When I was younger I had a dolphin fetish. For several years, between the ages of 10 to 14, my highest life’s ambition was to become a marine biologist and train the dolphins at Sea World. Then around 14-years-old I realized that my life plan would require me moving to some place without snow or four definite seasons. I decided I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my beloved snow and mountains for dolphins and so gradually my dolphin fetish fizzled out. Life went on and about ten years later I found myself training to be a doula and discovering that I was incredibly passionate about the process of pregnancy, labor, birth and motherhood. I found that there was something about pregnant women and women in labor that affected me deeply. I felt fiercely protective and concerned for them. I still find it hard to pass by a pregnant woman on the street without wondering about how her pregnancy is going, if she is afraid, if she is lonely, if she has the support she needs, and how she views her body and her baby. I want to sit her down and make sure she really understands what an incredible thing is a part of and how amazing and strong her body is. I think it might be fair to say that I now have a “birth fetish.”
A few years ago Lani posted about birth plans and dolphins and I realized that my birth fetish and my adolescent dolphin fetish might somehow be connected. In the book “Creating Your Birth Plan” Marsden Wagner talks about how dolphins give birth:
“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.”
Creating a “circle of love” around a laboring woman is exactly what doulas do. Our job is not to help the woman give birth, she has to do that on her own power. Our job is to encircle her with support, protection, love, and to stand as a buffer between her and the rest of the world at such a vulnerable time in her life. A doulas top priority is to help a woman’s loved ones circle around her and create that “circle of love” for her while she labors and births her baby. A doula helps her create her intimate inner circle, the birth team that will be with her as she births her baby; the supportive middle circle, the family and friends who will love and protect her as she becomes a mother; and the protective outer circle, of community resources and programs that will support and guide her on her journey.
I’ve heard it said that dolphins are one of the most intelligent animals on the planet and I think this is one instance in which we humans could learn a lesson from them. Dolphins realize that labor support is not just a “nice thing to have” but is a crucial part of the labor and delivery process. They know that would be foolish and life threatening for a female dolphin to attempt to give birth without her pod circled around her. The great blood loss would be sure to attack sharks, and without her circle of love she and her baby would be an easy target. Knowing that she is safe in the center of a circle of loving protection allows a female dolphin to be unafraid and focus simply on giving birth in the best possible way.
Just like dolphins women need to feel safe, supported, and capable when they give birth.
Research shows that when a woman’s emotional needs are attended to obstetric outcomes improve. When a woman feels safe in her birthing environment, and is not burdened down by fear or worry, she is able to go deep within herself and discover her inner strength and resources. A woman’s own intuition and strength are the most important and effective tools needed to deliver a healthy baby and as doulas it is our job to make sure she has access to those by helping her create her own “circle of love.”
Looking back I don’t think it is any coincidence that I had a dolphin fetish when I was younger. According to Igor Charkovsky, a Russian male midwife,
“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.”
I think when it comes right down to it; there really isn’t much difference between a dolphin and a doula.
Which might explain why I have a special place in my heart for both 🙂