Scream

How Natalie Lennard Turned the Queen Giving Birth Into a Piece of Art

She’s announced a hospital birth, but Kate Middleton might have done better to emulate the queen and have her kids at home, British artist Natalie Lennard argues.

Courtesy Natalie Lennard

A British artist hopes to trigger a fresh discussion of home birthing after publishing a controversial photographic and video interpretation of Queen Elizabeth’s 1964 home birth of Prince Edward.

The birth of the queen’s youngest child has been dramatized by the artist and photographer Natalie Lennard, the latest in a series of works by the artist themed around childbirth.

The extraordinary central image, entitled Royal Blood, shows a highly stylized photograph of the queen giving birth to the child, attended only by a midwife, a nurse, her husband and her male ob-gyn, who sits serenely on an armchair in a waistcoat as a screaming queen pushes out the royal newborn, played by a prosthetic silicone baby.

A famous picture of the queen grinning in bed after the birth in the Belgian Suite at Buckingham Palace provided much of Lennard’s inspiration for her representation of the birthing scene.

It was revealed later that the queen’s mother apparently suggested moving to another room away from the crowds of well-wishers that were gathering outside the front of the palace but the queen was reported to have refused, saying, “I want my baby to be born in my own room, among the things I know.”

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Lennard said that the shoot was staged in the Chinese Dressing Room of Belvoir Castle in Lincolnshire.

Lennard said: “I went against some of the historical expert advice—in reality the scene would have had more of a surgical, medical props and atmosphere—but I didn’t think it was so appropriate for a modern audience’s associations with home birth, and what home birth would look like for Kate Middleton today, should she or future royal mothers choose to revert to the tradition.”

In fact, although Kate has now opted for a third hospital birth, a home birth was seriously considered as a way of avoiding the chaos that surrounded the hospital during her fist two pregnancies.

Edward’s birth has come to be seen as an interesting inflection point in the history of childbirth in Britain, as not only did the queen refuse drugs for the birth but Prince Philip was also in the room for the delivery of his third son.

Elizabeth’s previous children were delivered while she was, at best, semi-conscious, in a procedure known as “twilight sleep” where women were doped up to the eyeballs and the child pulled out using forceps.

The birth of Prince Andrew in 1960, showing the queen out cold, was dramatized in The Crown.

Twilight birthing was the sine qua non of an upper class culture of painless birthing popularized by none other than the present queen’s great-great-grandmother. Queen Victoria, who availed of the modern painkiller chloroform when giving birth to her eighth child, Prince Leopold, described the experience as “delightful beyond measure.” Victoria said she had never recovered from a birth so quickly.

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Edward’s birth was also notable as all subsequent royal babies have been born in hospitals. The royals have not yet followed the revival in home birthing. Around 3 percent of women now give birth at home in the U.K. but the percentage is climbing. Britain’s National Health Service now advises healthy women that it is safer to have their babies at home, or in a low-tech birth center, than in a hospital.

I don’t think many people even know she had all her children at home. Just a short 50 years or so have somewhat brainwashed us to think birth belongs in the hospital.

Lennard says she hopes her work will encourage people to consider how recently hospital births were not the norm, even for royalty.

“I don’t think many people even know she had all her children at home. Just a short 50 years or so have somewhat brainwashed us to think birth belongs in the hospital.

“The layers of the queen’s story are fascinating: the way she laid down the terms, the inspirational quality of having her husband present, birthing in her own room, and choosing to be awake and active rather than her past three ‘twilight sleep’ births.

“With this image Royal Blood, I want to show the normality of home birth, celebrate the queen’s breaking of traditions and assertion of autonomy, and inspire other women to assert their own needs for privacy and autonomy in childbirth. Those two things are important to every woman in any kind of birth.”

Lennard told The Daily Beast that she became curious about the history of royal births after reading how the French Queen Marie Antoinette was almost crushed by the hoards of ‘observers’ who were entitled to watch a royal birth (officially the reason for this was to ensure there were no attempts at birth fraud, such as switching out a new male baby for a female one, or substituting a live baby for a stillborn one).

The last observer to witness a royal birth in the U.K. was the home secretary, Sir William Joynson-Hicks, who in 1926 attended the birth of the present queen.

Lennard, who has had two home births herself, said that, thanks to rumors suggesting Kate Middleton might opt for a home birth as planning for the shoot progressed, she “became aware of how timely the topic would be, and that this could pivot the message of the series to a wider audience.”

It’s since been stated their third baby will indeed be born in hospital. Once a new convention takes hold, it is not easy to revert.

“I’ve heard that it’s been a consideration since her first birth, but pressures have twice directed her to give birth in hospital,” Lennard told The Daily Beast. “It was said William and Kate felt guilty about the massive intrusion on the day-to-day running of St. Mary’s Hospital, and the other laboring mothers there at the time.”

It seemed promising that home birth could be back on the cards this year, a logical choice given that royals can have emergency measures brought onsite anyway. It’s since been stated their third baby will indeed be born in hospital. Once a new convention takes hold, it is not easy to revert.

“With her having recently been made patron of the Royal College of Obstetricians, it further serves to enshrine her within institutional norms that makes it impolite, if not impossible, for her to make a choice for her own sake, unlike the queen who could simply state a few decades ago, ‘I want my baby born in my own room, among the things I know.’

“I believe without these pressures, if Kate were a ‘normal’ non-royal woman, she would definitely be birthing at home.”