The internationally-renowned obstetrician, Michel Odent, has been passionately at the forefront of women’s rights in childbirth for decades now. He has always been a vocal advocate for home birth and water birth, and has personally attended over 15,000 births in his career spanning 50 years.
Dr Odent, who has also written 11 books which have been translated into 21 languages, has also not escaped controversy, ironically enough from women’s groups.
Dr Odent has often been criticised for his controversial view that fathers have no place in childbirth, and in fact believe that they impede a woman’s progress and can contribute to complications in labour and delivery.
His recent article in Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper has once again stirred the pot. It was written following a recent survey that was conducted in the UK which concluded that fathers should be allowed to stay overnight in hospital on the day their baby is born.
Dr Odent’s response to this doesn’t pull any punches. Not only does he believe that the father shouldn’t be there to stay overnight; he shouldn’t be there for the birth at all.
“I am more and more convinced that the participation of the father is one of the main reasons for long and difficult labours.” says Dr Odent.
“It is only 35 years since men first entered the delivery room, yet we have welcomed them in without question.
At the present time, when birth is more difficult and longer than ever, when more women need drugs or Caesareans, we have to dare to smash the limits of political correctness and ask whether men should really be present at birth.
When we take into consideration the effects of this on male and female, it seems the answer is not.
It is time to go back to basics, and turn modern convention on its head.
When it comes to the delivery suite, men would be well advised to stay away.”
I first became aware of Dr Odent when I was studying to become a childbirth educator. At the time, I applauded his views on home birth and water birth, but I was less inclined to agree with him on his “no dads allowed” theory.
As time has gone on though, and I’ve had time to reflect on the births of my own children, I hate to admit it, but I think I am starting to agree with Monsieur Odent.
When you think about it, what woman in modern Western society (I say this deliberately to separate us from women in tribal societies where a man wouldn’t be permitted to be anywhere NEAR a birth!) would admit to saying, “You know what? I don’t think I want my partner to be there.” Would most of us even think that way these days?
If you are over 35, chances are your own father was not present at your birth, so we are talking about very recent times.
Early, but very vocal women’s liberation movements in the early 1900’s demanded that the drug scopolamine (also known as “Twilight Sleep”) be offered to women so that they could give birth without pain. Believe it or not, a labour and birth that was not recalled by the mother was considered the height of liberation in those days. Indeed the drug was heralded as “a new era for woman and through her for the whole human race.”
It’s easy to look back and laugh at something that today seems utterly ludicrous, but it’s a good example to draw on to show how dramatically our views can change in such a short space of time.
There was never any question in my mind that my husband would be by my side at the birth of my children. We also hired a private doula which was the best money I have EVER spent in my life, by the way.
My husband, too, wanted to be there and enthusiastically attended our prenatal education class, read the books and learnt all the childbirth jargon.
But – and here’s the real question. Did having him there help or hinder me? If I have to be brutally honest, I would say that he was more of a hindrance. And I believe he is no different to about 99% of well-intentioned, loving, supportive and caring partners out there.
So why was he a hindrance? Because he loves me. Because he can’t bear to see the woman he loves in pain. As a man, it is his instinct to “fix” things and make the pain go away. And that translated as him saying to me when I was struggling to ride the waves of my most intense contractions, “Honey“. You don’t have to be a hero about this. I love you. Why don’t you have an epidural?”
And guess what? Surprise surprise, I caved in. About 5 seconds later.
Now, I will never blame my husband for this. He only did what his genetic instinct told him to do. But after reading Dr Odent’s article, I do find myself asking the question – what if?
Well, if we have another baby in the future, maybe I’ll find myself swimming against the tide of public opinion and tell my devoted husband that he can pace the halls while I get on with women’s business.
Tanya Strusberg is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator (LCCE) and teaches prenatal education to pregnant women and their partners in Melbourne. She and her husband Doron have two beautiful children, Liev and Amalia.
To learn more visit www.birthwellbirthright.com