Maternal instincts

Local filmmaker says conscious birth can make the world a better place

IN THE ZONE <br>Elena Tonetti-Vladimirova demonstrates one of the meditation techniques she teaches to expectant mothers.

Elena Tonetti-Vladimirova demonstrates one of the meditation techniques she teaches to expectant mothers.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Where to watch: Birth as We Know It is available at S&S Produce and will be shown Wed., Sept. 27, in the Chico Sports Club conference room at 1 p.m., with a discussion to follow. Admission is free. More info:

Lulling new-age music plays behind graceful, sensuous scenes of mothers giving birth to babies in water.

“Conscious birth is the beginning of conscious life … The quality of life will be defined by the quality of birth. The genius of [the mother’s] body is designed to give birth with ease and grace … .” So begins Birth as We Know It, the powerful new documentary from local filmmaker and pioneering childbirth researcher, 48-year-old Russian-born Elena Tonetti-Vladimirova.

Tonetti-Vladimirova’s Russian-accented narration is gentle yet firm in its insistence that natural, conscious childbirth in which both the mother and the baby are alert and prepared is how a mother is meant to bring her baby peacefully into the world. She argues against traumatic childbirthing methods such as Caesarean section or any drug- and/or tool-assisted birth (like using forceps to extract a baby).

The film also makes the case that conscious birth—a product of conscious conception and gestation planned by both parents—sets the stage for the child to live a calm life. The child will be free of the burden of carrying a troublesome “limbic imprint"—in effect, a deep emotional scar—of its birth trauma.

Birth as We Know It focuses on a number of visually beautiful and moving water births, including footage from the 1980s at a birth camp amongst dolphins on the Russian coast of the Black Sea. This was when Tonetti-Vladimirova first became involved in the growing Conscious Birth Movement, which began in Moscow. The DVD also includes two hours of bonus features, including a section on the trauma caused to baby boys by circumcision and some gut-turning footage of a C-section. There are also segments on orgasmic childbirth, therapeutic prenatal swimming in icy water, and Lotus Birth, in which the umbilical cord is not cut and the nutrient-supplying placenta remains attached to the baby for the few days it takes for it to detach itself naturally.

Though quite radical by medical childbirthing standards in this country, the 75-minute film was praised in the July-August 2006 issue of Mothering magazine—hardly a bastion of radicalness—as “stunning.”

A mother swims with her infant in Russia, where Elena Tonetti-Vladimirova became involved in the Conscious Birth Movement.

Courtesy Of Elena Tonetti-Vladimirova

The youthful-looking Tonetti-Vladimirova, who has a 16-year-old daughter, spoke calmly yet passionately over sips of green tea, days before she was due to take off for Seattle, where her film was shown twice daily during the ninth International Symposia on Circumcision, Genital Integrity and Human Rights at the University of Washington. People from about 40 countries were in attendance.

“They contacted me,” Tonetti-Vladimirova said. “I don’t know how they found out about the film. They connected that human rights begin in the delivery room.”

Tonetti-Vladimirova, who moved to the United States in 1989 as the Soviet Union was politically dissolving, talked at length about her film, about conscious birth, and about circumcision, a practice to which she is strongly opposed, for both males and females.

On conscious birth:
The main issue is that the preparation for conscious birth begins prior to conception, for both partners. You can’t give birth gracefully if you haven’t healed your own birth trauma. Our trauma colors and flavors our life. For instance, C-section imprints numbness, cord around the neck creates a sense of scarcity. Mothers who are completely stressed out of their gourds are delivering so much stress hormone to the gestating baby, delivering the message that it’s not safe to come out into the world.

I can look at paintings [by my birth-trauma-healing workshop participants] and define their birth traumas. In my workshops, I ask them to imagine their birth, gestation and birth the way they wanted it to be. I facilitate their new, in-the-body experience of being conceived and born consciously into a loving, welcoming and safe environment. This way, we can uninstall old programs and install new ones. People-making needs to be a very precise and responsible process. It’s not something that we can afford to overlook anymore. Look at the state of affairs in our civilization. It becomes very clear [that conscious birth should be embraced] because the way we’re born defines our ability to love, to feel love, and to experience intimacy.

On circumcision
[which is routinely performed on male babies born in the U.S. (The American Academy of Pediatrics said in 1999: “Existing scientific evidence demonstrates potential medical benefits of newborn male circumcision; however, these data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision.")]:

It is the most exquisite torture there is because the nerve endings are the most sensitive in the body. Twenty thousand of the most exquisite erogenous nerve endings are in the foreskin of the penis, and it is cut off like a piece of fabric! America is so against female circumcision, but male circumcision is done every day. Babies actually do feel it, and the message they get is, “Oh, I’m not supposed to be a feeling, understanding being."In the film, you hear the doctor while he is cutting, he’s telling the [medical] students that the baby doesn’t feel anything, because that’s what the books and professors say. But you see the look on the baby’s face and hear him screaming his heart out. Such a traumatic interference sends that baby’s neurosystem into shock.

I COME FROM THE WATER <br>Conscious birth often takes place in water, which lessens the shock of gravity to a newborn.

Courtesy Of Elena Tonetti-Vladimirova

On the expediency of drug-assisted and surgical births:
If they want to be fast, they can be fast. The baby will slow them down by crying all night, by being sick. It depends how you want to invest your maternal energy—in prevention of complications or in dealing with complications.

On the effects of the film:
A woman I know who had her first child in a hospital … was planning to have her second child in the hospital even though her first experience was so traumatic. She watched the film two days before her due date and decided to have her baby at home. She used a kiddie pool she bought from Target. She spiraled [a body-movement technique she learned from the film] when she needed to. She didn’t scream, didn’t tear a bit.

She is a young woman and her husband is a businessman farmer. They have a very traditional relationship. But at one point, she told her husband, “Honey, I need you to be really quiet right now.” The most incredible thing was their empowerment in having a successful, conscious birth. The baby is now two months old. He is not circumcised. He has never cried once yet, sleeps through the night, is very present. He displays all the signs of the nontraumatized baby.