A Labor by Any Other Name… Labor Day 2010

Every year, somewhere between the 1st and 7th of September we celebrate Labor Day.  For many, Labor Day is simply a day off from work or school; a day for barbecue, swimming pools, and back yard parties. For some it seems Labor Day marks the beginning of the football season ~ who knew? For others, those of us who earn “holiday pay” it’s a great day to earn extra money.  And for even more, Labor Day is about the American worker, unions, fighting for the “little man” and attempting to make things right in the work place.

While all of this is well and good, if you are pregnant, know a pregnant woman, or work with pregnant women, Labor Day takes on an entirely new and different meaning. For all of you/us, Labor Day is the day, and it can be ANY day of the year, that a woman actually “goes into Labor.”

I was interested in learning when… how… why… did we start using the term “Labor” to refer to the act of giving birth.  If you ask most people why we call the experience of childbirth “Labor” they will say something like… “We call it Labor because it’s hard work.”  Yeah, yea, yea… blah, blah, blah… yadda, yadda, yadda. That’s the routine answer. Well I decided I wanted something more in depth.

On the surface it makes sense… giving birth can be laborious. Synonyms including:  arduous, backbreaking, difficult, painstaking, lengthy, protracted (ahhh…. that’s where that “protracted labor” term comes from.)  Yes childbirth can be all of those things and more.  While it makes sense, it still does not answer the question:  When and why did we start using the term “Labor” something defined as difficult and hard, to describe the act of giving birth, which is truly the blessing of bringing forth life.

As I did some research, albeit minimal, I found little information and my questions basically remain unanswered.  The reference to Labor as in the sense of the “physical exertions of childbirth” seems to have come to us from 1595, derived from the French usage of the word “travail” which meant “suffering or painful effort, trouble”

Is the answer really that simple?  The reason they started calling it labor is because women suffer with painful work as they gave birth? With such negative connotations, it makes one wonder why any woman would endure it.  It makes sense, with that type of definition, that women would fear labor and be concerned about the “impending doom” that awaits them as they bring forth life.

While many women have and do experience pain and all work extremely hard while giving birth, this definition only tells one half of the story.  And so I am forced to wonder, is there a word that would encompass the WORK of giving birth but also include the REWARD, the JOY and the BLESSING, experienced with the outcome, the final result of the hard work? It is unfortunate that we don’t have a word with a meaning and a definition that is more inclusive of the job AND the purpose of the hard work.

Every year new words are added to the English language and to our dictionaries. Wouldn’t it be great if we came up with a new word for childbirth? A new word whose definition includes the fact that birth, while it may include unpredictable hard work, comes with a remarkable reward?

Perhaps labor simply IS the best word. It lets women know that there is a job to be done and it won’t be easy.  Perhaps labor conjures up the perfect image. On this Labor Day let’s ponder this. What do you think?  What words do you use for labor other than “Labor?”?

Does a rose (or labor) by any other name really smell as sweet??

In Birth and Love


4 responses to “A Labor by Any Other Name… Labor Day 2010

  1. May I suggest this woman’s coining of ‘vita mutari’? It’s a good one!


  2. Glad to see you are back up and running! I actually labored and gave birth on “Labor Day” 2 years ago. The multitude of jokes aside, I felt it was quite fitting and now 2 years later, find myself smiling every time Labor Day rolls around. It is a friendly reminder of the day I discovered I CAN do anything, even in the extremes of pain and joy. My son’s birthday is all for him, but for me, privately, quietly, Labor Day will always be mine.

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