“I believe deep muscle relaxation has to begin quite early in pregnancy. Bonding with the baby should start from the moment a woman realises she’s pregnant.”
Candida Crewe meets the pioneer of gentle birthing.
For women wanting a stress-free and natural birth, there is, according to those in the know, only one person to call: Dr Gowri Motha, a private GP obstetrician who has two practices, one in St John’s Wood, north London, and another near where she lives in South Woodford, northeast London.
Born in Sri Lanka of south Indian parents, Dr Motha studied medicine in Bangalore. She came to Britain in 1980 and specialised in obstetrics and gynaecology. Her aim in life is to help mothers to give birth as naturally, as comfortably, and in as short a time as possible, to prevent maternal and foetal exhaustion and to reduce birth trauma. To this end, she has pioneered a unique programme of relaxation and care in pregnancy and labour called the Gentle Birthing Method, which has proved stunningly successful. Her “complete holistic” programme consists of self-hypnosis, visualisation, and deep-muscle relaxation, which she teaches to couples in a course of four classes and a £10 video, plus as many follow-ups as they want (inclusive cost £75). Extra therapies include reflexology, special massage to promote lymphatic drainage of the pelvic and lower back areas, and special oils, which can help keep the perineum intact. While she stresses that there will always be one or two mothers who need some sort of intervention, 98 per cent of her patients do not ask for pain relief and have a wholly relaxed and practically pain-free labour.
It was in 1987 that Dr Motha, inspired by the famous French obstetrician and water birth pioneer, Michel Odent, began teaching the Gentle Birthing Method. She recognised that the mental state of the mother in pregnancy and labour is very important. “Mental stress,” says Dr Motha, “is translated into physical stress, something which isn’t recognised by a lot of obstetricians. I believe deep-muscle relaxation has to begin quite early in pregnancy. Bonding with the baby should start from the minute a woman realises she’s pregnant.
“Self-hypnosis is a natural state of mind, just like a daydream, when the mind is taken away from the current circumstances for a little while to a place of relaxation and pleasure. I teach pregnant mothers to do that consistently. I get them to imagine they’re in a place where they feel secure and comfortable. I also teach them to visualise the physiological and anatomical changes that occur during pregnancy and the birth process.
“We have repeated verbal birth rehearsals, so when they are in labour they feel they’ve been there before, and they’re not afraid. I am also very keen on nutritional guidelines to help the body function in a particular way – two litres of water a day; no wheat or sugar during pregnancy; no bananas (fluid retentive) or grapes (very sugary); no more than 200 extra calories a day above their normal intake. I provide aromatic herbs to control fluid retention and help clear the uterus, cervix and pelvic tissues of toxins as well as to make the descent of the baby more comfortable for the mother.”
Dr Motha sees between 75 and 100 pregnant women a year – a small number, but “each one requires a lot of preparation work”. If they want to book her to be at the birth, she can help them “visualise and maintain their centres of calmness” .She charges £1,500 to be at a home birth, £500 to be at a hospital one.
“I work alongside the conventional medical model. I go in the capacity of a birthing specialist, and I am there to help the mother do as well as she can. I’m only bookable to mothers who’ve done my programme. I don’t just turn up out of the blue.”
Charlotte Pilcher, 38, a fashion editor at Vogue, had had two children before going to Dr Motha during her most recent pregnancy. Her third son, Flynn, was born in May.
“I heard about Gowri from a friend,” she says, “and was a bit sceptical at first, as I’m not the type who munches buckwheat, has hairy armpits and wears Cornish pasty shoes. I embrace some of that – I’ve done meditation and yoga – but I thought it all sounded a bit hippy-ish. I went along to the basement in St John’s
Wood – this was no Harley Street waiting room, but Gowrie’s not a business woman, she just believes in what she’s doing so much, she’d like to offer it to everyone.
“After the births of my two older sons – the first was induced, the second a protracted ventouse delivery
– I’d lost my nerve a bit. Gowri gave me that U-turn in my head which enabled me to approach the birth with confidence and a singlemindedness to do it naturally, without pain-relief. She transformed it into a positive experience. It was very quick, only five and a half hours from start to finish, and I felt completely in control.
She talked me through the first contractions on the phone, was there for the birth itself, and was a huge support. It was a fantastic experience. I feel a lot of women with the same apprehensions as I had could really benefit from her teachings.”
Self. The Times Magazine, 15 September 2001