A grieving mother fought back tears in an impassioned plea to NHS doctors to scrap “dehumanizing” gender-neutral language.
Addressing a group of Lords on the Premature Birth Committee, Ciara Curran grabbed a soft toy in memory of her unborn daughter, Sinead, who died in the womb after just 24 weeks.
With a lump in her throat, she recalled how doctors “just saw me as a body in bed” during the emergency that led to Sinead’s death, adding: “They didn’t see me as a woman who needed health care.”
Ms Curran, from Chinley, Derbyshire, said seeing the words mother and wife erased from healthcare communications reminded her of that traumatic experience.
She said the removal of those terms, part of a wider movement within the NHS, was incredibly painful for other mothers who also lost their babies.
Woman, breastfeeding, and vagina used to be standard terms used within the medical community. But they are just a selection of words that have been replaced by some NHS trusts, private hospitals and charities as part of a push for inclusion.
Demanding sex-based language is preserved. Ms Curran said: “It is extremely important that women who have experienced pregnancy or infant loss are recognized as mothers and not just generic mothers.
“Denying us this mother status in language is incredibly painful.”
Ms Curran is the founder of Little Heartbeats, a charity supporting women who have suffered premature rupture of membranes (PROM).
This occurs when an expectant mother’s water breaks earlier than normal, increasing the risk of the baby being born prematurely and increasing the risk of both baby and mother developing a dangerous infection.
Curran said many women who experienced PROM, or premature PROM with sister condition (where rupture occurs before 37 weeks), often felt “dehumanized” by their experience.
She went on to say that this trauma was often rekindled when women saw their terms replaced by gender-neutral alternatives.
“We are seeing the NHS using language that refers to women and that is dehumanizing,” she said.
‘We are not baby carriers, we are not bodies with a cervix, but when this language is used it can be retraumatizing.
“When I see the words mother and woman being erased, it reminds me of how they only saw me as a body in bed, not as a woman who needed medical attention.”
Ms Curran added that it appears the NHS has not carried out any research into the impact of these language changes on women.
“No one seems to have taken into account the impact of the loss of these terms on women who have lost babies,” she said.
“We can erase our language without any medically supported research and without understanding the impact it is having.”
She told Lords of the group, which includes Baroness Cumberlege and Lord Winston, how she lost her baby Sinead after suffering PROM at 24 weeks in 2010.
Ms Curran described how NHS doctors repeatedly turned her away despite her concerns about her water breaking so early.
Sinead, who would have been Curran’s first child, died a week after the first symptoms appeared.
Ms Curran sued the NHS over the care she received and settled out of court.
Her experience motivated her to create Little Heartbeats, which sends care packages to women suffering from PROM, including a teddy bear “comfort pet,” and funds medical research into the condition.
The NHS has been embroiled in controversy over replacing sex-based terms with new gender-neutral alternatives.
“Breastfeeding” replacing breastfeeding, “biological parent” instead of mother or father, and “extra hole” instead of vagina are just some of the terms that have infiltrated official documentation.
Proponents of wake-up phrases say they are more inclusive of trans patients, who might be motivated by terms like “breast” or “vagina.”
But experts have raised the alarm over the move, warning that it risks overcomplicating vital health messages for the public.