Supermoms: Giving Birth to a New Kind of Human Being "Aqua-MothersTechniques of Conduct and Counter-Conduct

Special preparation for childbirth was an important part of the Aquaculture method. Charkovsky believed that aqua training—swimming and diving—would help women to overcome their “instinctive fear of water.” At the same time, these workouts were aimed at the prenatal preparation of infants: “If a mom during pregnancy practices how to hold her breath, then she gives birth to a trained baby” (Sargunas and Sargunas 1985:8). Charkovsky even advised pregnant women to dive and suck a nipple with milk or juice underwater so that the baby could learn what to do after birth. After experiments with animals, Charkovsky believed that a mother, as a land creature, could not give birth to an aquatic child; therefore, he urged women to meditate and imagine themselves as dolphins:

If during swimming, a mother imagines herself as a dolphin, she thereby transfers the dolphin information flow to the child. If a mother deprives the child of communication with dolphins and closes the connection within herself, then she automatically encloses the child in her own pathology. (Sargunas and Sargunas 1985:9)

The importance of water birth in the Aquaculture concept was crucial. For many years in Russia, home birth meant water birth and water birth meant home birth. Only in the mid-2000s did Russian homebirth midwives (who practice illegally in Russia) begin to move away from the imperative to give birth only in the water and attend births on land as well. For Charkovsky, water birth was “soft” and “natural” specifically for the child, because that child “naturally” moved from the amniotic fluid to the aquatic environment. Charkovsky also insisted to give birth not in a comfortable water temperature of 35°-36° Celsius, but in cold water: “We usually prepare a woman to give birth in the sea, and a baby is able to be in the water of 20°-18°” (meeting with I. B. Charkovsky 1985:13).

Immediately after the birth, a woman should be ready for intensive workouts with her baby. Charkovsky was indignant that mothers often refused to breastfeed their children underwater:

Women do not understand anything and do not want to understand, they behave like females, and work on ancient instincts that came from animals, they themselves do not know why they cannot understand simple things. Therefore, a man must prepare everything [to feed a child from a bottlej). (Sargunas and Sargunas 1985:11)

Thus, for the patriarchal Charkovsky, as well as for technocratic obstetrics, only a child as the “end product” mattered and the “mother was a secondary byproduct” (Davis-Floyd and Dumit 1998:5): she has to follow instructions and ensure the birth of a water baby. But unlike technocratic obstetrics, which treats the woman’s body as a defective machine (Davis-Floyd 2001), Charkovsky considered that the maternal “biological program” (or instincts) was improper and prevented her from raising her child in the right way, so it was necessary to use a special technology or to seek help from dolphins.

When some women who were followers of the Aquaculture method became lay midwives and childbirth instructors, they changed Charkovsky’s approach to the activities of expectant mothers. Proper preparation was considered as key to success, because women had to be ready for unassisted childbirth: there were few homebirth midwives in Russia in the 1980s and 1990s and they had little or no formal training. The childbirth preparation courses took several months and included serious physical, informational, and psychological training. Svetlana Akimova, who later became a homebirth midwife, recalled her studies during her first pregnancy in the course taught by Tatyana Sargunas: “We were preparing like Special Forces: had a dry fasting [fasting without water] for 42 hours once a week, did gymnastics every day, doused ourselves with cold water, and swam in the ice hole” (Interview 6).

Not only women, but also their husbands, began to perceive childbirth as a family affair: some of them assisted at births and trained their babies, and some became active members of the homebirth movement, male midwives, and aqua coaches. One of these active fathers explained why that was so important for him:

We perceived this birth in three ways (besides, of course, the fact of the birth of our child): as our small contribution to the formation of a new attitude to childbirth, mother and baby; as our contribution to the propagation and struggle for the official recognition of water birth; as a protest against the existing obstetric system. (Anonymous, “The Story of One Birth” 1985:20)

Thus, the “Aquaculture” method showed the parents the way out of the control and supervision of the state institutions and directed their protest or counter-conduct as a specific “revolt of conduct” (Foucault 2007; Dean 2009) to transforming or strengthening the body and mind, and giving birth to new “free” children.

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