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Mother’s Day dustup a distraction

How did I miss this one?

My daughter, who did not inherit her mother’s obsessive need to stay plugged in to news and politics, posted something on social media this week that had me feeling out of the Zeitgeist loop.

“I’m a mother not a ‘birthing person,’ ” her message read.


Two years ago, she gave birth to her first child and is expecting a second in October, so she is, indeed, a mother.

But birthing person? She fits that description, too. Why, then, was the term apparently so infuriating to her?

Her friends, equally infuriated, responded.

“That’s insane,” Ana wrote. “They are trying to change everything.”

She did not explain who they are or what they are trying to change.

“That’s insane,” Alyssa wrote. “Only women can give birth regardless anyway therefore it’s MOTHERS day. How dumb!!!”

And there we have it. With Alyssa’s comment and a little research, I learned that the apparent “everything” being changed is renaming Mother’s Day to Birthing Persons Day. The apparent “they” are the “libs.”

It’s been a month since Mother’s Day, so obviously they failed. But I doubt anybody told them they were supposed to be trying.

The term “birthing person” is indeed a real term. It appears once in the 66-page Budget of the U.S. Government for Fiscal Year 2022 under $200 million in funding to reduce maternal mortality rates, especially among minorities.

On May 6, U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, D-Missouri, referred to “birthing people” during a congressional hearing in which she testified about racist health care treatment she said she and others endured during childbirth and pregnancy.

Instead of focusing on the very serious and personal issue Bush was describing, detractors latched onto, and then misconstrued, the term she used in order to be more inclusive of transgender people.

“Trans people give birth,” she later tweeted by way of explanation. “Gender non-conforming people give birth. I identify as a mother, but not every person who gives birth identifies as one. Everything I do is rooted in love, a love that means that everyone’s identity is respected, welcomed and celebrated.”

She later tweeted: “Black birthing people matter. Black women matter. Black trans people matter. Black mothers matter.”

Others, mostly on the liberal side, also use the term.

“When we talk about birthing people, we’re being inclusive,” the abortion rights group NARAL tweeted. “It’s that simple.”

But it isn’t that simple for some. Instead of seeing the term as inclusive, some see it as incendiary, insulting to Mom, apple pie, science and gender-specific pronouns.

Fox News host Laura Ingraham brought on guests who decried the term as “erasing women as a category.” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, took things a wacky step further by tweeting a Happy Mother’s Day greeting last month in which the word “Mother’s” was replaced by “Birthing Person’s.”

And on it went, mostly unnoticed by people who don’t listen much to Fox News folks or don’t feel diminished by inclusivity.

But if it has now reached the everyday, apolitical world where my daughter and her young friends reside, then it’s time to have a chat about what “birthing person” is and isn’t.

First off, the “libs” are not attempting to rename “Mother’s Day.” This falsehood is similar to the “war on Christmas” in which there is no war.

Secondly, there is no evidence of any effort to replace the word “mother” with “birthing people.” This is not erasing women. It is not canceling mothers. It is an addition to the vocabulary, not a subtraction, not in place of.

As my wise friend Dolly said: “Wish they would just concentrate on how to help these youngsters coming across the border.”

Or concentrate on any number of real issues this country is facing.

But that’s part of it, isn’t it? Distract from the hard stuff by focusing on imaginary outrages, such as canceling Dr. Seuss or emasculating Mr. Potato Head. Like grousing over “birthing person” instead of minority maternal and infant mortality rates.

“We have reached the point where most any change in terms or rhetoric is perceived as a threat to the right’s very existence,” my wise friend Scott said.

Efforts by one party to denigrate the other over semantics is a worn-out endeavor, no matter which side does it. Words and phrases in our lexicon come and go, and change over time, and the world keeps turning. Inclusive terms make sense in a changing, more accepting society. They should not be so intimidating.

I suspect what is more intimidating for some are those for whom inclusive terms apply – those who are not like them, who don’t conform to their narrow beliefs or ideals.

Mothers – birthing persons, if you will – are our first teachers, and that teaching continues from birth or adoption day and throughout adulthood, each generation imparting lessons to the next generation and the next.

And it goes both ways, as my daughter reminds me.

So let those lessons, especially during Pride Month, be rooted in love, not disdain, a love that means that everyone’s identity is respected, welcomed and celebrated.

At least let’s try to be more accurate about what we teach.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column.

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