I know, dolphins are a friend to mankind. But I’m a little achy today because I did not get my fabulous prenatal pilates Wednesday workout in yesterday. And it’s not because I was lying on the couch eating frozen custard (two of my favorite pregnancy pastimes). It’s because my great Pilates instructor, Kim, took off for Hawaii to give birth with the dolphins.
That’s right, with the dolphins. A personal trainer who, together with her partner, runs a company called Fit for Birth, Kim has already had one baby (in a tub, in a birthing center), and is obsessed, both professionally and personally, with various methods of giving birth. I discovered this during one of our classes, when I told her about the cultural differences I’d noticed in terms of notifying loved ones about your pregnancy, based my brief experience discussing the issue with my doctors, my American friends, my Greek relatives and my Nicaraguan in-laws. (If you missed that blog, click here).
I continue to feel that the American attitude towards pregnancy and birth is largely fear and martyrdom based (thanks, Calvinists!) as I stumble upon more and more people who want to tell me how painful their own birthing process was, how wronged they felt by their doctors, and how they haven’t had a good night’s sleep since (oddly enough these are often the same people who were encouraging me to get pregnant in the first place! Why didn’t they warn me then?).
That attitude is so different from the stock Greek phrases one uses when one sees a pregnant woman: “Kali eleutheria” or “Good freedom!” and “Me ena pono!” or “May the baby be born with one contraction!” Now, my people are not ones to downplay pain or suffering (in my village at the festival, they open the dance floor with mourning dirges–no lie!) so I find it fascinating that unlike the American “it’s such a nightmare! Prepare to give up your life!” the Greek convention is to wish the mom a speedy, relatively pain-free labor (thus acknowledging that such a thing is even a possibility) so she can enjoy her newfound freedom. (Freedom to do what? Eat sushi, drink red wine, walk past the mirrored closet door without busting out laughing at your own reflection? It all sounds good to me!) And my Spanish tutor, when I asked him for the verb “to give birth” told me his favorite version was the phrase “dar a luz” or “bring to light.”
Anyway, Kim’s research into different cultural attitudes towards birth led her to discover birthing with dolphins, which I had never heard of myself. It’s an outgrowth of the idea that water-birthing is beneficial, and swimming with dolphins is considered therapeutic, so birthing with dolphins is like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup–two great tastes that taste great together. Apparently, scientists in Peru believe that dolphin squeaks may stimulate unborn babies’ brains, other scientists think that dolphins can “see” unborn babies through ultrasound detection, and commercial “swimming with dolphins” programs discourage pregnant woman from participating, because they hog all the dolphins’ attention from the other customers.
The birthing with dolphins movement may have started with a mad Russian (I don’t know if he’s mad, I just like that phrase), who started overseeing births in the Black Sea, and whose colleagues report that the infants born there surrounded by dolphins walk, talk, and develop earlier than others, and, p.s. they’re ambidextrous (which would be SO handy, no pun intended!). He’s since started an institute focusing on underwater births in Hawaii.
After googling a little myself, I learned that Dr. Gowri Motha, who introduced birthing tubs to Britain’s National Health System and has since advised Elle Macpherson, Kate Moss, Stella McCartney, and Gwyneth Paltrow on pregnancy and birth, took six pregnant women to Eilat, Israel to birth with the dolphins, but Israeli health authorities put the kibosh on that plan, deeming it unsanitary. Still, one lawbreaking mama strolled out to the glass-bottomed pool in the dolphin sanctuary in the middle of the night and gave birth as six dolphins swam around watching. According to Motha’s website, “The baby was born within three hours, her husband Jonathan cut the umbilical cord and half an hour after giving birth, they walked back up the beach to the hotel with their healthy newborn son, Samuel. Dr Motha says: ‘That was the calmest newborn baby I have ever seen. Women feel safe when they’re in the water with dolphins. Swimming with them enables a prospective mother to be in touch with joy, which is the essence to birth.'”
After googling a fair amount, Kim found a bay in Hawai where dolphins often swim, and moved there two months pre-birth. She and her son are now swimming with the dolphins by day, and when her delivery date comes at the end of July, she’ll see what happens. If it’s dark, she may not go down to the ocean. Or she may go into the water and the dolphins may be occupied elsewhere (these are free-swimming dolphins, uncaged and under no obligation to act as unpaid midwives for the birth). A few pregnant women have come to the same bay for the same reason, so there may be a whole gaggle of dolphin babies born soon, and Kim is working on a documentary recording the event. I’ve told a bunch of people about Kim’s plan, and while some think it’s cool, others greet the new idea with skepticism and fears ranging from the dolphins endangering the baby (“what if they think it’s a beach ball and start tossing it back and forth!”) to the baby annoying the dolphins by invading their home bay.
Personally, while I have booked no tickets to Hawaii myself, I can’t wait to see what happens. (And I’ve signed up to the newsletter link on Kim’s site so I can stay abreast of it.) Mainly I love it that whatever does happen, she’s chosen to look at giving birth as an adventure, and is turning it into a several month celebration in a beautiful place. It will definitely be something she, her husband, and their older son will never forget. And even though my birth will involve a hospital, a doctor, relatives who have been relegated to the waiting room, and an Ipod playing the world’s greatest birth mix, I’m trying to look at mine the same way. Let the games begin.