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The Farmer and the Obstetrician

by Dr Michel Odent

listed in women's health

[Image: The Farmer and the Obstetrician]

Dr Michel Odent is a French obstetrician well-known for the introduction of practices into French hospitals including home-like birthing rooms and birthing pools. In this book he sounds a clarion call for the human race to wake up to the converging disasters of industrialized agriculture and medicalized childbirth. These two topics are intertwined; the disastrous consequences of chemical and hormonal poisoning of the environment during mainly the twentieth century, which has contaminated the soil, air and water and hence the entire food chain – fish, plants and animals, as well as humans who have already started to show alarming effects, with fertility rates and the quality of sperm declining, higher rates of cancer, the feminization of certain wildlife and a higher rate of foetal and infant genital abnormalities including undescended testicles.

Although usually each of these topics – agriculture and childbirth – occupy separate spaces on bookshelves – Dr Odent is appealing beyond the usual narrowness of focus – and instead speaks in a more philosophical, perhaps somewhat grandiose style about the urgency of developing and returning to a more biodynamic society.

Dr Odent gives a succinct yet effective history of some of the great visionaries who have gone beyond narrow specialization and who have shaped the organic agriculture and natural childbirth movements – Rudolf Steiner (Anthroposophy), Robert McCarrison (observations of the Hunza), Wilhelm Reich (life energy), Ina May Gaskin ('The Farm' authentic midwifery) and Frederick Leboyer (Birth Without Violence).

In one of the central tenets of this book Dr Odent eloquently describes how animals and humans have evolved to give birth to their young: one of the most important considerations is of privacy, of not being distracted, and of the mother being able to 'go to another planet' using primal (non-rational) behaviours including screaming and assuming positions such as on all fours in giving birth. Another important focus is the physiological actions of the hormones produced during labour, birth and in the hours following birth. The hormone oxytocin which he calls the hormone of love has been shown in primate research studies to induce maternal behaviour. In the hour following childbirth, the ideal conditions to promote bonding and deep love between mother and child are dim light, quiet, and nothing at all distracting – the mother should have nothing to do but to gaze into the eyes of her newborn child.

As virtually everyone on the planet will know, these conditions are virtually the opposite from the normal hospital delivery room – bright lights, lots of people gawking and speaking, considerable medical intervention during labour, at the birth and following birth, including a rush to cut the cord.

I was stunned by some of the correlations the author makes in this book between, for example rates of criminality in a society at large with rates of obstetrical intervention in a particular city. He would be cautious in Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Rome or Athens where the Caesarean section rates are astronomical, but more relaxed in Tokyo, Stockholm or Amsterdam. London, Paris Frankfurt and Sydney are in between. Other disturbing correlations cited are that birth complications are among the risk factors for becoming a violent criminal at age 18, that teenage suicide is linked to resuscitation at birth (those teenagers who had a difficult birth from a mechanical point of view tended to use violent mechanical means to commit suicide such as jumping from a height, jumping in front of a train, shooting themselves; whereas suicides involving asphyxiation were closely associated with asphyxiation at birth). These and other correlations with self-destructive behaviour such as drug addiction which have been associated with certain pain-killers during childbirth, and autism are linked to what the author terms an impaired capacity to love, which can be linked to factors occurring during birth including forceps delivery, birth under anaesthesia, resuscitation at birth and induction of labour.

Every aspect of industrialized childbirth is shown to look for problems and pathology, rather then to encourage natural, unmedicalized birth. The excessive use of ultrasound monitoring, even the disease-sounding terms – gestational diabetes (the transitory modification of carbohydrate metabolism), anaemia (increased blood volume, a good sign of placental activity), which may have hugely negative effects on the pregnant woman.

Dr Odent argues passionately about the devastating consequences of an impaired capacity to love. He also coins a wonderful term for research citing associations between obstetric care and social effects which is totally ignored – never cited, never replicated, never commented upon – 'cul-de-sac epidemiology'. This is what also occurs with research about nutritional medicine – the tens of thousands of studies simply disappear down the black hole of this cul-de sac.

The author also has the courage to discuss some politically incorrect topics, including his views that fathers present at the birth, with their rational minds and excess of testosterone, are not necessarily helpful. He argues that it is better to revert to keeping fathers busy with tasks such as boiling water, assembling birthing pools, etc.

Dr Odent advocates that birthing pools be used once the cervix of the mother is about five centimetres dilated, and that planning a birth under water is to be avoided. If there is no progress following an hour in the birthing pool during hard labour there may be a need for further intervenion.

Dr Odent is passionate and eloquent and speaks with great authority as an expert in obstetrics and natural practices to promote non-medicalized childbirth. My only criticisms are that the enormous themes in this book are not adequately developed and substantiated, and that the language, somewhat awkward in places, is neither precisely scientific enough to satisfy the medics and scientists nor politically strident enough to suit campaigners. As a philosophical treatise, this book could be further developed; its important message could become the 21st century Silent Spring.

Sandra Goodman PhD
Free Association Books

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