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book review

 

The Scientification of Love by Michel Odent, M.D.
Reviewed by Cristin Tighe

The contrast in this book was intriguing – between the subject matter of love and the very academic, analytical process of the research and writing in which the subject matter is presented.  Michel Odent’s key argument -- that the specific disciplinary perspectives on any subject, in this case love, limit our ability to see the whole picture -- is in synch with the view that the technological approach to birthing has limited our abilities to see the subtleties and complexities surrounding birth.  Initially, it seems like a big jump to say that.  But taking the evolutionary view of species, which we are, it is interesting to note that, historically, many cultures ritually disturbed first contact between the baby and mom, because it was advantageous to develop the human potential toward aggression.  But looking with open eyes at the breadth of violence through war, including the destruction and suffering that accompanies it throughout the world, it is clear that something is amiss with our species… the first to be consciously conscious.  So, understanding, considering and evaluating Michel Odent’s theory can only help us all.

Looking cross culturally, comparative research shows that the more beneficial it is for an individual to be aggressive and destructive, “…the more intrusive rituals and cultural beliefs in the period around birth have become.” (p.26).  Looking retrospectively at tough issues of people who have “some impaired capacity to love – either love of oneself or love of others” (p.14), he states they there tend to be risk factors at the time surrounding birth (p.14).  He is talking about people who later in life deal with juvenile violent criminality, teenage suicide, drug addiction, and autism/autistic spectrum issues.  Research suggests violent births, upset emotional states of the mother, not having a father, and unwanted pregnancy, are all factors that were similar in the lives of people who historically would benefit from aggressive tendencies, but now are characteristics of people who experience the tough issues listed.  Thus, the conclusion is that the early experiences of fetal life and period around birth are so significant to people’s capacity to love (p.19).

Odent discusses the link between “pain” (maybe culturally perceived and created) and motherly love, and also looks at other species and the importance of the very critical time right after birth.  [Changing hormones are key to this time, and oxytocin, the “hormone of love” (p.12), is most important.]  To support this critical birth time, Odent discusses the physiology of birth, specifically how the primitive part of the brain is releasing hormones, so stimulation to the mother (rational talk, bright lights, pressure on her) during the birthing process inhibits progress (p.32-33).

He briefly addresses other topics key to piecing together this puzzle.  They include -- the pre-eminent role of oxytocin and endorphins (p.41); sexual attractiveness (p.47); romantic love and love sickness (p.53); the significance of the baby’s senses in identifying the mother before and after birth (p.58); how animal-human attachment is significant to love (p.62); orgasmic/ecstatic states and mystical emotions related to the need to escape if you can not fight (p.67); emotional/mystical emotions (p.76); prayer (p.81); cultural views on water (p.88); and the significance of our total body (e.g., not just the brain, but the heart and gut) in emotional  states (p.94).

The conclusion of the book is well stated by Odent – “The most important lesson to be learned from the scientification of love is that we cannot prepare for the future without embracing the meaning and the relevance of the baby’s perspective on life.”  (p.98) I believe that Odent’s view is significant and worth considering… I think that his work may be hard for people to grasp, given the complexity of factors and the long-term timeline on which he has perspective.  The U.S. is an interesting case though, that may give specific proof to his theory… the U.S. media culture now is among the most violent in the world, and the mass of influential people creating this culture (through music, television, film and writing) are children that were born in the more medicalized ways that today’s grandmothers gave birth.  Taking a “babyist” vs. “adultist” view, such as that Odent proposes, allows us be more conscious of the impacts of the birth time on the baby and on what that means for the future.

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