World-famous researcher and obstetrician Michel Odent has changed the way women give birth. And he says the best thing you can do is turn off your neo-cortical control.
The scientific love of my life is an 86 year old Frenchman with poor hearing and an impish tuft of grey hair. I met him today. Well, actually I was in his presence, and definitely could have touched him or spoke to him if I felt inclined. He walked right by me, twice. But I never approach people I admire…not since the Beloved Author Disaster of 2007 when I started crying just introducing myself. <shivers> I’d love to be one of those birth nerds who has a picture of herself, arm around Ina May and everyone else, but I’m not, and we should be at peace with who we are, right?
So that’s why, despite the fact that today I drove 6 hours through wind and rain and hail and big city traffic to sit in a small circle with Michel Odent, all I have to show for it is this surreptitious picture I took with my tablet while pretending to take notes.
Oh-and the notes. Because I did take a lot of notes.
And that brings us to birth.
For those of you who don’t know, Michel Odent is a world-famous researcher and obstetrician who ran a maternity unit in France for, I think, 86 years. Yeah, he’s that good. He is recognized for his extensive research concerning how we are born. All the stuff that midwives and women have known for generations, he is putting the science to. All of the interventions and procedures that have come about in the last few generations, he’s questioning if they’re best for women and babies.
Much of his work is concerning the fact that how we are born matters. Reading his books changed the way I think about birth and the way I teach about birth.
Your own mind gets in the way.
Of supreme importance is that a woman can STOP THINKING. To birth easily and quickly, you have to turn off the human part of your brain–the neo-cortex. We are the only animal with such a huge thinking part of our brains. We’re pretty smart.
The problem is the the neo-cortex inhibits physiological actions. When you are thinking–when your neo-cortex is in control, you don’t release the right hormones, your body can’t relax. Birth is harder and longer.
It’s like sex. (Isn’t it always?) You have to turn off your brain first in order to enjoy it. You have to be making the right hormones and the right brain waves to get into it. You can’t orgasm if you’re full of adrenaline and cortisol. You can’t birth, either.
It’s like how some people don’t poop on vacation. Sphincters don’t open in the presence of adrenaline. You have to feel relaxed and totally safe.
Who feels totally safe and relaxed giving birth these days? Almost no one. We’ve socialized and medicalized birth too much. Birth is not inner work anymore. Instead of softening into the birth process, we spend most of our energy avoiding risk. Birth is a reason to be on high alert.
Michel Odent says that is to our detriment.
“To give birth to her baby, the mother needs privacy. She needs to feel unobserved.” She needs to turn off neo-cortical control.
Here are four things that turn on the neo-cortex and make birth hard:
All words require a woman to enter her neo-cortex, to bring her brain wave activity up a notch or two. This is one reason a lot of women in advanced labor, when asked questions, will just repeat “I don’t know” or not answer at all. It’s too much work to process a question and certainly to come up with the words to answer it. A woman with good oxytocin production, in progressing labor, is in her own world. She doesn’t care about any of the things in our perceived reality, anyway. Few things need words–a woman’s experience of birth is all about feeling and being.
All light, but especially fake light, turns on the neo-cortex. It wakes us up. Birth requires us to be in a dream-like state. Our brain waves need to slow down, our primitive brains need to take over. Light makes us cast our eyes about and then our neo-cortex wants to get in on whatever is going on. Maybe analyze a few things, processes some possible threats, try to recall what it is we’re ‘supposed’ to do if we have back labor, and compile a list of reasons why that nurse might have given us the side-eye. All this is just a big ‘ol wet blanket to a mammalian body trying to birth a baby.
Anything that “makes you look” or requires attention is distracting to a woman in labor. Things should be as familiar and predictable as possible. Anything new or that requires attention slows a woman down. Attention-requiring things are especially inhibiting when they signify danger, possible danger, threat of danger, or appearance of danger.
The better term for this is ‘observers,’ but I wanted a bunch of <l> alliteration. So anyone or anything that is observing you give birth is going to inhibit your birth by stimulating your neo-cortex. When we are observed, we observe ourselves. People or machines, in the room or without, it doesn’t matter. All the waiting and watching makes birth hard.
So, best case scenario: You aren’t afraid and sneak off to your birth cave. Turn off your human mind and think very, very carefully (beforehand!!) about who you invite into this space.
Michel Odent says for the safest birth you need “one experienced and silent midwife sitting in a corner.” Sometimes, he says, he adds that the midwife should be knitting and smiling.
Featured image credit: Kala Bernier via Flickr/CC