The 1997 nominee to receive the Thomas R. Verny Award for Outstanding Contributions to Pre- and Perinatal Psychology and Health is Michel Odent of London, surgeon, path-breaking obstetrician, dedicated midwife, and researcher in the primal roots of health.
Michel's innovative leadership of the obstetrical unit of a state hospital in Pithiviers, France from 1962 to 1986 brought the world to his door. Although he went to Pithiviers to introduce a new technique of Cesarean delivery, his perceptive observations of women giving birth with the help of midwives, led to new psychological approaches to labor and birth which made cesarean deliveries rarely necessary. Odent became aware of the dynamic interaction of mind, emotion, and body affecting the mother and determining the outcome of birth. In a private environment, he noticed that women in labor went into a natural trance and would give birth spontaneously if not distracted by well-meaning instructions and interventions from those attending them.
At Pithiviers, the birthing area was slowly changed to be more functional, with beds built as low platforms on the floor making it easy to move about and shift postures at will. Water pools, unknown in hospitals at the time, were installed as an option for labor or birth. Birth was never induced; there were no drugs, painkillers, or forceps used. Mothers and infants remained together for hours after birth.
While there was no screening of patients for risk, and preparation for birth was very low-key, mostly group singing, the unit's safety statistics rose to rank among the best in the world. Michel's book, Birth Reborn (NY:Pantheon, 1984) with a Foreword by Doris Haire and an Introduction by Shiela Kitzinger told the story and drew the world's attention to Pithiviers. After two decades there, he was commissioned by the World Health Organization to study planned home birth in industrialized countries (1986-1990). To Michel, home birth was needed to properly evaluate the hospital experience of birth, and home needed to be rediscovered as the ideal place for both birth and death.
In 1990, he founded the Primal Health Research Centre in London and became a homebirth midwife. Much in demand around the world, he became an itinerant scholar-teacher to groups around the world, eventually publishing 30 professional papers and 9 books in 19 languages. He now edits the newsletter Primal Health Research which focuses on the long-term health consequences of conditions in utero, at birth, and in early infancy. EDITOR'S NOTE: The newsletter can be ordered in North America from Birthworks, 42 Tallowood Drive, Medford, NJ 08055. Visit Primal-Health.org. And, click here to learn more about the Thomas R. Verny Awards. To obtain an audiotape of Dr. Odent's address, "The Future of a Civilization Born Under Anesthesia" and all other tapes of this conference, please call Gold Key Recordings at 1-281-350-6295 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The citation presented to Dr. Odent along with the Verny Prize, was as follows:
TO Michel Odent, M.D.
Visionary Accoucheur and Primal Health Pioneer
We present the Thomas R. Verny Award for Outstanding Contributions to
Pre- and Perinatal Psychology and Health. Your understanding of the
foundations of health and the psychology of spontaneous birth are slowly
making their way around the world holding promise for better birth and
better health for babies, mothers, and fathers everywhere. APPPAH honors
you today at its 8th International Congress December 5, 1997 in
San Francisco, California