It is through my work as an Alexander Technique teacher that I became interested in working with pregnant women, and eventually trained as a Birth Doula.  Doulas are not medically trained, but they give non-medical and emotional support to a woman during labour. I have worked with women giving birth in hospital and at home, and am increasingly convinced of the veracity of Michel Odent’s teachings and experience of the birth process.

Michel Odent stresses that there are two hormones primarily at work during labour: Oxytocin, which he calls the ‘love hormone’, and adrenalin, which is the ‘fight or flight’ stress hormone. Both hormones have their place, and the presence of one, inhibits the presence of the other.

For the majority of a woman’s labour, what is required is oxytocin. Adrenalin is needed at the end of labour for delivery of the baby. Giving birth for most women is both a stressful and frightening experience, and most of the ways in which labour is managed, tend unwittingly to exacerbate this. If a woman is anxious then adrenalin will be produced, and oxytocin will not.

Oxytocin is a shy hormone; it requires privacy, safety and calm. Oxytocin is present when we stroke a pet or comfort a child, when a baby is nursed, during lovemaking, and during labour. It helps us bond with the ‘other’, and it does not like to be disturbed.  
In my experience, the way that most labours are managed, there is little opportunity for oxytocin production. Labouring women are often moved around – either into hospital or between rooms, they are frequently and invasively examined, or have questions asked of them, and they are often scared. In order for a potentially normal birth to proceed smoothly, a woman needs to be in the best possible place to produce the hormones that will help her.

I believe the best chance of this happening is usually when a woman is at home in a familiar, safe and supportive environment. I have also come to see that my job as a doula is not so much about ‘doing’ something as about ‘being’ in a particular way. A doula can help create and sustain an environment in which oxytocin is encouraged, and adrenalin inhibited until it has a positive role to play. I do this by being calm, available, unobtrusive, and present.

I have come to realise that, as a doula, I am an important part of the environment.  I don’t have to make something happen in the mother, I just have to make sure that there are no obstacles in her environment.  I have to help the mother feel safe, unobserved, and uninterrupted.  If this happens, the mother can labour optimally and her chances of a normal birth are enhanced.

I am not suggesting that all labours will be unproblematic, as this is clearly not the case.  There are things that can go wrong, and there are situations that require medical intervention, sometimes urgently.  But what is very clear to me is that in an attempt to anticipate medical problems, our current practices in managing labour can precipitate the very problems they are seeking to avoid.  

I have very limited experience and I my knowledge and role is not medically informed, but I have never seen a hospital birth proceed without intervention and distress, and I have witnessed home-births which progressed unimpeded and easily with no medical involvement whatsoever.  Michel Odent has of course, delivered thousands of babies over many decades, and it was he who got me thinking about this.

In conclusion, I see a parallel to the work of a doula and the work of an Alexander Technique teacher, because in both instances it is our relationship with the ‘other’ that affects change. The change though, is not because we make something happen, it is because we facilitate the possibility for something to happen by a non-interfering process of communication.

It is because we form part of, and affect, the environment of the person we are with, and the environment itself elicits a change. Indeed the removal of an obstacle in the environment can enable the pupil or labouring mother to function better. Neither of us is required to ‘do’ anything, but with the removal of obstacles, as FM Alexander said, “the right thing does itself.”