Dolphins and birth plans

January 20, 2012 at 4:39 pm

[Originally posted April 2010]

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. I’ve been skimming through Marsden Wagner’s Creating Your Birth Plan off and on over the past week or so, contemplating lending it to my newly-pregnant sister-in-law. 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.

According to Russian male midwife, Igor Charkovsky, dolphins are also sensitive to and protective of human mothers in labor: “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. 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.

Given how protective I feel of my pregnant and laboring women, 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.

My daughter created this drawing of her own accord a day or two after I told her what I had learned about dolphin birthing…