Last night my wonderful new midwife friend, Andrea, invited me to watch "Birth as We Know It."
The film shows 11 women giving birth naturally and peacefully in water -- in hot tubs, bathtubs, special tanks and in the Black Sea, where Elena Tonetti-Vladimirova operated a birth camp in the 1980s.
The babies float out and remain suspended in the water as they make their first movements. It's eerie to watch the babies look up through the water, seeing the world for the first time. In a minute, they're placed onto the mother's stomach and cradled in her arms. The babies are left attached to the placenta until it's no longer pulsating and the baby is breathing and feeding on its own.
Some of the women give birth with just one other person; others with two or three. One woman invites her two other children, maybe four and six years old, into the tank with her, to kiss her and the newborn.
Vladimirova believes that the birth experience becomes the template for our whole lives. In the film, she says of a baby from the birth camp, "The sense of belonging, of being welcomed into the community with so much love and appreciation is the imprint that will stay with her the rest of her life. Everything she feels, smells and sees will imprint as a profound celebration of life."
This is not just woo-woo. The infant brain is not fully developed at birth; it's shaped to a great extent by experiences in the first few months of life. For example, the oxytocin response -- when the hypothalamus releases pulses of calming oxytocin during times of physical and emotional infancy -- develops according to its interaction with its mother.
The physical and emotional warm bath these babies enjoy, is the first lesson about the world and the Other.
Since 1982, Vladimirova has taught women how to prepare their bodies and minds for natural childbirth. Like Ina May Gaskin, she believes that emotional or sexual trauma, as well as unresolved fears and conflicts with others, can stall labor or create complications.
The whole thing started from the idea of giving birth in the water, and developed later into a full, beautiful and intensive program of preparation during pregnancy, which starts even before the conception. It contains a variety of purification techniques and meditations for both partners. In nine months they gain enough self-confidence to deliver their baby at home by themselves, or maybe inviting a friend to help with the baby afterwards. This would be a decision of very mature souls, who are able to take full responsibility.
See also this post by Amos Clifford describing a rebirthing session led by Vladimirova.