Motha Knows Best

W_Mag_article
Pregnancy guru Dr Gowri Motha makes tough – some would say tyrannical-demands on the mothers-to-be

Samantha Conti, W Magazine (USA), April 2005

Gowri Motha M.D. has bright eyes, a soft voice and an aura of calm that would seem to quell any mother-to-be’s jitters. But London’s leading natural –birth guru and the obstetrician who helped deliver Gwyneth Paltrow’s baby Apple, has some radical ideas about childbirth, starting with the very idea of labour. All the pain, the panting, the pushing, she believes, could one day be rendered virtually obsolete. “I have this dream that every baby should be breathed out of the mother’s body” – she says. “The uterus has enough power to push the baby out without all the huffing and puffing.”

The Sri-Lankan – born Motha, 55, is the developed of “the Jeyarani Way”, a holistic approach to pregnancy and childbirth that integrates exercise, diet, massage, mental training and emotional awareness inspired in part by birth practices in Sri Lanka and southern India. For Motha, labour is a marathon and pregnancy is the training period for the big event. Among her recommendations for expectant mothers are a no-wheat, no-sugar diet, daily yoga and a total weight gain of no more than 20 pounds. (The majority of ob-gyns recommend a weight gain of between 25 and 35 pounds.) Although her regime is demanding – bordering, some would say, on extreme – her patients only seem to love her all the more for it. Last summer a party for the release of her book, Gentle Birth Method, was attended by none other than her former clients, Paltrow, Kate Moss and Elle Macpherson – all with their babies in tow. Macpherson, in fact, provided the preface to Motha’s book . “I delivered my own son on my due date, after a relatively short four-hour labour,” writes Macpherson. “I was able to cope with the pain and be 100 percent present without drugs for the incredible moment of his birth.”

Moira Benigson, a London fashion headhunter, had her third child – at age 47 – with help from Motha. “I could have walked home after the labour,” raves Benigson, who credits Motha’s self-hypnosis techniques. “It was one big push and the baby was out.”

Fifteen years ago, Motha would have described herself as just another burned-out London ob-gyn. Having delivered hundreds of babies by conventional methods in hospitals across the city, she was tired of performing episiotomies and struggling to pull babies out of out-of-shape mothers night after night. “It was crisis intervention all the time” says Motha, who studied medicine in Sri Lanka and India and whose Father was a paediatrician. “I almost wanted to leave the hospital practise. I decided there must be something else.” She started using a birthing pool, which she installed in one of the East London hospitals where she performed deliveries. Soon after, she began working with two reflexologists. Step by step, she integrated dietary rules, self-hypnosis techniques and massages to relieve stress and water retention and stimulate lymphatic flow. She named the method Jeyarani, after her mother.

Motha believes that it is a woman’s physical condition, not her age, that determines her birth experience, and that diet can play a major role. She tells her patients to consume no more than 200 extra calories per day and to cut out refined carbs, which she believes cause the body’s tissues to swell, and refrain from sugary foods, which she says interfere with the functions of the uterus, cervix and pelvis. Even a so called “toxic mother” – one who eats poorly, drinks and smokes – can detox in as little as four to six weeks with ayurvedic oils, reflexology, reiki and craniosacral therapy to treat nausea and migraines and to regulate the liver and pancreas. She also teaches self-hypnosis and visualisation techniques to help women during labour.

Among Motha’s more controversial beliefs are those regarding work and the expectant mother. While she encourages her patients to take two mile walks the week they are due (“Women should feel amazingly energetic the week they are going to give birth,” she says), she has little patience for stressed-out working mothers. She argues that many newborns’ problems, such as crying disorders, stem from stress suffered in the utero. “Women have to invest in time off during the pregnancy – not just after the birth. The first three months is organogenesis time for the baby,” says Motha, who also suggests that women put off moving or redecorating before the birth.

“People have to de more holistic in dealing with pregnancy, and not put all these material demands on their lifestyles,” she adds.

Not the easiest – or indeed the most practical of suggestions – especially from a woman with a thriving career who has no children herself. “I never had a driving maternal urge,” says Motha, who has never been married. “I’m the eldest and mothered my younger siblings when I was growing up. I wasn’t keen on doing it again.” Now the doctor, who sees her own patients and also overseas staff trained in her method at her two London clinics, has aspirations on opening another, in New York City. Considering the competitive environment in certain Manhattan circles, Motha’s services should be in much demand here too. “My mothers’ bodies look normal, with a bump,” says Motha. “And none of them have swollen ankles.”

W Magazine (USA), April 2005

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