Gendering pregnancy harms doctors and patients

Using gender neutral language to discuss reproductive care will make healthcare services more accessible and inclusive to those accessing them.

While women may become pregnant, this is also true for certain trans men, non-binary individuals, and folks who don’t identify within the gender binary. One step in providing inclusive care to all involves using terms like “pregnant people” and “birthing parent” rather than “pregnant women” and “mother” when broadly referring to those accessing obstetric care.

Despite its simplicity, there has been significant backlash against the vocabulary swap. Many institutions have been slow to adopt the change, including here at Queen’s.

The concept is easy to understand if you take the politics out of it.

If you were a nursing student at Queen’s and referring to a group of fellow nursing students, you would call yourselves “nursing students.” If you were referring to a group of Queen’s students from different faculties, you would say “Queen’s students.” It would be inappropriate to call a cross faculty group “nursing students”—it simply isn’t representative of the group’s reality.

Gender neutral terms don’t exclude the genders that may fall within them. People can still refer to themselves as mothers or pregnant women. However, it’s inappropriate to apply those terms to a group that includes more than women.

Using ungendered terminology provides more inclusive language for queer families.

If two women are having a baby, saying “woman” or “mother” in reference to the person giving birth isn’t specific enough. Perhaps in another family, the person giving birth is not the mother, and maybe someone else in the room is. Using terms like “pregnant person” or “birthing parent” gives space to these families.

A core course for students in the Health Sciences program repeatedly refers to pregnant people as “mothers” throughout its course content. This isn’t only inaccurate, but demonstrates a disregard for equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Health Sciences divides its courses into social sciences—global and population health—and those focusing on biological sciences—anatomy, physiology, and others. This separation implies physiological and social aspects of health are separate entities, when in fact they’re incredibly intertwined.

While a course on ion channels doesn’t require an in-depth discussion of social medicine, courses across the board must take a more integrated approach to health. Lessons on disease physiology should include discussions on disease prevalence, relevant health disparities, and social determinants at play. This forces students to critically engage with issues in the field they’re entering and to make connections across courses.

In cultivating the next generation of doctors, the program should be teaching interdisciplinary thinking that considers each patient as a whole person, not another illness or injury. This integrated approach is essential to providing holistic treatment and inclusive care.

Many students are meaningfully engaging with topics surrounding reproduction, pregnancy, and birth for the first time. Let’s expose them to language that sets them up for a successful and inclusive future.

Violetta is a fourth-year Health Sciences student and one of The Journal’s Business, Science & Technology Editors.


Faculty of Health Sciences, Gender, Inclusivity

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