Image: Millia SImielli
A Brazilian doula has taken famed French obstetrician and child specialist Michael Odent’s inspiring words to heart, and makes special dolls to help children understand childbirth.
Milia Simielli moved to Australia in 2015 when her husband got a job there. Originally from Brazil, Simielli worked as a family and community health nurse and then trained as a doula to help support women through birth and pregnancy.
She initially felt isolated, though, so she turned to sewing. She’d learned to sew when she was caring for her mother in Brazil, and as she sewed, she learned more about the practices of doulas. In an article with Metro.co.uk, she said that with no formal job, friends or family around, and being so far from home, she used her time to do what she loved.
Inspired by Michel Odent’s words, “To change the world, we must first change the way babies are born,” Simielli combined her doula knowledge and sewing skills and created dolls that would help prepare siblings for the arrival of a new baby. She wanted to make real-life dolls-dolls that had a baby actually coming from inside the doll and that was detached at the belly button. She wanted a doll that would breastfeed. She wanted easy accessibility for children, and she built her business with the help of Sisterworks, a social enterprise that supports migrant women through the use of handmade goods in Australia. She sells her dolls all over the world, and says that it’s very time-consuming as she makes everything to perfection.
It takes her three days to make one doll, but part of the charm is all the love that is involved. She makes dolls that are specific to each family’s situation, including women who have VBACs. These dolls have a zip and a smaller doll that comes from inside. The dolls are created individually to help children as new siblings come in, and Simielli says the joy and reaction from the kids as they watch babies be ‘born’ or nurse is adorable.
Mostly, she says that she wants to help celebrate how childbirth can be the most passionate and gentle moment in our lives and she wants to educate peope so they can have the most positive experience in the world.
Her story reminded us of why we love Michel Odent so much, and why it’s no surprise he’s so inspirational as he offers tips on how to have the best birth possible. The following is a reprint from one of our authors who had the pleasure of meeting with the famed physician.
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 88-year-old Frenchman with poor hearing and an impish tuft of grey hair. I met him recently. 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 recently 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. Boy did I take a lot of notes about birth. How to do it, what’s best for women, what’s best for babies. I couldn’t contain my notetaking.
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. (Okay, not 86 but most of his life.)
He is recognized for his extensive research concerning how we are born. All the stuff that midwives and women have known for generations, he has been and continues to put the science to and behind. 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 and he’s using science and brain-based reasoning to protect women and babies.
Much of his work concerns 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.
Yes. You read that right. Our own minds get in the way of the way birth is supposed to be.Of supreme importance is that a woman can STOP THINKING. Odent says 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, and in the age of the Internet, we get our WebMD degrees like you read about.
The problem is that 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 because you are thinking about it instead of letting your brain take a break and your body work out a bit instead.
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. I don’t know very many women who say that sex is sexier because they’re totally thinking about whether they’re doing it correctly as they’re in the moment and guess what? You can’t do that during birth, either, if you want the labor to be quicker and easier.
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. We know, hard to do in a weird toilet, so we get how it’s hard to not feel stressed as you go through the most incredible, miraculous process of human life we can imagine.
And really, 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 for the wrong to happen, not a reason to be waiting gently without fear about all the right stuff going on.
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.
Sounds very different than conventional birth these days, doesn’t it?
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. So all that talking and reasoning and rationing that people try to do with you as you’re laboring? When you tell them to shut the heck up? It’s not that you’re being rude; it’s that you are telling them to let your neo-cortex have some peace.
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 old 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. Yes, you know we’re specifically talking about machines that freak a woman out when they start to beep and put everyone on high alert when she’s just trying to get some shut-eye.
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. Harder. Harder than it has to be.
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.
No, it’s not a bad thing to have a small support team around you in your spouse/partner, caring midwives and doulas, just as long as all know that if your baby’s birth is going to be the most natural and in-tune-with-your-body- thing Mother Nature wants it to be, they’re going to need to give you some space, keep the lights on low, keep it quiet and keep you from looking at anything that’ll get your mind racing.
And we have to agree. I mean, he’s Michael Odent, after all!
Featured image credit: Kala Bernier via Flickr/CC