Michel & Madge…Merci!

July 4th, 2011

Here are my musings on the day I met the legendary Michel Odent…..

Michel & Madge….Merci!

The day that I was asked to write a guest post for a friend’s blog, I was in a picture postcard English village in Hertfordshire waiting to listen to one of the legendary names in natural childbirth – Michel Odent author of many memorable books such as ‘Birth Reborn’ and more recently ‘Childbirth in the age of plastics’.

We listened to fascinating talk of neocortical inhibition, fetal ejection reflex and the role of the various hormones involved in the process of childbirth.

Like any doula worth her salt, I set off on the 3 hour drive home and immediately began to reflect on the things that had been discussed.

Probably like many doulas or antenatal teachers, I talk to my clients about the way that other mammals approach their births. I often talk about my own cat, Madge. When she was in early labour she paced the room, going behind the television or the sofa and clearly agitated by my peering over and excitedly asking ‘are you ok Madge?!’ as I figured she was probably going to give birth soon. To my knowledge she hadn’t done an NCT course….she certainly didn’t appear the Hypnobirthing type…..I did wonder if the other local moggies had shared their labour horror stories with her and while I couldn’t be sure, I was fairly confident she was simply labouring instinctively. When I clicked that I was the source of her irritation I went to bed and left her to it. I woke up in the morning and came down to her cleaning up 3 tiny little kittens who were soon suckling away (no one to check their latch, just a text book example of the ‘Breast Crawl;-) ) and no real evidence that anyone had been free birthing on my cardigan over night. No one told her what to do. She found a safe, dark place, away from observation (sorry Madge) and just listened to her body and acted instinctively. To this day I tell my clients in very late pregnancy….you need to find your inner cat and get in your airing cupboard….

But listening to Michel speak about the importance of immediate, undisturbed skin to skin and eye to eye contact between mother and child got me thinking about Madge again in a way I hadn’t before.

When my then 4 year old daughter and I came down that morning to this new mother with her litter, I explained to her how incredibly important it was that we left Madge and her babies in peace and in particular that we mustn’t touch them or part them from their mother. This could affect the bond between her and her kittens and she may reject or even harm them if we handled them. Unless there was a genuine problem, they must remain undisturbed for as long as possible for the first days. I remember this as knowledge imparted from my Dad when Pepsi, our family dog had given birth a decade or more before.

These same principle seems to be common knowledge and applied to most domestic animals and their newborns. So why is it that humans don’t seem to show the same reverence for our own babies in the immediate minutes, hours and days after they are born? Thank goodness in the UK babies a no longer whisked off in to nurseries away from their mothers but all too often they are handled by someone other than their parents and taken off to be checked, measured, vigorously rubbed, cleaned up, weighed…..where’s the rush? If there is no immediate danger to the mother or baby then surely it makes absolute sense to leave them to have skin to skin and eye to eye contact with their mother to really tap into the vital peak of oxytocin released just after they are born? Colonising the baby with ‘friendly germs’ from their mother’s skin, regulating their breathing and body temperature but also, just like the cat, starting to seal that bond between mother and baby as they discover each other, undisturbed.

Yet again I was brought back to the perfect simplicity of birth.

We all too often seem to forget what seems so obvious and crucially important when fellow humans are giving birth, yet respect and reverence is given to our pets during the process.

So today, I wanted to say thank you to a captivating 80 something year old french doctor and a rather promiscuous moggie who came to live with us when someone else discarded her.

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