As a pregnant woman living in a first world country, I’ve had many visits to the doctor thus far. Every four weeks, to be exact. I’ve been poked and prodded much like I would be in the U.S. except not only are all these prods, tests, and ultrasounds covered by public health insurance (to which I happily contribute from my paycheck), but much like most interactions in Germany, the pregnancy terms have mostly been auf Deutsch, or in German.
This has given me the opportunity to learn some new German vocabulary regarding my body and growing baby. It has shed a slightly-humorous-albeit-sometimes-upsetting light on this confusing language as some of these terms are just so outrageously sexist, unapologetically literal, or just plain weird that I had to share them.
There are probably legit etymological reasons these words are what they are but I’m not an etymologist and have better things to do with my time than research their historical origins, like eat ice cream and pet my luxurious preggo-lady hair.
So, without further ado, I give you female anatomy and pregnancy terms auf Deutsch:
Mutterkuchen or placenta – literally translated this means ‘mother cake’. How cool is that!? Women who have children grow a cake inside of them! Delish.
Fruchtwasser or amniotic fluid – literally ‘fruit water’. I doubt it tastes fruity but I don’t know for sure and I don’t plan on finding out so I guess we will never know.
Fruchtblase or amniotic sac – literally ‘fruit bubble’ or ‘fruit bladder’. Again, sounds tasty.
Fruchtbarkeit or fertility – literally ‘fruit-ability’. Are you seeing a theme here?
Kaiserschnitt or caesarean section – literally ‘emperor’s cut’. This one is basically the same in English because after Julius Caesar ruled Rome, the word ‘caesar’ was used to mean emperor, and from there other languages adopted their corresponding terms, like ‘kaiser’ in Germanic languages or ‘tsar’ in the Eastern Slavic languages. There is a myth that Caesar was born by c-section and therefore that is how this term came to be but historians argue that is not true as Caesar’s mother lived through his birth and at the time c-sections were only performed on pregnant women that had just recently passed away. My thinking was that maybe at some point in history only wealthy people or royalty had c-sections, thus it became known as the emperor’s cut. However, as my patience for Googling this was limited to about thirty seconds, I couldn’t find any support for this theory leading me to believe it’s most likely not the case.
Gebäremutter or uterus – literally ‘birthing mother’. Not so inaccurate here as the uterus is an organ that only women have, it’s necessary for birth, and giving birth makes you a mother. I’m guessing the origins of this one lie somewhere with the English term ”to bear children” as gebären means ‘to give birth to or to bear’, as in carry or support. In other news, below is my interpretation of my Mom’s uterus that I drew for her post-op “Get Well Soon” card before she had a hysterectomy. As it was the home for my two sisters and I each for nine months and we turned out pretty cool, I would like to think it was probably a pretty cool place to hang out. RIP.
Weibliche Scham or vulva – literally ‘female shame’. THIS LITERALLY MEANS FEMALE SHAME?! Wtf. So it turns out that this scham or shame theme is a common prefix used in regards to female genitalia, not only in German but also in Danish (and probably other Germanic languages that I thankfully have yet to be exposed to). Clearly, as a woman living in 2019, it should come as no surprise that I find this to be extremely upsetting and offensive. Obviously, women do not need to be ashamed of their genitals. Why I have to type this so clearly word for word on a blog no one reads is an indicator of how little progress we as humans have made toward treating women as equals. To be clear, I’m not ashamed of my body and there is nothing about my genitals that makes me feel shameful. Because of women’s position in the patriarchy, I understand how these terms came about. I would venture to guess some old guy, let’s call him Chad, a long time ago got rejected by a woman and it made him mad and when it was his turn to name something that does not belong to him for forever like all the other guys, Chad decided that a woman’s vulva was something this woman should regret having, feel bad about, and repent for and thus came ‘female shame’.
The existence of words like this in a historical context is not surprising as many terms from a long time ago are now, in today’s world, problematic to say the least. In other words, old stuff can sometimes be fucked up. But often we evolve, gain awareness, see the harm these terms or ideas can cause, and make changes (or not). But the fact that Weibliche Scham is in my German/English dictionary is pretty fucked up. German trains and buses are spotless and punctual but the German terms for female genitals are disgracefully archaic. How very disappointing. Get it together guys!
Schamlippe or labia – literally ‘shame lips’. Like I said above, I disagree with this term as mine are proud lips, or Stolzlippe for the German speakers out there. Take that Chad!
Schamhaar or pubic hair – literally ‘shame hair’. Are you getting tired of this yet?
Schambein or pubic bone – literally ‘shame bone’. How is a bone shameful, Chad? Still rolling my eyes.
Muttermilch or breast milk – literally ‘mother milk’. Thankfully, Chad didn’t get his hands on this one. ‘Mother milk’ makes sense and is pretty straightforward, just like those trains and buses.
Wellen or labor contractions – literally ‘waves’. So the real word in German for uterine contractions is Wehen which actually has nothing to do with the German word for waves which is Wellen BUT in a classic I’m-clearly-not-from-this-country moment, this discrepancy was only recently pointed out to me by a real German person, exposing that I’ve been confusing the two words throughout my pregnancy. But even though I’ve been using them interchangeably, no one corrected me until now which tells me even though I’ve been using the wrong word, I’ve still somehow been understood. In my experience, a German would not let the opportunity to tell someone how to do something correctly pass, so this tells me saying Wellen instead of Wehen is not a punishable offense. Or, maybe the doctors and midwives just thought I was a weirdo from California that relates everything to surfing because cowabunga dude.
Scheide or vagina – from the verb schieden which means ‘to part’ or ‘separate’ or ‘split’. This one is too literal/anatomical to be funny. Structurally speaking, this makes sense and is boring. However, another definition of the word Scheide is ‘scabbard’ which according to Merriam-Webster’s is “a sheath for the blade of a sword or dagger” which would imply that the namer of this organ thought of his penis as a sword or dagger and that etymological story is far more interesting. Perhaps even a fair match for the Muttermund.
Eierstock or ovary – literally ‘egg stock’. Ovaries are where female egg cells are stored so the Germans really nailed it with this one.
Eileiter or fallopian tube – literally ‘egg ladder’. This one makes me think of the salmon ladder at the Ballard Locks in Seattle because, like our ‘egg ladders’, these “ladders” are not in fact ladders at all but rather pathways to a destination, one destination being the uterus and the other being the fresh water of Salmon Bay, Washington. And unfortunately, that’s where their similarities end.
So there you have it, a quick run down of pregnancy terms auf Deutsch. This concludes your German lesson for the afternoon. I hope these words made you feel as hopeless and confused as they did when I learned them and that you think twice before you put anything valuable near any woman’s Muttermund.