Life after birth
The cautionary tale of a 'homeopathy-assisted' home birth that went horribly wrong
Wednesday December 8, 2004
I was a terrible slug while pregnant, and only managed to pitch up to one maternity yoga class. There I was duly fleeced of a £20 "joining fee", as well as £10 for that day's class, before being allowed to settle down on a small patch of floor for some extremely minimalist stretching.
It was enjoyable, but considering that it had cost me £30, I was a bit miffed when the teacher drew the session to an early close so that all the big, fat pregnant ladies could be subjected to a half-hour lecture on homeopathy. Yawn! But there were no sharp exits to be had.
A middle-aged Asian woman came in and sat elegantly before us, her tiny feet crossed beneath her. She warned us about the deadly perils of vaccinations, and told us about the homeopathic treatments that could be used to strengthen a child's immune system before and after jabs (if you were mad enough to insist on them, or had already made the error). Then she talked about homeopathy that could be used during labour, and offered to sell us remedy packs especially for the occasion. For a fee, she added, she would personally see us through our pregnancies and births, should we so wish. Well bless her little socks, but I'd have rather had the extra half an hour of yoga.
I complained to a colleague about my yoga class having morphed into a homeopathy promo, and she said that she'd had terrific success during labour with a remedy called aconite. I made a mental note to get some - just in case, like. After all, big, fat pregnant ladies will pretty much buy anything if someone is sure they ought to.
As it was, I skipped labour; my baby had to be delivered long before the time had come for aconite. But some of the women in my yoga class did sign up with the homeopathy women, and I thought of them at the weekend after reading an extraordinary piece in the Sunday Times. Max Tomlinson, who according to the paper is "widely considered to be the UK's leading naturopath", described how his wife's homeopathy-assisted home birth had gone horrifically wrong.
Tomlinson's wife Filipa was diagnosed at about 35 weeks with obstetric cholestasis, a liver condition that carries a high risk of stillbirth. Doctors wanted to induce Filipa at 37 weeks, but the couple had been planning a "beautiful home birth", and they refused; when Filipa eventually went into labour, the couple called in their "homeopathic midwife", but no one else. (In case you're wondering, a "homeopathic midwife" is a midwife who's been diluted down by a factor of 100,000 until he or she has no skills that might be useful in the event of a childbirth emergency.)
Five hours later, Filipa was fully dilated, but then labour stalled. To cut an awful story short, the Tomlinsons and their midwife waited another 10 hours before going to hospital, then failed to tell staff that Filipa had been in labour for 15 hours (which meant staff gave her another two hours to push rather than whipping the child out straight away). The baby, Jaspar, was starved of oxygen during birth, and as a result has cerebral palsy. He has also had countless fits, "some days almost constantly", and spent many weeks in hospital. "We were ready with the homeopathic side of things, but we weren't prepared for an emergency," said Tomlinson. He went on to talk about "a terrible journey of guilt", and warned other parents to "always have a qualified midwife or a GP there, just in case".
Interestingly, his trust in so-called natural medicine, and his mistrust of all conventional medicine, appears to have survived the experience intact. He talked with discernible pride about dosing his wife with herbs to help her liver while she was pregnant, but when he mentioned Jaspar being given anticonvulsants, he added: "I was horrified by the drugs and worried about their long-term effects. Would they damage his hearing or fertility?" And later in the piece he said: "[Jaspar's] still taking anti-epileptic drugs, but he's being treated by the best natural therapists we know. We've had to remortgage the house as his treatments cost a fortune."
This is an out-there story; pregnant ladies who get told they can't have a home birth, or that they have to spend four days in a grotty antenatal ward being induced, tend to glumly acquiesce - very few indeed would opt for homeopathy or any other alternative treatment to the exclusion of a qualified midwife. Fewer still are married to "the UK's leading naturopath". But still: this is an object lesson in the perils of fanaticism. And it's a reminder of the very big bucks Britain's legions of "naturopaths" make from anxious parents during pregnancy and birth and the often shocking months that follow - as Tomlinson himself is now discovering.
Medicine and health
British Medical Association
Department of Health
General Medical Council
Health on the Net Foundation
Institute of Cancer Research
Medical Research Council
Royal Institute of Public Health
World Health Organisation
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