Updated: May 19, 2021
"I hope this information will inspire birth educators to help pregnant women realize that they have the power to create for themselves a fantastic birthing experience" -Elena Tonetti-Vladimirova
I just returned from the Second International Waterbirth Conference. The first was in London two years ago. This one was in Greensboro, North Carolina, in mid April. In attendance were nearly four hundred women from nine countries and thirty seven states - doctors, midwives, nurses and prenatal educators. The three Godfathers of the movement were there: Michel Odent, MD, who started delivering babies in water 12 years ago in France, Marsden Wagner, MD, from Denmark, officer for Womens' and Childrens' Health for the World Health Organization who has been supporting the whole idea for the last 10 years, and Michael Rosenthal, MD, who has delivered a few less then 3000 babies in his waterbirth center in Upland, California. It was incredible - very moving, inspiring, - "a silk revolution" in obstetrics. The atmosphere in the room was absolutely uplifting.
There was a palpable excitement in the air.
People were glowing with eagerness to share and learn. Bits and pieces of experience from all over the world about this relatively new method were presented. Many stories were told. Much of the discussion was about technical details - when to get the baby to the surface, what to do with placenta, when to cut the cord, etc. The unique video materials ranged from touching to breathtaking. Each presentation and video brought deeper unity and a stronger sense of common goals. I was invited there to be part of the Russian presentation. Since 1982 I was involved in the underwater birth movement in Russia.
Our presentation was about emotional healing and spiritual preparation during pregnancy as key factors of having a good birth. There was a great need to hear this. Midwifes know this intuitively, but emotional and spiritual aspects are not measurable and do not fit nicely into the medical model of the birthing process. Consequently, these factors have rarely been taken into consideration. When we spoke about it, it broke the ice. It went exactly where we aimed it - into their hearts. Our presentation caused a standing ovation. Faces were wet with tears all around us when we finished. Women were so happy to get this subject out in the open. Together, in a large group, they were able to open up to these ideas from outside the mainstream. Everyone carried a healthy, joyful, enthusiastic charge back home. Obstetrics can not stay the same after this. Of course, it will take time, but this event sure gave us a lot of hope. Here is the paper that I prepared for midwives at the conference.
"The question might seem simple. What does it take to give birth to a child with joy and ease? The answer is not so simple, as it turns out. But the search for that answer can bring a pregnant woman a birth experience that will heal her soul, transform her lover into a father and bring their relationship onto new higher level. She can go through birth with full awareness and keep it in her memory as the most precious moment of connection with the father and the child. The main thing to remember about creating a short and smooth delivery is that it reduces chances of birth trauma for the baby dramatically. The lack of birth trauma means that baby will start life right, strong and healthy.
Is it too much to expect? No, it is not. I have seen it happen.
So, I know for sure it is possible. We have left far behind the times when doctors were advertising for cigarettes and saying that formula is much better for infants than breastfeeding. But still the social portrait of childbirthing is somewhat full of panic. Whenever there is a scene in a movie of a woman giving birth it looks horrifying. It makes a young girl wonder why she would want something like that happen to her. Yes, fathers are already in the birthing rooms, but mostly it is devastating experience. When some doctors discuss birthing they automatically assume that it starts with contractions. But it is like wanting a BA degree and assuming that all it takes is to go through the final exams.
The quality of birth depends on the quality of preparation and, of course, on genes. There are people out there who receive their degrees without years of studying. But the rest of us need to study. Giving birth doesn't have to be a fearful and painful disaster which a woman survives somehow with the help of drugs and forgets about as soon as possible.
It is great if a pregnant woman goes to Lamaze classes and watches her diet and does exercises, it helps of course. But it happens all too often that a woman with a perfect diet has devastating morning sickness. Or that a midwife who has all the necessary knowledge has to have a C-section herself because her cervix wouldn't dilate. Or that a woman being physically in great shape still suffers through birth tremendously. What does it depend on?
In search for the key factors a group of people in Russia that I worked with for a few years found some answers. They are: clearing out of the negativity from a pregnant woman's emotions and mentality on a very deep level and bringing to peaceful satisfaction all the relationships in her family - first of all with her parents, grandparents, in-laws and, of course, with the father of the child. In some mysterious ways all these relationships and feelings have a profound effect on the birthing experience. It is all connected.
Another aspect that brings birthing into the state of the art realm is spiritual.
When a woman is able to take her time during pregnancy, meditate and pray every day, she discovers the whole universe of unlimited gentle support. It helps her to stay above the stressful level of everyday activity, keeps her at a high frequency, so to speak.
I'd like to introduce here a few friends of mine who took their task of becoming mothers seriously and did a great job of preparation.
Here is Vickie Davis, 35, who refers to the whole thing as a miracle that happened to her. The birth of Vickie's daughter took 3 hours. She didn't make a sound of unease. Her face stayed calm and beautiful. It doesn't mean that she did not feel pain. She did. Birthing is birthing. But it was the kind of pain that doesn't hurt. During the preparation she developed the right attitude, that state of mind that makes an incredible experience like this possible.
"At 4:30 on a cool April morning in 1994 my daughter shot out from my loins into an inflatable tub of luxuriously warm salt water in our living room. That was the culmination of a wondrous transformation. My pregnancy was a most profound state of being for me. Raising a life inside may well be a time with the greatest potential for holding hands with God, yet it seems that most women view it only as an arduous physical state they must endure. It saddens me that our gender as a whole is wasting this tremendous vortex of energy. To describe the unfolding that took place for me during this awesome experience would take pages. I was fortunate to connect with a beautiful woman, Elena, who gave pregnancy classes that traversed a more spiritual vein. She had a gentle pushing effect on me towards personal empowerment She encouraged us to make the pregnancy and birth experience our own, to go deeper, to feel more.
I greatly feel the benefits of communicating with my unborn child. My God! This is a source of creation in a uterine shell! Draw from the wisdom, power and truth of this! That is what it is there for. I felt much clearer and cleaner during this pregnancy than I ever thought possible. Challenge upon challenge was faced and conquered with a ease beyond my former self perception. I learned that pregnancy is the most privileged time to advance along the spiritual path."
There is something about pregnant woman, that doesn't have a name yet in medical science, as far as I know. That incredible mobility and flexibility of all systems in the body and in the mind! Think about it! Every minute everything is changing adjusting to the new life inside. All the hormones, all the tissues, the whole chemistry. Pregnant woman by definition is a co-creator. Creating life should be fun. What an opportunity to place your orders! ---"While you are at it, could you please clean my liver?" or "I've got some extra fat , let's turn it into energy!" And -"Poof!" ---"Your order, maam! Anything else? " So don't miss your chance and take charge.
Here is Jerri Woo, who was trying to get pregnant for many years. And finally as a result of her intention and efforts she has a beautiful healthy boy. She has referred to the work of healing that she accomplished during pregnancy as to the best thing that had ever happened to her.
"I had a stillbirth daughter prior to conceiving my son. I knew I didn't want to be scared and nervous after it. So I chose to prepare myself physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. In the very beginning I was fortunate to meet a man named Igor Charkovsky. He not only led me down a path of peace of mind, he helped me realize how much control we have of our own thoughts, emotions and self-worth. While trying to conceive, I sought out a counselor to help me deal with my disturbing upbringing and abuse. I did not want to bring it into my child's life, so my goal was to gain that new freedom from my childhood pain and confusion before the baby's arrival.
The most inspirational events during my pregnancy were with a group of pregnant women. We met once a week to discuss our thoughts, joys and fears of our upcoming deliveries. Our facilitator, Elena, structured our meetings. With her soothing, gentle voice, she'd lead us through imagery work, breathing, dance. She helped us to look deep within ourselves to discover our needs and our strength. I've learned so much from her and our group. I never felt so powerful as I did when I was carrying my son. Knowing that I am able to choose the way my son will enter the world was so enlightening to me!
So I gained such a positive attitude, I felt blessed throughout my pregnancy. I remember Elena asked me one day how long I wanted my labor to be. I said, "6 hours." She said, "Why not 2 hours?" My labor was three hours. I'll never forget how I felt and how much I loved that baby working his way into this world. I'm going to turn 40 in March and we are thinking of conceiving another child. I can't wait to feel another life inside me , squirming and kicking and giving me such love and power as a woman. My son is such a happy boy and when he smiles at me my heart sings."
It is amazing how much a pregnant woman can accomplish in nine months!
If the basic care of good diet and exercises is accompanied by such essential techniques as meditation, visualization, rebirthing, communicating with the unborn child and counseling. Pregnancy makes visualization especially powerful. I have watched pregnant women being able to heal some serious physical conditions through visualization. Pregnancy opens up even naturally skeptic women. And from the first thought, "It doesn't hurt to try," they make a smooth transition to enjoying the results and keep practicing it. Working out the conflict from pregnant woman's system can change the flow of birthing process dramatically. Even if a woman and her partner didn't have enough consistency or time during pregnancy to clarify the psychic atmosphere in their family, the birth itself is a great opportunity for it.
A woman is able to dissolve many of her limitations and blocks, which otherwise could take her the rest of her life to resolve. If she consciously uses the tremendous energy of birthing available to her, she can accelerate this usually lengthy process . If for some reason the contractions start going weaker and slow down, the first thing for her to do is to relax, get really quiet and not get scared. Ask herself a question - what is the reason that it is not going smoothly? Then get as quiet as she can and let the answer come into her consciousness . It will surface. It could be some situation from her past when she was hurt or hurt somebody, or her previous abortion, or a lie, or old unhealthy relationships that keep taking her energy away. Whatever will come up is the subject of her undivided attention for the next few minutes. She needs to recall this situation in detail, very emotionally and then forgive.
Forgiveness is the key here.
Forgive herself and whomever is involved and ask them to forgive. The divine energy of birthing will give her at that moment enough power to let go of dead connections and all that grief that became a habit to carry around. She will experience liberation and the birth will proceed smoothly again. The energy of baby's emerging is available to a woman only a few times or even once in a lifetime. It makes sense to fully embrace it, to use it to accelerate spiritual and emotional growth.
Here is April Perdue,19. By the time of birth she felt completely ready. But her labor had one more lesson in store for her: one of the most important, on patience.
"I was very happy to be pregnant. At the same time I was aware of the abuse and dysfunction that took place in my home, when I was growing up. I didn't want to pass on to my child that pain and anger that I grew up with. During the fourth month of my pregnancy I joined the group of pregnant women, who had the same goal of preparing themselves. We met weekly. The healing work that I did there was immense. It did far pass any of the healing I had done before. Elena, our facilitator, explained that it was because I was pregnant, and my ability to change was greater.
Going below the surface and acknowledging what was there, even though it wasn't pretty , allowed me to move on to the next step of my evolution. I had really wanted to have a water birth. I had a birthing tub waiting for me in the center of our living room. I was ready , very happy and free from fear.
I got in the water and it brought my contractions very close together. It was very strong pain. Different from anything I had ever felt before. I was not welcoming it. I spent the next twenty-one hours out of the water laying on my side breathing through my contractions. I was only three centimeters dilated. My midwife said that I should go to the hospital.
I realized that I didn't want to go to the hospital, that I need to make myself accept the big pain. I had to ask for pain because that is what brings the baby out. With every next contraction I was singing that it was good. I welcomed my sensations. Four hours later I got in the water again. Both my midwives were great. I am very grateful to everyone present there. In water I ooooed steadily through my contractions. I was very happy.
The morning sun was shining through our windows. Chris, my partner, was in the tub with me helping me along. It was magical. I wanted to give birth. I was probably about one hour away from being completely opened up. At this point I became impatient. I wanted to start pushing. It makes me sad to think of this. Because I didn't look within me and let the natural process unfold. I asked if it was O.K. to start pushing. My midwife said O.K. That's where things went wrong. Up until this point my son's heart beats were very strong. We were both doing very good. But when I pushed, my cervix swelled up. Baby's heart beats dropped to a scary low, they put me on oxygen. I stopped pushing. It took a few minutes but my son's heart tones came back up. It took until 11:00 p.m. that night for my cervical lip to become unswelled and go back over his head. Then my body started pushing and there was nothing to stop it. That was the best part. I was breathing straight oxygen during the hour of pushing and then he was born. He was born with his eyes open. He was beautiful. I just wanted to hold him. I said, "Ian, I love you. I love you so much. I am sorry for all of the complications. Chris and I both were touching and caressing him.
My labor taught me a lot. For example, the importance of patience and looking within myself for the answers. I learned to trust my body and it's knowledge of the natural process."
April's experience was very rich. Even though not everything went exactly the way she wanted, she grew tremendously through it. A friend of mine in Russia, Marina, shared with me once that after she went through the full tilt of preparation and delivery, where she felt being threshed and sifted like the grain in the mill, she gained a new sensation. She felt like a saint or an angel.
Here is another testimony by Cristi Flowers.
"I had such a powerful and profound experience from actively participating in childbirth preparation! My classes with Elena Tonetti involved preparing physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually for giving birth. Mental and emotional preparation encompasses a wide variety of techniques. In my experience, visualization was the most powerful tool to use to help me focus on the kind of birth I wanted to have, and to take my mind off of focusing on undesirable outcome. Working with the mind to overcome the fears that childbirth is surrounded by is a critical element to having a positive birthing experience. I worked a lot in this realm because I had previously had a very difficult birth with my first child. I endured so much physical trauma that I had crutches for a year and literally limped for two years after giving birth. I swore that I would rather have a C-section then to go through this again. So I had a lot of fears and mental obstacles to overcome in order even consider relaxing during labor. What it really comes down to is keeping your mind open to all possibilities and not being rigid in your mind set. I became open to the idea of having fast, easy delivery. And I became open to the idea of having a C-section if necessary so that my body would not suffer so extremely as it had. I encompassed all possibilities in my mind, but was focused on what I most desired which was a smooth, short delivery. The mind and the body must merge and join forces, truly working together towards the common goal. So often the mind and the body are at odds with each other creating internal conflict and physical discomfort.
Emotional preparation entails learning to let go and let your emotions flow when they are there. So often we fight them back and restrict our true expression of how we feel. We are afraid to be consumed by our emotions so we stifle them. However, if we let ourselves flow with our emotions , they become less threatening and very cleansing, giving us release and then a more calm and peaceful sense of being. They pass so quickly when we let them move freely. It is when we fight them, their energy grows out of proportion. Working with the emotions before birth allows much greater sense of peace and control during birth.
The final outcome of all my preparation work was an amazing birth. I began mild cramping at 9 PM on April 21, 1993. At 11PM my water broke and the baby's head was literally pushing itself out without any help from me. I didn't need to push because it was already happening without me. Prior to the water breaking, my contractions were steady and very tolerable, nothing dramatic or traumatic. It took us about 20 minutes to get to the hospital due to my resistance of not wanting to move. The doctor there told me to push and on 3 my baby was born. It was total of 2 hours and 43 minutes of labor, compared to the first time of 24 hours.
I am convinced that the childbirth preparation during pregnancy was the key to such a radical difference in my birthing experience. Especially the spiritual aspect of it. For me it was complete surrendering to the infinite wisdom of creation that was taking place inside of me, very naturally. It was tuning into and remembering that God is in charge of the creation of this baby and my body is an instrument of participation. And my part in it w