The doula at a turning point in the history of childbirth

(extract from "The Farmer and the Obstetrician" by Michel Odent. Free Association books 2002)

An unprecedented situation

Until recently a woman could not have a baby without releasing a complex cocktail of "love hormones". Today, in many countries, most women give birth without relying on the release of such a flow of hormones. Pharmacological substitutes that block the release of the natural substances and have no behavioural effects are widely used (e.g. epidural anaesthesia replacing endorphins, plus drips of synthetic oxytocin). Furthermore many women give birth via a caesarean section. The long-term effects of this unprecedented situation must be considered in terms of civilization.

The current situation is rooted in a widespread blindness to the basic needs of labouring women, which has always been commonplace in obstetrical circles. This lack of interest is more complete than ever at a time when we are entering the age of elective caesarean section on request. This new phenomenon, developed originally in Italy and in the largest Latin American cities, is found today all over the world. Certain obstetricians are indirectly participating in its rapid development. For example, 31% of London female obstetricians with an uncomplicated pregnancy at term claimed that they would choose an elective caesarean delivery for themselves. Similar preferences have been expressed among female and male North American obstetricians. A well-known London Professor of obstetrics claims that the human brain size represents the main challenge to the birth process and that cesarean section is a technological solution to "the conflict between the need to think and the need to run". Other well-known "experts" wonder why there are still women who want to go through the pain and stress of labour at a time when thanks to an epidural and a drip of syntocinon it is possible to watch the TV while giving birth. Among this generation of experts there is an understandable lack of motivation for studying the environmental factors that can facilitate the birth process.

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