Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Elephant Birth



See the elephant tribe give birth. This elephant mother moves instinctively. Watch her legs. She isn't trying to kick the baby. She is easing the stretching she feels in her hips and the weight she feels bearing down into her upper thighs. I may be heady to define why she moves this way, but I've seen many human mothers move in very similar ways. She gives a slight squat to release the baby more.

The filming is invasive, even though we appreciate being able to see the birth. But I think the elephants are used to a car being parked near them on the road. It seems like a familiar spot for them. I've videoed births and felt invasive, too. Sometimes, after I've filmed a birth, a mother may look up from the baby in her arms and say, "It is too bad no one took pictures." She is surprised and I'm surprised she didn't notice the flash or the sound of the click. Other mothers see the camera and labor slows down. In those cases I put the camera away. I've missed some great footage, but the hormonal freedom of the birth is much more important. Safety, spontaneity and bonding are improved with privacy. And that includes the friend with the camera.

Elephant doulas. As the other elephants realize the birth is happening two particularly circle round the mother. Dr. Marshall Klaus explained this animal behavior at a DONA doula conference several years ago. When an animal baby has to rotate to be born through the pelvis, the species has experienced females attending the birthing mother. When a baby doesn't have to rotate, the species, like the Chimp, goes off alone to birth.

That doesn't mean that human mothers that prefer unassisted childbirth have babies that don't need to rotate. That is a species tendency, not an individual tendency. Unassisted childbirth is more about preserving privacy and preventing intervention. I don't promote unassisted childbirth, but I do promote being unobtrusive at a birth as much as possible.

The baby does fall on her back. The fall is a short distance and the road seems hard packed. Poor thing. But the fall isn't as far as for a giraffe baby. Birth isn't always sentimental or gentle. But the auntie elephant is there to encourage the baby to try and get up and push the baby away from the poo, as one commentator called it.

This is amazing footage. The mother's movement and connection to her tribe. The auntie elephants for circling and tending to the baby - without pushing the baby away from the mother. The follow up of the baby the next day is reassuring and surprising, too!

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