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  • Writer's pictureDalia Abrams

Birth is not a Delivery!

[First published October 14, 2020]

Why are we saying delivery when we mean birth?

Saying delivery turns our focus to the birth attendant rather than the birth-giver. But it’s the person who gives birth who does the lion’s share of the work; gestation, labor, birth and caring for the baby.

I believe we should recognize the birth-giver’s effort, power, and relationship to the baby by choosing to say BIRTH rather than delivery.

It is common to use the word delivery when talking about birth. We’ve done so for a long time; since Obstetricians were predominantly men, and birth-givers were always categorized as women. I’d like to make the case that this word choice is about the misattribution of power, often rooted in misogyny. Therefore, although I usually use gender-neutral language when talking about birth, in recognition of ALL people who have the capacity for pregnancy, please note my purposeful use of gendered language in this post.

The words we choose impact the stories we tell ourselves. Choosing to use the word deliver is inappropriate for birth and it distorts the story we tell.

Deliver: verb. 1: To set free. 2a: To take and hand over to, or leave for another: CONVEY, e.g. a package. 2b: Hand over: SURRENDER. (

The focus of the verb deliver is on the person doing the delivering. For example, consider a letter. Let’s imagine you write a letter to your friend who lives in Huntsville. To get this letter to your friend, you need the mail carrier to pick it up from your house and deliver it to Huntsville. When we talk about delivering the mail, we are focused on the mail carrier. We are thankful that they deliver the mail through rain snow sleet and hail, no matter what. The mail carrier is the hero in this story. They defy all obstacles to get the job done.

If, however, we talk about writing a letter, that changes the focus to you – the writer.

When we talk about reading a letter, the focus is on your friend – the reader.

But the DELIVERY of a letter, that’s the mail carrier.

If you stop to think about it, it’s very strange that we talk about birth as a delivery! Who is the main actor when a baby is born? It’s the mother who “makes” the baby, gestating for 9 months or so. It’s the mother who works hard (labors) to give birth to the baby. Ultimately, the goal is for her to care for her baby after it’s born. It is true that during the birth itself, a medical professional often helps as the baby is being born. Rarely, risky obstetric interventions are needed. However, in most cases, the obstetrician’s role is brief and often minor. Amazingly, sometimes women are capable of giving birth entirely by themselves.

I would say the medical professional is definitely a critical support person, but he is not the main actor. So the word describing the event should not focus on him.

You could counter that we also use this verb when referencing the birth-giver. We say the mother delivered her baby. Although people sometimes say it that way, possibly trying to rescue the woman’s role, it makes no grammatical sense. Where did she deliver her baby from? To whom? We don’t deliver things from ourselves to ourselves. No, in our common usage, it’s the doctor that delivers the baby. The focus of the verb is on the obstetrician.

Still, language can be idiosyncratic. We’ve used the phrase “doctors deliver babies” for a long time. So who cares? Why does it matter?

As it happens, it matters a lot, and here’s why:

It’s about who “owns” the experience, who has the “power” and who is the hero(ine) of the story.

Labor and birth are a unique time when people with the capacity for pregnancy do an extraordinary thing. They bring a new life into the world. Whether they labor medicated or un-medicated, pull their baby out and into their own arms, or have their baby handed to them, give birth vaginally or by c-section; giving birth is work that is meaningful, fulfilling, hard, exhausting, sometimes frightening, often overwhelming, and always transformational. It is a rite of passage. Because it is so challenging, the accomplishment of giving birth helps prepare birth-givers for the hard job of being a parent, and, I would add, of being a citizen of the world. When we recognize this effort and accomplishment, we enable birth-givers to own their power and their capacity to do ANYTHING! But we squander and undermine this opportunity every time we focus on the wrong hero(ine).

When we say that a doctor delivered a baby, we are implying that the doctor did all the work, put forth all the effort and is the one to thank for the baby- that he is the hero of the story. Deliver can even give the impression that the doctor rescued a helpless baby from his mother. (Here’s definition #1 in its entirety: Deliver: verb. 1: To set free. “and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” — Matthew 6:13 (King James Version)

When we use the word deliver, the story we are telling glorifies the obstetrician while denying the mother of recognition for the immensity of what she has just done.

So I say, from now on let’s recognize that people GIVE BIRTH to babies.

When they give birth in a hospital setting, let’s call the rooms birthing suites and the unit L&B, for Labor and Birth, not L&D for Labor and Delivery. As for the medical professionals ensuring safety and helping out? Let’s say that they attend births as critical support personnel.

Let’s use our words to give credit where credit is due.

Let’s choose words that honor the hard work of giving birth to babies, and recognize the strength, perseverance and courage it requires. 

Happy Birthing.

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