It's somewhat amusing that I have a post with the word “yoni” in it.
This word seems to be a bone of contention with (some) Natural Birth Advocates. I’ve found, the more hard-core the NBA, the more times you will hear the word “yoni” come out of her mouth.
Several of my midwife peers and I find the word odd, at best... not in the casual “Hey, how’s that yoni holding up?” way, but when someone tries to slip it into a medical discussion undetected.
Exhibit A: Anne Frye
Anne Frye is the Minutiae Midwife. (That’s my name for her.) That woman can tell you about the cell formation of a one-celled creature and make it into a trilogy of chapters sure to bore even the one-celled creature’s mother herself. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Anne Frye and am infinitely grateful she is here for midwives. Heck, her book Healing Passage has helped me learn how to suture like no watching-someone-else ever could have. And I love the Holistic Midwifery books. Well, except for the “yoni” and “clitorotomy” (her word for episiotomy. Not kidding.) parts.
What’s a yoni? The 21st century, new age, term for “vagina.”
Though, if you’re reading this, you probably already knew that. In fact, it can be used as code for “I’m a really crunchy birthing woman who dabbles in feminism and wants to take back control of my body, my birth and my family.” (Kind of like, “Is she family?” is code for “Is she a dyke?”) You hear the word yoni used in a childbirth context, you can pretty much guarantee that woman has spent some time on MotheringDotCom.
So, the word “yoni” came about because someone (not sure if Ms. Frye was the first one) decided “vagina” was offensive because of its Latin derivation, which is “sheath or scabbard.”
A sheath is what the sword slips into that a soldier is carrying around his waist. And “penis” is derived from “sword”, which slips into the sheath when not in use.
How anyone can be offended by that is beyond me. The vagina is a great place to tuck a penis every once in a while, isn’t it? I mean, it’s one of the major ways babies are made. And someone was so offended that they combed an etymological dictionary to find another culture’s definition of the vagina.
And up floats “yoni.” Really, for all we know, in Sanskrit, yoni could have had the trashiest of connotations! Wikipedia says yoni means “divine passage,” “place of birth,” “womb,” (which is the uterus) and “sacred temple.” Apparently yoni is used in the Kama Sutra. Hmmm… a NBA was playing around with sex positions and thought, “I hate the word vagina; I’m calling it my yoni from now on”?
Now, seriously, I really have no issue with anyone calling their own woman parts whatever they want. Pussy, cunt, woo woo, punani, box, beaver, fish, twat, beef curtains, clam, the Bermuda Triangle, honey pot, hair pie, kitty or a chair… call it what you want. However, when speaking to medical professionals, it is appropriate to use the word “vagina.”
When in Rome and all.
Do midwives/doulas know that when the word yoni is used with nurses and doctors, that our professional acceptance level drops about 100 points? Using the term when we are with a client in the hospital (when speaking to a nurse or doctor) is the equivalent of saying “boobies” instead of “breasts.” It’s okay in private, even with the laboring mom (whether a nurse is there or not), but when the discussion is with a doctor or nurse, it really is inappropriate to use the term yoni.
My biggest issue with that term - and clitorotomy - is how midwives look to those from whom we are trying to garner respect. How are we supposed to be heard and respected if we can’t even use the proper terminology?
Ms. Frye writes phenomenal books. They really, really deserve to be the standard educational textbooks for midwives. But how, How, HOW will that happen if we keep stumbling over the words “yoni” and “clitorotomy” every few paragraphs? How are we supposed to stand toe to toe with the medical community if we have to use (what sounds like) baby words (or worse, made-up words!) to describe common technical terms? How can any sympathetic OB even defend direct-entry midwifery with (what are supposed to be the best of the best) texts that use these words?! It might seem nit-picky to focus on two little words swimming in an ocean of fantastic information, but those words contain the pull of the moon, causing the tides to change and the sands to shift.
I’ve mentioned my distress about these words to Ms. Frye and her response was something along the lines of, “They’ll get used to it.” Well, in the meantime, I don’t like the word association that comes with the terms. I work so hard to look and act professionally. I would hope that other midwives strive for the same place of honor we deserve in the obstetric world. I want to stand proudly, on a level playing field, with the medical folks I encounter when I have to transfer my clients.
For me, that means reading Holistic Midwifery under the covers with a flashlight and holding Varney’s Midwifery aloft as I step towards a midwife’s rightful place – next to the other healthcare professionals who work so hard in obstetrics.