Japanese actor and freediver Sachiko Fukumoto and her partner, world champion freediver William Trubridge, are currently in New Zealand to welcome their second child and complete their first feature-length documentary Pacific Mother. The film is a sequel to their short film Water Baby, which was a huge success and garnered over 8 million views globally.
The new documentary further expands on the themes discussed in Water Baby, but this time through a wider perspective by following the birthing stories of four women across the Pacific.
In this inspiring interview, The Lovepost’s founder and editor Rowena Bahl speaks to Fukumoto and Trubridge about their journey creating Pacific Mother and the topics it explores. We learn about the birthing traditions and ancient wisdom lost to colonisation, what it takes to have a positive birth experience and the similarities between a baby’s development in the womb and the human evolutionary processes that began in the ocean over 500 million years ago.
The Lovepost: So you’ve launched your Kickstarter! Are you excited about that?
Sachiko Fukumoto: Our Kickstarter just kickstarted today.
William Trubridge: It kickstarted today. Exactly.
TLP: That’s amazing. You must be so happy to have that live now.
Fukumoto: Oh, yeah, I mean, we’ve had the Japanese one for a month or so and now, yeah, it’s crazy—so many things happening at once.
TLP: Yeah, I can imagine. So I wanted to begin with the problems that led to this film, the issues that you saw with the birthing system, the maternity systems. If you can tell us a little bit about that, perhaps some of the issues on a global scale and then coming back to New Zealand and Japan, since those are the destinations you’re more familiar with?
Fukumoto: To start with, we wanted to give birth in the sea and then we were searching everywhere in the world for a place where that might be a possibility, but it was difficult. And then after that, I tried to do a home water birth in Japan, but it wasn’t easy due to many reasons, including my age and the laws and rules and everything in Japan. And so all the midwives in Japan started to suggest I come to New Zealand because they were telling me how great the maternity systems are in New Zealand and that’s where I started doing some research. I had this feeling at the end that the baby was going to decide where she wanted to be born.
Trubridge: Seems like it does make a big difference where you are in the world. In some countries, like the States in particular, they almost treat it like a production line. They just want to get you into the hospital and out as quickly as possible, because all the time that you’re spending in there is just wasted money. It’s treated as a business. Whereas in New Zealand, the emphasis isn’t on the business and making money out of it, but on the user. And that’s a pivotal experience of life, so how could you possibly treat it as a business?
TLP: Absolutely. You guys are also exploring the ancestral wisdom and the traditional way of birthing across the world and the different ways different cultures used to approach it. I find that very interesting because we lost a lot of that to colonisation; we lost a lot of our traditional ways of doing things, and the birthing experience had so much more meaning behind it back then. So can you tell us a little about some of the stories, some of the things that you’ve learned about various traditions that we have lost along the way?
Fukumoto: So in Japan, obviously people used to birth at home and like in a dark, quiet room, which could sometimes be where the horse lives.
TLP: Oh wow.
Trubridge: The stables.
Fukumoto: Yeah, so the way they gave birth was they had this rope hanging from the ceiling, so you could hold onto it and [demonstrates holding onto rope] give birth like that. Also, there weren’t any medical systems so we had midwives taking care of the mothers and everything. So everything was really natural until the Western medical system started to come in. And I believe it’s the same in New Zealand, right? [asks Trubridge]
Trubridge: And there was quite a practice of also being outside in the environment during labour . . . I hear stories about Māori women actually going into the sea and kind of just floating in the waves as they were in labour. Which I can’t imagine; I mean most of the time the water here is pretty cold so I wouldn’t have expected that, but yeah. I mean just being outside much more and not behind closed doors in an artificial room with lights and that kind of thing. We wanted to have that kind of birth as well, outdoors, especially in the water, maybe in a lagoon, but last time round with Mila [our first born], it was just the wrong time of year. Here in the Southern Hemisphere, there are some places like in the South Pacific where it would be possible but it’s very difficult to get approval, or the doctors there wouldn’t allow that kind of thing.
Sachiko Fukumoto, William Trubridge and their daughter Mila.
TLP: Right. And most of that is obviously around safety and things like that. So then you ended up having a water birth in the Hawke’s Bay, right? I actually watched Water Baby, your first film, for the first time yesterday and I absolutely loved it. It was only 10 or 15 minutes I think but the whole way through, it was so engaging and I was just blown away. So that kind of brings me to my next question: you have had close to 8 million views on Water Baby, so what was some of the recurring feedback that you received from that?
Fukumoto: I was surprised we got so much feedback from, not just Japan, but all over the world. I didn’t realise up until we had our daughter—I thought Japan was the only country that we didn’t have much choice over the birth and everything. And I thought everywhere else in the world you have more options. But actually, it was the other way around. So New Zealand was very special and everywhere else was kind of similar to Japan and so we got a lot of feedback from women all over the world saying that it was encouraging, and yeah, they definitely think we should have more right to choose how we want to birth. So surprisingly, it was something that people were craving.
TLP: Oh yeah, that’s amazing. Yeah, I can definitely imagine people feeling empowered by it; it must’ve been very inspiring for people. Can you talk a little about the journey from there to now? Why are you creating Pacific Mother, this feature-length documentary? Is it you had a lot more of a story to tell around the theme of empowered birth and also covering more women? What inspired you to do the feature?
Fukumoto: So when we were doing Water Baby, I was already thinking “This is not going to be enough time,” because the short documentary was only eight, nine minutes, so it was obviously not enough to tell everything that we wanted to. But because it was something fresh, I felt like I needed to deliver it as soon as possible because I knew making a feature-length would be a lot more time-consuming [in terms of] money and everything. So we decided to do that as soon as possible, but while we were making it, we were thinking, “Okay, we need to do the feature-length to tell more about it.” And after we got all the feedback for Water Baby, it was kind of like confirmed that we’ve got to do this. It felt like a mission.
TLP: Yeah, so to explore it in more depth. So tell us about Pacific Mother and the women whose stories you cover. I’d love to hear a little bit more about that.
Fukumoto: Yeah, so we have for now—including myself, we have Rava Ray from Tahiti and Kimi Werner from Hawai’i and Ioana Puna from the Cook Islands; so everyone’s from around the Pacific and everyone has this deep bond with nature and the sea. And the interesting thing is that each person had a different birth experience, but what we all have in common is that everyone had a positive experience no matter what type of birth it was... a super natural birth or a cesarean or whatever it was, we all had a positive birth. That is the very important message that we’re trying to deliver.
TLP: Yes, what is it that made each of those births a positive experience, right?
Fukumoto: Yeah, I think no matter how it goes—because giving birth is like facing nature; it’s something unexpected—so as long as you have the choice, or you have the right to choose how you want to do it or you get respected for how you want to do it, I think every birth can be a very positive experience.
TLP: So for you, when it comes to what an empowered birth means, is it about a woman having the knowledge to do what she wants? What does it take for a woman to have an empowered birth?
Fukumoto: I think the knowledge, the basic knowledge, and you should know that you are the one who’s doing it, not the doctor, no one else; it’s you. And also be respected by whoever is supporting you, like the midwife or the doctor or the hospital. So yeah, I think that’s the key and obviously the people around you like your partner, like whoever is supporting you that they’re part of it.
TLP: Yeah that’s so important. So shifting gears a little to our connection to water. Obviously, you’re both very much water people and you’re both freedivers. So can we talk a little bit about the human connection to water and how you explore that in the film?
Fukumoto: [to Trubridge] There you go.
Trubridge: Yeah, well it’s one of the kind of central themes of Water Baby and I think it’s become one for Pacific Mother as well. This idea that we came from the water, not just in the short term sense of having spent the first nine months of our existence in this sea of amniotic fluid and in terms of its makeup it’s almost identical to the sea. There’s that aspect of having come from the sea, but also of course in evolutionary terms, we evolved from the sea and maybe we still kind of hold some visceral memory of that. When you look at the development of the fetus inside the womb, it actually goes through all the stages of evolution from kind of the simplest stage of something that looks like a fish, through to a reptile to a mammal. So that evolutionary process is mimicked by the development of the fetus. So I think, yeah, that’s one of the things that draws us back to the sea. And then in terms of a birth, it’s such a remarkable transition and can be too much if we’re taken from this gentle, dark, warm sea out into harsh lights, a cold room and people prodding and poking us. And so if you can mellow that transition a little bit by having you instead going into the water, into a bath or a lagoon, then that kind of more gradual process perhaps leaves an imprint on the person that is more natural. I think there has been psychological studies where they’ve shown that people who were born in water have characteristics or attributes that are more peaceful and equanimous.
TLP: Oh wow, yeah. I’ve never looked at it in that way but yeah, it makes so much sense. Yeah. I don’t have any kids, I haven’t had any yet, but ever since I heard about your story I was like, “I want to have a water birth!”
Sachiko Fukumoto and William Trubridge at the birth of their daughter Mila.
TLP: It makes so much sense! So I’ve got a few more little questions here for you. You are both very dedicated to ocean protection and leaving an intact Earth for future generations. What has your approach been, in terms of instilling that protection of the ocean into Mila and also the kind of approach that you’d use going forward with whoever comes next.
Trubridge: [Talking to Fukumoto] You want me to field that one too?
Fukumoto: Yes [laughs].
Trubridge: [Laughs] We definitely want to instil in them a kind of love and respect and stewardship for the natural environment, not just the sea but the whole planet as all one unit, one kind of living thing. And so we’ve started taking Mila in the water, in the ocean, and I think well before she could walk we were taking her in the ocean. And she loves it. We haven’t been able to recently because of COVID and winter and lockdowns and all that kind of jazz, but she is hard to get out of the water once she’s in. So yeah, we’re trying to naturally instil the same love and passion [she has] for the water hand in hand with a respect for it. Curing the next generation of the bad habits that previous generations have had is the one kind of unequivocal thing that we can do to solve the situation. Hopefully, it’s not too late because we’re already seeing such huge changes. But that is definitely a kind of solid fix. So if everyone does their part in making sure they can respect and love the environment, then we’re on the right track.
TLP: Yeah, that’s really beautiful. I’ve heard a lot that the more time you spend in the ocean, the more you naturally want to protect it. Would you say that’s been the case for both of you as well? Having spent so much time in the ocean, you have this love that arises and connects you to it in that way.
Fukumoto: Definitely, because the ocean is part of our home. So it’s natural to want to protect it; it’s like you want to keep your house tidy and clean and nice; it’s the same thing for us with the ocean.
TLP: So it’s like an extension of ourselves?
Trubridge: As well as that we’re also symbionts. We depend on the ocean and you can’t extract any part of the natural order of that without losing the rest of it. Like the analogy I use is that if you look at a coral with a big head of coral, say like a brain coral that looks like it’s just one living thing, it’s actually a symbiotic relationship between an algae and an animal. So there’s millions of these algae and animals all living together and if you lose the algae or if you lose the animal, [you lose the coral].
So it’s the same with us, if you pull away from, if you zoom out from the Earth far enough, we are the animals, the sea and everything in it, the algae, and you cannot harm one without harming the other.
TLP: Right, yeah. So it’s all about those different interconnections that kind of keep everything going the way it is, and I think that’s really amazing.
Fukumoto: [Addressing Trubridge] I think also like you were saying, that more than half of the oxygen are actually made in the sea and I don’t think a lot of people actually know about it. People think that all the oxygen is coming from the trees and the Amazon...
TLP: It’s the coral reefs providing all of that for us, yeah.
Trubridge: Coral reefs and tiny little—I think they’re dinoflagellates—like little things scurrying around in the open ocean that are photosynthesising and producing oxygen, yeah.
TLP: Yeah, we often forget that the ocean literally supports all life on Earth.
Fukumoto: So harming nature is actually like harming our future, you know; that’s actually going to come back.
TLP: Yeah, I mean I wonder what it is about people—I guess I feel like there’s one part of us that’s all about, “Yes, we believe that we need to do something; we need to change our ways; we need to do all of these different things to protect our ocean; and we understand that we’re running out of time.” But there’s also this other part of us that is disconnected from the issue, where we can see the urgency but we’re still not able to take the step to mitigate the problems. So yeah, I don’t know what it is about human nature or do you think we need to spend more time in nature in order to kind of reconnect ourselves in that way?
Trubridge: Spending time in nature definitely helps I would think, yeah. I think part of the difficulty is, as you say, in human nature and just kind of a general laziness especially with things that don’t have a direct cause and effect. Like you know that if you don’t eat or drink water, you’re going to get dehydrated and feel really bad, but it’s harder to draw a connection between eating healthy and having long term health or sleeping regularly and having good energy patterns. In the same way, it’s even a more distant connection between how do the choices we make, the foods we buy, the products that we buy impact the state of our environment. And so the more distance there is between our decisions and the effect, the more that human laziness comes in and we’re like, “Ah, whatever.”
TLP: And what’s the way to overcome that, would you say?
Trubridge: Trying to be aware of it, to begin with. So remembering that every decision you make, whether it’s picking something in the supermarket or a trip or a choice of vehicle or transport or something, every decision has an impact. And that in those small choices, you build up your overall effect, which is what matters.
The women of Pacific Mother. Clockwise from top left: Tahitian artist and freediver Rava Ray (Photo credit: Chloe G. Photographer), Cook Islands filmmaker and freediver Ioana Puna (Photo credit: Turama Photography), sustainable fishing advocate and former US spearfishing champion Kimi Werner (Photo credit: Justin Turkowski) and Japanese actor and freediver Sachiko Fukumoto (Photo credit: William Trubridge).
TLP: I absolutely agree with that, yeah. So something else that was very interesting to me as I was reading the film’s synopsis was that it mentioned you’d like Mila present at your next birth. So are you concerned about it potentially being a traumatic experience or that something might go wrong or anything like that? I personally think it’s absolutely incredible, but I’ve spoken to a few people about it and I guess they’ve raised a few concerns around having a child at a birth. So I just wanted to hear your thoughts about that.
Fukumoto: I don’t know. It was just something that was so natural for me to think that way; like I don’t even doubt about that idea.
Trubridge: It hadn’t occurred to me either the idea that something might go wrong which could then impact her.
Fukumoto: No, if anything, I’m just worried that because it might take long, she might get bored and she might hug me or something. So just having people stand by to take care of her in case she gets bored. I don’t know. To be honest, I only see it as a good thing.
TLP: I personally think it’s a great idea, I would actually consider doing it myself because I think the more we open up about these things that are very human things that we’ve hidden away for so long, the better outcome we’re going to have in the future.
Fukumoto: Because it’s something... it’s like part of our life obviously. It’s like eating, sleeping and like [laughs]; it’s along those lines. So I just don’t see why not. And it’s great; it’s not something that you can experience so many times, so if there’s a chance, why not, right?
Fukumoto: It’s really great for her to be part of that because it’s definitely like a family event, so I just don’t see the reason to exclude her.
Trubridge: I think we watched a Youtube video of an Australian woman who was giving birth and she just went down to this river, kind of a shallow river with like little rock pools, and with her whole family—she had five other kids—she was just in labour there. The kids were just playing with their buckets and spades in the river, and yeah, she popped out the new baby right there with them all there as a family.
Trubridge: So yeah, it can be done and that way their siblings would remember the arrival of the new sibling as kind of a beautiful experience that they were part of and they know what happened and why it happened rather than being shut out of it and then suddenly there’s this new person who has just magically appeared.
TLP: I definitely think that should be the future of birthing: the whole family or you know your kids are included. And yeah, I think that’s really beautiful. And I think that’s such a brave thing to do as well because it pioneers a new way of looking at it.
Fukumoto: I even want her to like catch the baby if that’s possible [laughs].
TLP: Oh! [Laughs and claps.]
Fukumoto: I tell her like, “You’re going to catch her,” and she’s like, “Okay mummy.” [Laughs.]
TLP: Oh my goodness! That’s so cute. You’ve actually had a little chat with her about this?
Fukumoto: Yes, yes! I’ve been talking to her about that and she’s all ready for that and she’s like, “When the baby comes, I’ll catch her.” [Mimes catching, laughs.]
TLP: Oh, that’s so special. That would be really so special if that could happen, yeah.
Fukumoto: I think that was in Māori culture too. I heard [that in] Māori families, when the mom is going into labour, the whole family starts to arrive and just like this huge family, they’re all there to welcome the baby and I think that’s really beautiful.
TLP: Yeah that is. I’ve actually got my last question for you here: what is your hope for Pacific Mother? The change that you’d like to see or what you’d like to achieve?
Fukumoto: To be honest, it’s this whole process just making the film happen. We’ve been talking to a lot of women and delivering a lot of messages and what we’ve been doing is part of what we wanted to achieve. So not just like completing by making the film—that’s not our only goal—but also spreading the message and this whole process is very important to us.
The Pacific Mother team need your help to change the conversation around birth: support the film on Kickstarter today. The crowdfunding campaign has some incredible rewards for supporters, from Tahitian quilting and Kintsugi classes to a three-day diving course in the Bahamas with world champion freediver William Trubridge.