While I typically hold Dr. Michel Odent, called the father of waterbirth, in high esteem, this time he's fallen off the deep end of the birthing pool...
In an article featured here, Dr. Odent makes the case to remove all fathers from accompanying birthing women. He states that many fathers hinder their partner's birth experience, causing undue stress and labor dysfunction.
I do agree with him on this point, but this is where we part ways. His solution would be to ban all fathers from the birth a blanket "solution" that would treat a symptom, but not cure the actual disease.
Ultimately, he's missing the why factor.
And the answer is fear. Again, we return to a culture of fear and lack of education surrounding birth in general, not just natural childbirth. It is this lack of understanding of the birth process that prevents men from seeing childbirth for what it is. It's not that they aren't capable of supporting their women, they just don't know how.
A statement that truly offends me is:
"But having been involved in childbirth for 50 years, and having been in charge of 15,000 births, I have reached the stage where I feel it is time to state what I - and many midwives and fellow obstetricians - privately consider the obvious."
You, my dear Dr. Odent, should never consider yourself to have been "in charge" of these births. That power lies with the birthing mother and she alone.
I must say how disappointed I am to see such a patriarchal view of childbirth coming from him. I thought he would [should] know better. I also find it ironic that Dr. Odent recommends that women be present to support each other, naming an aunt, mother, etc. What he fails to realize is that the majority of these women will hold such fears about childbirth as well.
They too have been immersed in this culture of fear and have little idea of how to effectively support a laboring mother, despite the fact that many are mothers themselves.
Now, I do agree that it is obvious that many men hinder rather than help at the birth. They exude anxiety and have this stress etched in the lines on their faces. But my solutions would be to provide men with the needed tools and education to support their women, not ban them from the process.
I firmly believe that the person with the most power, for good or ill, during a woman's birth is a loved one, usually the baby's father.
I'll never forget the look on my own husband's face as he caught our second daughter. His only request for future births is that he be able to catch them all.
To think of denying him his place at our children's births is unbelievably callous. It would never happen in our family. My greatest fear at our oldest daughter's birth was that he wouldn't make it in time. That was the only thing that caused me any stress during her birth - how crushed he would be were he to miss it. He did make it - winded from running and gasping for breath - but he did make it.
I think the other warning that we can take from Dr. Odent's statements is the reminder that care providers often make decisions perceived to be in our best interest.
Truly, I believe that Dr. Odent is well-intentioned in his beliefs - he wants to promote calm, effective births for women.
In contract, my answer to this challenge would be to provide the necessary education and skills to empower both men and women to embrace the childbirth process. Now, this doesn't mean calling men "coaches" (a term I truly detest when it come to birth - men will never carry the expertise from experience needed to truly be a "coach")
His would be to further remove ownership of childbirth from families and deliver it into the hands of others.
But I have to wonder, isn't that what led childbirth to its current state?
A slippery slope indeed...