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“The baby doesn’t come out into a cold world where the force of gravity strikes like the blow from a club. One warm, body-supporting liquid is exchanged for another. The transition to breathing air, to a life on dry land, takes place slowly and softly.” - Erik Sidenbladh, Water Babies
Today, images of birth copiously shared on social media might claim an exclusive modernity over birthing in water. But we lack imagery for its primitive history as early as 2700BC, when women of ancient Crete, Japan, South America and New Zealand were known to birth in shallow ocean and rivers. Water marks a boundary making a labouring woman, taking away gravity and conserving her energy. It is said to activate the ‘relaxation response’ in her muscular system, and minimises stimulation to the vestibular system, the part in the inner ear that gives constant information about the body. The outside world is almost cut off completely, protecting her, in the words of Michel Odent, “from useless stimuli” and quite remarkably, has an effect on her attendants too.
To our ancestors the benefits of cleanliness, pain relief and coolness must have been apparent, but the 1960s gave rise to a philosophical body of query on the deeper incentive. Siberian philosopher Igor Tjarkovsky, who delivered thousands of babies in water and believes we originate from the sea 3 billion years ago, claims that waterbirth optimises the newborn brain - a theory which may explain why Ancient Egyptians birthed their chosen priests in water. From the baby’s point of view, the continuity of environment going from one fluid to another, is said to pace the onslaught of traumatic new sensations of light, air, gravity and sound, putting the monumental first breath last, contributing to a calmer transition that will indelibly affect our lifelong “limbic imprint”.
Watch the video linked above (age-restricted on YouTube) for full story of the making of this piece, and the history of waterbirth.
Photographer & director: Natalie Lennard / Models: Ijeoma Sady, Carlisha Jolie / Assistants: Tim Charles Matthews, Ben Secomb / Prosthetics: Lifecast / Video Camera: Beyond Content / Video Editing: Natalie Lennard