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Birth vs Open Water Swimming

Often we need to remind mothers that for every labor surge she has to breath through, there a break in between where she can gather herself as shown in this West Los Angeles labor picture by Artshaped photography.
 
I recently had the honor of interviewing a good friend over dinner, Gino, an open ocean swimmer and one of the few members of WOWSA (World Open Water Swimming Association) aspiring to take home the organization’s Triple Crown Award.
To do so, each athlete needs to complete three marathon swims: the English Channel, The Catalina Channel and for U.S. swimmers The Manhattan Island.
I knew Gino had been training for almost a year for The Catalina Channel crossing, but hearing him talk about it only three weeks later, I was struck by how his experience so closely reminded me of child labor and birth.
If you are not familiar with these open ocean marathons, tradition and regulation have it that each participant swim without any gear nor wetsuit. Swim suit, a flashlight if it’s night and your best repertoire of marine prayers.
Conditions for tide, current, and swell all being more favorable between midnight and sunrise, Gino opted for the night swim from Catalina to Long Beach.
So imagine swimming in complete darkness, where not even the stars are visible because all you can see is pitch black water. And that water is cold even mid-August.
If you are lucky to get good water conditions ( the Ocean Gods do count after all!), you are swimming for no less than 10 hours. No breaks, just enough liquid nutrition to keep you going, and a support team on a boat cruising on your side providing you this fuel and ready to do anything for a shark not to tear you apart. But according to Gino, giving birth is way harder and painful because the state of endurance is ‘internal’.
Labor is hard and grueling and painful. In swimming the worst thing that can happen is (usually) suffering from hypothermia. No matter what pain you come across during a swim, you depend on conditions that are external, whereas in labor any agony that you feel is internal. To me that seems so much more unbearable.
Yet, I personally find both experiences to be almost parallel to each other as they both come from the conscious decision to do something absolutely amazing: creating a new life and achieving a life goal. They both require an enormous amount of endurance, they need time and preparation, trust, and above all, a huge amount of support.
Me: Do you wish you had a coach during your swim? It sounds you almost needed a doula!
Gino: I could have never made it if I hadn’t had the support of my friends and family. This is such an impossible task to accomplish without a team.
Me: In what way did you feel supported during the swim?
Gino: I needed food, encouragement and protection; and during the training I needed friends to swim with me. To wake up at 4 in the morning and be willing to either swim with me or kayak by my side is pure generosity.
Me: Were there any moments where your thoughts were playing tricks on you and you started to doubt yourself? Perhaps towards the end, when you can see the light at the end of the tunnel ( or you know that you are about to push your baby out)?
Gino: Having my wife and brother and trusted friends looking out for me and so close ( yet so far) on the boat, made it easier to take me out of my own head and thoughts and allowed me to keep swimming, one stroke after the other.
Me: what is your biggest takeaway from this experience besides the motivation to take home a Triple Crown?
Gino: I am very deeply touched by the generosity of those who helped me in this journey and I feel inspired to help others to meet their goals and to appreciate my family and friends.
These are pretty much the feelings I have every time I witness the miracle of childbirth, whether I am behind a camera or watching a parent falling in love with their babies. This is exactly my main motivation to leave a career in the movie industry (despite my Super Heroes friends). So that I could hold space and witness such a miracle as crossing the ocean of one’s own limits and fear, dueling with unfavorable conditions ( whether internal or external) and blossom to the victory of birthing something new.
If I didn’t know Gino well enough to know that his job wouldn’t allow it, I would probably sign him up for the next Doula Training in town.