patient midwife would understand that her client identified as a male, and call them by their preferred title, but it makes no sense that she would treat him clinically as a male, because, to state the blindingly obvious, men don’t possess the necessary equipment to give birth. There is absolutely no medical textbook that deals with childbirth in men, simply because it doesn’t happen. Nor are there any guidelines on how to assist a human who believes themselves to be inter-species deliver a litter of puppies! The concept of men who give birth is an ideological nonsense. 

And if your brain isn’t already hurting, Mr MacDonald attempts to justify himself by the egregious claim that “trans, genderqueer and intersex people have been giving birth for as long as women-identified people have”. For a start, most ordinary people, not being versed in the jargon of contemporary academia, have no idea what genderqueer means. But, granted that for centuries there have been people transgressing gender boundaries, the whole notion of gender being purely a social construct remains a wholly modern one. I’m not quite sure which history books Mr MacDonald is referring to, but the concept of men giving birth to children rests on no historical or anthropological academic consensus. Where’s the evidence of transgender people giving birth in Neanderthal and stone-age communities, for example?

Childbirth and motherhood is a uniquely feminine trait, hence the use of the term midwife; the etymology derives from the German – “with woman”. Of course, that too is now under threat of abolition along with pregnant and birthing people; the replacement term “birth worker” has been introduced. 

All of this would be comical if it weren’t so serious. It highlights the travesty of the word “phobia” being applied to any anti-progressive viewpoints. This is what the columnist does in dismissing the concerns of the protesting midwives: the sentiments of their letter seem “vaguely familiar and even reasonable. They are careful not to write anything hateful in plain language.”

But, ultimately, a woman must lose her right to be known as such, she must drop her title of mother, she must relinquish her biological and physical individuality — one that gives her enormous power — in order to suit a powerful minority who believe themselves to be men. Can nobody else see the irony?

Caroline Farrow is a columnist for The Catholic Universe. This article was first published at The Conservative Woman and is reproduced here with permission.

Author profile: Caroline Farrow is a weekly columnist for the Catholic Universe newspaper in the UK and Ireland, a media speaker with Catholic Voices and a freelance writer, speaking and writing on issues...