Birthing in water has a long tradition.
South Pacific Islanders, legend has it, gave birth in shallow seawater. (It was Hi’laka who gave birth to the ceremonial and sacred Hula dance and who carried to Hawaii from Tahiti an embryo egg in her arms as a child.) Even Egyptian royalty was born in water. In certain areas of the world today, women still give birth in special aquatic places like rivers. This is true in South America, the Caribbean, and Antilles for example. A practice at the time of labor in some Middle Eastern cultures was for the tribal women to undulate in a circle before the laboring mother-to-be to remind her to sense her contractions like the waves of the sea as a way to surrender to the contractions, allowing their energy to flow through her body. Ceremonies after birth help the woman both physically and emotionally to reintegrate her back into society and to integrate the newborn into the tribal community. These activities were designed to help her from falling into postpartum blues, depression, or psychosis. In some cultures, pomegranates, rich in antioxidants, are eaten as a ritual to symbolize fertility, prosperity, abundance, knowledge, and wisdom—attributes bestowed upon women to pass on to posterity.
According to folklore, one can construe that belly dancing is synonymous with the celebration of having a healthy birthing experience for the mother and child. Through observation and experience, women came up with a sacred, birthing wisdom (prenatal and postnatal) that was passed on from generation to generation. In the novel, Ayana’s mother, Dara, brought her tradition with her from Algeria to the New World.
Habika became annoyed and told Dara, “Shoo . . . shoo! I control.”
The story of DAUGHTERS OF THE DANCE (pp. 167-169) lends itself to having a main character, Ayana, give birth to her daughter in a shallow cove. The midwife, Habika, lovingly talks her through the natural process Ayana is to undergo. There was no traditional ritual and ceremony to be had; however, Habika took it upon herself to tell Ayana to dedicate her newborn to the transplanted male and female spirit deities of the Yoruba tribe of Africa. The whole birthing event is to be a part of nature, sanctified by the visiting cloud over the crater of dormant Mount Quill of St. Eustatius. Ayana, is the cloud, adding to the experience of connectivity to life.
Usually, the first experience of a woman’s labor can be terribly arduous and long. Being placed in lukewarm water, however, seems to gently speed up delivery and to reduce discomfort, which helps to deliver a happy baby, without all the trauma that modern birthing techniques can offer. Less likely to cry than babies born into the air, water-birthed babies are found to be calmer, eager to have eye contact with mother, and to breastfeed easily, according to doctors, doulas, and midwives. Going from womb (uterus) into the hands of a midwife and then into mother’s arms provide a peaceful journey. A newborn goes from a water environment (the amniotic fluid sac), through a moist birth canal of her vagina, into another water source, H2O, as it is then freed from his/her mother’s umbilical cord. These conclude stages one and two of giving birth—labor and delivery, respectively. And, it is amazing how a newborn does not inhale until exposed to air!
Moreover, timing is essential to the rhythm of separating the newborn from the placenta and the mother’s cord. It should be noted that it is erroneous to think that the baby comes from the placenta. The placenta exists outside of the baby and in the uterus. The final stage of labor, after birth, is the passing of the placenta, which happens between 15 minutes to an hour after the baby is born. It is checked thoroughly to ensure that it is intact, making for a healthy baby. If a piece of the placenta is left in the uterus, it could lead to serious complications for the mother and could even be toxic and lethal.
Nonetheless, if the baby experiences stress in the birth canal or if the umbilical cord becomes kinked or twisted, the baby might gasp for air with the possibility of inhaling water.
In Ayana’s case, she has an advantage over other women. All her life, she was engaged in strengthening her ventre (her womb), her pelvic area, and her legs. She danced, which involved doing slow, undulating, and rolling motions—such as hip circles, figure-of-eight movement, and the “camel” that facilitates the stomach to undulate. Such moves develop the fetus to move in a clock-wise fashion. With all this exercise comes proper deep breathing, which should be a daily habit. In any case, during pregnancy, a belly dancer is encouraged to move in slow motion and is discouraged from doing shimmies until she is near the time of delivery.
Muscular contractions that are strong and flexible are needed enough to expand and lengthen the muscles so as to help the labor along and to ease the birth. Placental blood flow is increased with such moderate movements, allowing the growing fetus to get more oxygen and nutrients delivered throughout its uterine life.
The birthing journey requires us as women to get back to a sense of life basics where intuition and instinct are normal (rather than abstract) means of expression. When implemented in pregnancy and labour, the birth dance enables a woman to connect to her feminine source without fear or shame. | Maha Al Musa, a Middle Eastern woman and belly dancer
Sadly, women with medical problems such as thyroid disease, heart disease, hypertension, pre-eclampsia, placenta previa, a history of premature labor, and gestational diabetes should not have a water birth.
Also sad is that many women throughout the world are still exposed to abuse and high levels of disrespect that do not help a woman in childbirth and that do not ensure a positive psychology to bring up a child. In fact, such treatment can heighten the amount of pain experienced in childbirth. Just imagine what women, who are raped, forced to give birth of an infant by rape and/or incest, must endure! These events are unbearable to a woman, and her pain and trauma can psychologically impact the rearing of the child.
A new mother should be given her rightful place in her society as a goddess and deliverer of life. A quote from an educator on a proper birthing experience tells it all. Marie F. Mongon says—
All natural birth has a purpose and a plan. Who would think of tearing open the chrysalis as the butterfly is emerging? Who would break the shell to pull the chick out?
Cultural sensitivity and awareness are a must to have a healthy society. By way of example, an immigrant woman needs to feel very special during this time; her cultural beliefs need to be taken into consideration by western health practitioners instead of being frowned upon (another form of abuse). For example, there are various rituals surrounding the umbilical cord of the new-born and the placenta. The novel points out this needed respect and certainty. One of the simplest rituals that can be adopted is to practice full-body massage on both the mother and infant for well-being. Most important is to keep the mother and child together—from birthing channel into arms and breasts for maximum bonding purposes.
The whole point of giving birth is to bestow the knowledge that a woman is the power source to birthing. She may need, and deserve, help; essentially, it is the childbearing mother who has had that power. Welcome her and her child; embrace and empower them! Equality for and between both sexes (both opportunities and rights) will likely promote good health for most of humanity. Until then, there will only be anger, anxiety, shame, cruelty, fear, sadness, distrust, war….
Why not opt to help change the world, beginning with the source (you and us) for a fulfilling, helpful, and happy life for all homo sapiens with a sense of certainty, expectation, contribution, love, connection, and growth to name a few needs we all have in common.
As a species, let us learn all the ways to nurture each other.