on 11 March 2000
Under a deceptively simple and small format, this is perhaps the most sophisticated and far-ranging of all Michel Odent's books until now. It brings together Michel's clinical experience of uninterfered human birth with his more recent research on the links between 'primal' experiences -before birth, around birth and in the first year-, and well being later on in life, with thought-provoking insights in every single chapter. While some readers may already be aware of the importance of oxytocin, the 'hormone of love', and endorphins in all aspects of human sexuality including lactation, this book explores their role in a wider concept of love that encompasses maternal love as prototype of all love and mystical emotions in altered states of consciousness. A very wide range of evidence from the biological and other sciences as well as the humanities is brought together in a logical sequence of chapters followed by both a summary of each argument and a list of references.
The cross-section of scientific papers included is impressive and keeps the reader on track to catch a glimpse of the whole, the 'unbroken mirror' of human behaviour. From a review of studies of oxytocin receptors in and outside the brain to the relevance of the disputed 'aquatic ape theory' and the salience of comparable features in the births of Buddha and Jesus, there is a concordance which speicalist readers should remain open to. The argument is anything but a reductionist one; the more extensive our analysis of the molecular level - the 'scientification' of love, the greater our understanding of how malleable the hormonal balance of humans as social beings can be.
For a long time, Michel Odent has been interested in culture fron the perspective of birth and the handling of infants around the time of birth. One of the main hypotheses in this book -quite a large piece of the mirror- is that interference with the birth process can be linked historically with a long phase of human evolution in which aggressiveness was adaptive; yet 'homo ecologicus' has everything to gain from a full dose of love hormones at the start of life. As an anthropologist who has witnessed in her lifetime the undisturbed birthing of Amazonian forest people, then the havoc caused by enforced medicalisation and now the conscious but difficult revaluing of native ways, I endorse Michel's argument as the message it also is. His book is an optimist one. It resolutely relies on reason and knowledge to expose how the physiological reduction of neocortical control curing labour -only possible if mothers feel secure-, does not only facilitate the release and action of oxytocin during birth but also provides a starting point for harnessing the energies of love heralded by Teilhard de Chardin, in new cultural forms.