Demystifying the Royal Birth
This week I had the honour of supporting a mother during her birth. It was intense and challenging in many ways. There were tears, there was joy. It was, like any birth, an event that needed intimacy and respect. As I emerged at midnight into bright city lights, I read the latest article on Duchess Meghan’s upcoming birth… An attack by the press over the Sussex’s desire to hold off on the tradition of appearing hours after the birth to reveal the new royal.
With days to go until Meghan’s final “push” into becoming a mother of the monarchy, the media is in its expected, who, what, when, where, how frenzy. As a former copy editor and writer, including two years spent on a celebrity gossip magazine, I have skimmed the surface of some of the stories that have been floating around since “bump watch” began. I did the same during Princess Kate’s pregnancies. Not to glean any profound insight according to the paparazzi or “sources close to the royals”, but rather because, now as a certified HypnoBirthing Practitioner, it offered me a clearer insight into where the world stands on the business of birth.
Finding it difficult now to stay mum amidst a total muddle of misinformation, I thought I should say a few things that, instead of fuelling dissent, will hopefully enlighten a few mothers-to-be out there, build confidence in women who still can’t bring themselves to believe that birth can be brilliant, and hopefully stop a little of the predictable judgment that Meghan (much like any mother who opts to empower herself for her birth) faces. So let’s press on with, dare I say, poopooing some myths surrounding Meghan’s Matrescence…
Matrescence: (n) The Process of Becoming a Mother. A term coined by anthropologist Dana Raphael.
Myth #1 Meghan may be jumping on Kate’s bandwagon and joining the HypnoBirthing fad
Can we end this notion once and for all, please? Young Prince George Of Cambridge, son of Prince William and Catherine, is what one might call a hypnobaby (a baby born to a mother using HypnoBirthing techniques) which was confirmed by the HypnoBirthing Institute after his birth. So too are his younger siblings Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis. Each time time the Duchess of Cambridge was pregnant, the press brought out “breaking news” that Kate would be breaking protocol with a new fad called HypnoBirthing. So let’s clarify things…
For those of you still frowning “Hypno..what?!”, HypnoBirthing as a philosophy and birth technique has been around for over 30 years, since Marie Mongan, founder of the HypnoBirthing Institute wrote her first book HypnoBirthing™ – A Celebration Of Life. Over the last three decades, the institute has trained thousands of practitioners around the globe who in turn have taught thousands of mothers-to-be the forgotten art (and birth right) of calm, fear-free, intuitive, comfortable birth. While HypnoBirthing as a formalised concept began with Marie Mongan, meditation and self-hypnosis go back centuries. In fact, the concept of hypnosis, established by Franz Mesmer in the 1800s, was simply a discovery of something the brain already does - shifting its waves to alpha and theta patterns - when daydreaming, in meditation and during our sleep cycles. This is a state that women since time immemorial have been entering when birthing in a calm, safe, nurturing environment with natural hormones flowing.
The teaching in HypnoBirthing that birth is also not meant to be painful originates from revelations made by British obstetrician Grantly Dick-Reid in the 1920s when, through observing mothers experiencing painless birth, he discovered what he called the fear-tension-pain syndrome. His ideas were ridiculed by other practitioners who subscribed to teachings that pain in birth was a physiological given and necessity, derived from a belief in the “Curse of Eve”. Those who believe that this “curse” was placed on all women by God might be interested to know that it was, however, only introduced to religious texts by Pope Clement Alexandria (circa 150-215AD) during the patristic era which aggressively sought to restrict the influence of women in civil society (including medicine women, healers and midwives). It’s high time we ditch this patriarchal and very self-limiting belief ladies.
Grantly Dick-Reid’s “unscientific” ideas have now been found to be entirely accurate. So, far from being mothering mumbo jumbo, HypnoBirthing is in fact an enlightening course that returns empowered birth to the women. Its results are proving so powerful that England’s NHS is now training up its midwives in the techniques so that they too can support mothers this way.
Myth #2 If Meghan uses homeopathy she’s a hippy
Quite the contrary. There is a member of the Monarchy who has always remained faithful to “alternative” medicine. HRH Queen Elizabeth. In fact, it is probably Queen Elizabeth and who is assisting Meghan in making sure her homeopathic birth remedies are ready. If you’re wondering what those are, I’ll share some she most likely has…
Arnica: taken at the start of labour, during labour just before delivery and after the birth to reduce any potential bruising of the perineal tissues.
Caulophyllum: taken during the last weeks of the pregnancy to ‘tone up’ the uterus, helping to produce good contractions and reducing the chances of becoming over tired during birth. It also helps with any after-birth discomfort as the uterus contracts to its original size.
Hypericum: taken after birth to boost mood and help with any pain in the perineal area.
In 2018 The Guardian published a columnist’s piece slamming the “quackery” of homeopathy and the Royal family’s support for it. I will not include the link as it is an aggressive, unresearched rant. To anyone who slams alternative medicine (without personally using it), I would like to invite them to the hours after a hospital birth these days when a mother now has a nasal swab taken to check if she has picked up the antibiotic-resistant bacterium, Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or MRSA, now found in hospitals worldwide. The reason for that antibiotic resistance is decades of over-prescription and incorrect adminstration of antibiotics - one of the most lauded mainstream medicines of our times. The World Health Organisation calls antibiotic resistance, “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.”
Meghan’s use of alternative medicine extended long before she joined the royal family. Something that has been mocked. One report wrote, “While it is not thought she practices the art of ancient medicine anymore as it can be dangerous to pregnant women, the Duchess admitted she was seeing an expert in Ayurvedic medicine.”
The reality, however, is that homeopathy is one medicine that women can safely turn to while pregnant. The ancient Chinese art of acupuncture (which Meghan is a big fan of) is also not only safe in assisting to reduce nausea and discomfort, it boosts optimal blood and energy flow to the uterus.
Aggression from a place of ignorance helps no one. So, instead of rubbishing alternatives that propose nourishing and supporting the body to strengthen the immune system, we should perhaps be taking note of how this wisdom can help. If Meghan chooses to do so, more power to her.
Myth #3 If Meghan has a home birth she will be breaking royal protocol
If Meghan does birth at home she won’t be the first. While Princess Diana and Kate made the Lindo steps something of a birthing woman’s walk of fame, stepping out to the delight of the crowds, royal births have always been a home affair. Queen Elizabeth was born at 17 Bruton Street, Mayfair. Prince Charles was born at Buckhingham Palace, as were Andrew and Edward, while Prince Anne made her entry at Clarence House. Meghan giving birth at Frogmore will simply be birth without the fanfare and fluster.
Myth #4 If Meghan home births, she will sending an irresponsible message to the public
Some publications have used statements by ACOG (the American Council of Obstetrics and Gynaecology) that “home births are associated with an increased risk of perinatal death and neonatal seizures, and it's harder for necessary and life-saving medical interventions if needed”, these publications fail to reveal that ACOG is currently faced with the challenge of trying to reverse the fact that the US has the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the developed world, and caesarean rates that far exceed what the World Health Organisations deems acceptable. ACOG does not differentiate between births that were planned and unplanned.
Unplanned home births are very often ones that happen prematurely and yes, those are riskier, because there may be underlying issues precipitating the event. Planned home birth is, however, a very different affair.
Prior to my own home birth with my third child I, like most women, thought the idea was wildly brave, bordering on bonkers. Having experienced the preparation that goes into one now though, I can say that in that process I experienced care that surpassed anything I’d found in a mainstream setting with my previous pregnancies, with a private midwife who meticulously followed my physical and emotional health throughout, a doula and a backup obstetrician waiting should hospital transfer be required.
While I unequivocally agree with anyone who says that home birth should not be taken lightly, neither should hospital birth. Any birth today should be an educated, informed and respected one.
According to statistics compiled by Dr Rebecca L. Dekker, PhD, RN, APRN, LCCE of Evidence Based Birth, “In England, midwifery-led care — as opposed to care delivered by obstetricians — has been shown to decrease the rate of interventions with no increased risk to the baby.”
In response to one Guardian article that “at least if women are in hospital - they’re not splashing around in a birthing pool on the shag-pile rug, surrounded by Jo Malone candles, pretending that giving birth is as easy as shelling pistachios”, I must ask that the writer perhaps talks to a few people in the know. While hospital birth can indeed be better for some, hospital is not for everyone. In fact, it’s not for many. For most people, the smell and sounds alone are enough to elicit a fear response that stalls birth which for most ends in caesarean delivery. Renowned obstetrician, author and birth expert Michel Odent would argue that a room full of candles is precisely what mothers need. According to Odent, oxytocin and melatonin work synergistically and one thing that switches off this vital boon to birth is LED lights - the very lights that are repeatedly turned on every time hospital staff come to assess a birthing mother’s progress. You can find Michel’s discussion on this under “Let’s Talk Birth” here.
Preparing a mother for everything that could possibly go right creates very different outcomes from those of someone whose care providers have her mentally mulling over everything that could potentially go wrong, consequently leaving her nurturing stress hormones that are potent enough to make a cervix say: “I’m staying shut thanks!” That indeed is not an easy pistachio to “shell”, for want of a better metaphor.
Let’s not forget that Meghan is also likely to be well aware of current birth statistics that black women in the UK are five times more likely than white women to die in childbirth and post birth, while morbidity is twice as high for mixed race mothers than white mothers. The statistics (much like those of the USA) are not simply related to health, education or social status, but rather systemic racial bias that continues to exist in the medical system globally, with women of colour seeing their requests and concerns denied or ignored. Meghan will have no doubt put together her support team very carefully with the guidance of Duchess Catherine’s midwife, Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent who is now Chief Midwifery Officer, Head of Maternity NHS England. Dunkley-Bent has recently also been in talks with doula and birth activist Mars Lord to address the safety of birth for black and mixed-race mothers. I would not be surprised if Meghan has Mars Lord as part of her support crew.
Myth #5 Meghan will be delivered of a child by royal physicians
With all the focus on Meghan, Harry has been a little overshadowed by it all. Goodness, how could anyone forget the lovely Harry? HypnoBirthing doesn’t. The course prepares both mothers and partners as we believe the support of a partner is pivotal to a calmer, more comfortable and easier experience. While many fathers step into a HypnoBirthing class wondering what on earth they’re in for, they walk away from it, and their baby’s births, very different people. If they are indeed preparing for a HypnoBirth, Harry will be Meghan’s prime support. The Duke and Duchess will likely have spent recent evenings chatting over who will cut the cord and whether Meghan will receive the baby or Harry will have the life-changing experience of “catching” their first born, bringing it up to Meghan’s chest for skin-to-skin and his/her first feed.
Royal physicians will be there holding space, ready to step in should they be needed.
Myth #6 Birth is not a fun experience
One recent article about Meghan’s choice to birth her own way, stated that we all know birth is not fun. While this remains the norm for many woman, it should not be considered normal. The reality for a women who is prepared and supported mentally, physically and emotionally is vastly different.
In a relaxed, loving environment, where a woman is not judged or subjected to unnecessary investigation, with care providers respecting what is needed to promote her natural cocktail of birth hormones (a powerful blend of oxytocin, endorphins and melatonin), birth is not just fun, but an exhilarating, ecstatic and potentially even orgasmic experience. We should not be regarding women who experience this as lucky unicorns, but rather asking how we can make this the standard.
Myth #7 If Meghan has a caesarean she will have failed
Again, sigh. While Meghan is no doubt doing everything to optimise chances of a physiologic birth, if special circumstances do arise that necessitate a surgical delivery, this does not constitute failure and should not be public rhetoric postpartum. And no, she will not have let down Queen Elizabeth. HRH the Queen had a caesarean with HRH Prince Charles.
Myth #8 If Meghan is not seen immediately after the birth the new mother is letting down the public or struggling with her new role
Quite the opposite. In line with Meghan’s penchance for “alternative” wellbeing practices, and having already revealed she uses Ayurvedic medicine, it won’t be surprising if the Duchess turns to Ayurvedic postpartum practices, enjoying a cosy month lying in with their firstborn at Frogmore. The ancient Indian philosophy of health has always had very clear recommendations for postpartum recovery, that new mothers spend 42 days being replenished nutritionally and nurtured physically and mentally in order to boost oxytocin levels and return balance to the body, while they focus on nothing more than bonding and breastfeeding. If Meghan chooses to do this she will be joining many women today returning to this practise, with the help of trained postpartum doulas, to ward off depression and postnatal depletion.
William, Kate, Harry and Meghan are all patrons of the mental health initiative, Heads Together. As such, any care taken by Meghan to support her own mental health postpartum, and subsequently her baby’s, should thus be respected and noted as something we should be looking at for all new mothers of the next generation.
So, while the paparazzi are peeved that Meghan may not deliver the photo ops they feel they’re entitled to, and some folk are calling her a “birth brat”, Meghan is doing nothing other than being a 21st-century woman taking ownership of her body, knowing her options and choosing what is right for her. She is certainly not the first woman to do this and we should rather be looking at the ways in which we can make this a royal standard for all. Treatment, that more women would experience if they stopped listening to those who continue to believe that birth and early motherhood is something a woman is destined to struggle through.
Looking Back at Royal Births Throughout History - https://www.townandcountrymag.com/society/tradition/g19724335/royal-births-history/
World Health Organisatino - Antimicrobial resistance https://www.who.int/antimicrobial-resistance/en/
World Health Organisation - https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/antibiotic-resistance
Scorned British Tabloids to Harry and Meghan: Show Us Your Baby! - https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/16/world/europe/harry-meghan-baby-british-tabloids.html
MBRRACE - Maternal, Newborn and Infant Clinical Outcome Review Programme - https://www.npeu.ox.ac.uk/downloads/files/mbrrace-uk/reports/MBRRACE-UK%20Maternal%20Report%202018%20-%20Web%20Version.pdf