Friday, April 2, 2010

Dolphins and Birth Plans

While I was in California a few weeks ago, we hit the beach. Almost as soon as we got there, we saw something swimming several yards out in the water. At first I didn't know what it was and sort of screamed (thinking shark), "There's an animal!" Once it became clear it was a pod of dolphins, I had to smile to myself, reminiscing.

I used to be mildly (or... very) obsessed with dolphins as an adolescent. I had dolphin figurines, dolphin stuffed animals, dolphin posters, dolphin videos, dolphin stationary, dolphin everything. I did book reports about them, dreamed of swimming with them, toyed with becoming a marine biologist because of them, etc.

I was reminded of that adolescent dolphin fascination again this morning.

Years ago, my sister saw Marsden Wagner's Creating Your Birth Plan at for cheap and, knowing my passion for all things birth-related, she told me about it. I had never heard of the book itself, but I knew simply because it had Marsden Wagner's name on it that it was a book worth having. So I ordered it, and it has basically been collecting dust on my bookshelf ever since.

About 2 weeks ago we got word that my sister-in-law is pregnant after years of infertility. I'm ecstatic for them. And, naturally, I'm feeling protective of her and wanting to do all I can to ensure that she has the best birth experience possible. So I was perusing the birth books on my shelves about a week ago, contemplating which one(s) I should lend to her first, and I pulled out Creating Your Birth Plan, thinking it might be a good one to start with (especially since it has an M.D. in the by-line). As I flipped through the book, however, I realized that I'd probably better read it before I lend it out to anyone, just so I know what I'm sharing with people.

(I lent her Penny Simkin's Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn and The Birth Partner instead. Her husband's currently in physical therapy school, so it seemed fitting to start them off with the words of a fellow PT.)

So I've been skimming through Creating Your Birth Plan off and on over the past week or so. This morning I lingered on p. 176 where Dr. Wagner shares some fascinating details about dolphin birthing. Here's an excerpt:
At its physical and emotional best, support for women in labor has always reminded me of dolphin birth. When a dolphin gives birth to a calf, several female dolphins swim in a circle close to the laboring mother. Slightly farther away, another larger group of all the remaining females in the pod circle around the laboring dolphin. Then, even farther away, all the male dolphins in the pod circle around her. The entire collective comes together to protect the laboring dolphin and her emerging calf from intrusion and harm. A woman giving birth to a baby thrives when she's at the center of a circle of love.
This prompted me to do a google search and discovered that there are actually places where women give birth in the water "assisted" by dolphins.

A Russian male midwife, Igor Charkovsky, says this about the practice: "Dolphins have an affinity with the baby in the womb and are automatically attracted to pregnant women. They sense when a woman is about to give birth and gather round. They give both the mother and child a sense of protection and safety" (source).

I've been mulling over the topic of birth partners in preparation for writing something for the book, so this dolphin stuff feels relevant. And it has reminded me, yet again, how crucial it is for women to have supportive people around them as they give birth. The people we invite or allow to be with us can make or break our birth experiences. I recently encountered a 2005 study indicating that there is a strong correlation between patient satisfaction with care provider and lower cesarean rates. And Penny Simkin's research has demonstrated that the women with the highest long-term levels of satisfaction with their birth experiences were the women who had positive memories of the way they were treated by their care providers. Which brings me back to birth plans.

I think writing a birth plan is a helpful exercise. But I think most women do it too late in the game. A birth plan will do little to help you if the care provider and place of birth you have chosen have a practice style totally incompatible with it. In my opinion, the time to write your birth plan is before you ever choose a doctor or midwife (which is why I toyed with giving my sister-in-law Marsden Wagner's book now). I can't stress enough how important it is to choose the right provider--someone who will support and respect your birth preferences and shares your personal philosophy of birthing. You'll know you've found the right provider when you know you don't need to give them a copy of your birth plan when they arrive to catch your baby. Birth plans, at their best, aren't for labor day, they're for doctor/midwife interviews. Unfortunately, most women don't approach the doctor/midwife selection process this way. Hence, there are far too many battles in the labor room where peace and joy should prevail and far too many cruel jokes among doctors and nurses about "those women" with birth plans. Alas.

Given how protective I feel of my pregnant and laboring loved ones, I suppose it's no surprise I grew up with such an affinity for dolphins. I wish I could circle protectively around them throughout their pregnancies and births as the dolphins do. Maybe if I ever start an official doula business, I'll have a dolphin logo? That would be cool.


AzĂșcar said...

I highly, highly recommend watching The Cove; it just won the Best Documentary Oscar. You should watch it ASAP.

Heatherlady said...

That is really beautiful about dolphins! But okay kind of strange because I had a HUGE dolphin fetish when I was younger too. I wanted to be a dolphin trainer at sea world until I realized it would mean I'd have to live somewhere with no snow. I really wonder if just like dolphins are attracted to pregnant women birth activists may be attracted to dolphins :)

Anonymous said...

I actually came about this blog because I googled I had dreamt of giving water birth of a dolphin instead of a human baby. When I read this article I was like"wow! What the heck! Dolphins assisting on water birth? Its wierd, unheard of, and yet so interesting!“ I'm actually 36 weeks pregnant, I might consider water birth myself, but not with dolphins, I live in texas and no way o could probably afford a dolphin birth plan.