Sunday, January 9, 2011

"zee hormones of love are zee hormones of birth"

    When I was a nursing student back in the early nineties, I had the great fortune to spend a couple days with Michel Odent, .  He is the French obstetrician who revolutionized birth in his country and helped spread the ideas of undisturbed birth, waterbirth, and peri-natal psychology worldwide.   In the 1970s, he was tired of seeing so many births in his hospital ending in forceps deliveries or cesareans.  Clearly, the standard procedure of the time, the take-a laboring woman -and -strap her to a table on her back-and -drug her heavily- and pull the baby out with forceps- method was not optimizing the birth for mother or baby!  He redesigned the labor rooms to be like private, dark warm caves, with a tub of warm water and a bed on the floor in the corner.  He instructed the midwives to  just sit, rocking and knitting.  When a woman came in, in labor, she was given complete freedom to do whatever she wanted.  Most women gave birth in upright positions in the corner of the room or in the tubs.  He coined the term "fetus ejection reflex" to describe the spontaneous, powerful reflex that occurs when a women feels her own urge and pushes her baby out without a cheering squad to yell "push" and count, and tell her how to do it.  No one told these laboring women ANYTHING.  Just nods and smiles of reassurance.  The result of this experiment? 
      Fast, uncomplicated births.  Forceps and cesareans rarely needed.  Mothers who were very satisfied with, instead of traumatized by, their birth experiences.  Alert, healthy, drug-free babies.   These babies were followed, and grew into young adults with significantly less incidence of  addictions, mental illnesses, and suicides than the control population.  Did I mention that group singing sessions were added as a part of the prenatal care?  Just to promote joy in pregnancy?  In a small public hospital in Pithiviers, France, the natural childbirth revolution had begun.  The field of perinatal psychology was born.

Here are links to the websites for this amazing man:

His wikipedia page:

His latest essays on primal health/perinatal psychology:

      In 1994 or so I was living in New Haven, Connecticut where I was enrolled in Yale's 3-year-get-your-RN-and-your-CNM-all-at-once program.  I was struggling through the one-year-entire-nursing-curriculum portion, learning everything from physiology and statistics, to how to be a med-surg nurse. During this year it was challenging to hold the vision that somehow this was all preparation for becoming a homebirth midwife.

     In the midst of all that, Michel Odent came to town.  He came because a group of local homebirth mothers and advocates invited him to give a talk for their birth network/ midwife gathering.  (Totally unrelated to school) I think he was also in NYC for something, so he just made a small detour to New Haven.  Somehow I caught wind of the event, and went.  We ended up talking together afterwards and I think he could see how passionate and excited I was about midwifery and birth.  He  invited me to tea afterward where he explained to myself and Robbie Davis-Floyd, birth anthropologist, that the hormone that causes labor, oxytocin, is actually the hormone that causes sexual arousal and orgasm as well.  He asked if we would make love in a cold hospital room with bright lights on and strangers coming in and out. No way!  It's not our thing!  Well, he said, then one should not give birth there, either.

    I was dying to bring him to school, and share this information with my large class of nursing students.  They were all destined to go on to become midwives, or nurse practitioners, or clinical nurse specialists in various fields.  I  had read Ina May Gaskin's book, describing couples kissing and cuddling to make labor progress. I had read Michel Odent's book. I wanted all the other students to have the benefit of this knowledge as well!   So I invited him to my physiology class the following morning, which a had a wonderful teacher and all 70-odd students in it.  Just come and give a talk on the physiology of birth, I begged him.  He agreed!

     My teacher was very obliging, and Michel Odent met me at my school the next morning, and gave my class a lecture on the physiology of birth.  Many of the students had never heard anything about this subject, and it had an incredible impact!  That lecture was talked about for the rest of the year.  As for me, over the years when thinking about the energy of birth, I still hear his words, in his charming French accent, telling me that "Zee hormones of love are zee hormones of birth". 

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