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The Puke and Duchess of Cambridge: Making birth disgusting

Karen Milford is a doctor who has been working at state hospitals for the last six years. She's not a journalist and doesn't spend much time on social media. Her friends say she's opinionated and every now and then she strings a few sentences together to have her say.

The Duchess of Cambridge has given birth to the boy who is third in line to the throne, but listening to Gareth Cliff and Jonathan Witt discuss it on 5FM, you’d think an alien had invaded her body through a giant pus-tube.

Yesterday, Kate Middleton delivered her first child via what seems to have been a normal vaginal delivery. I think this was a great moment for natural birth: an example of how what is often perceived to be a terrifying and undignified act is not beneath even the wealthiest and ‘poshest’ amongst us. I applaud Kate for the ten brave hours she spent in labour, and for being woman enough to even attempt it.

Obviously, not everyone feels the same way. This morning 5FM’s resident ‘medical expert*’ Jonathan Witt offered some of his pearls about the act of labouring and giving birth on the Gareth Cliff show. Whilst Gareth Cliff is a radio DJ and has built his career on sensationalism, Jonathan Witt is a medical doctor and, quite frankly, should be ashamed of himself.

His several-second slot was broadcast to a background track of women shrieking, gagging noises, and the sound of toilets flushing. He proceeded to quickly describe the various stages of labour in the most gruesome way possible: the “irritated uterus” squeezing the baby down and out through a cervix that was opening like a ‘space-ship into the vagina’ before the pressure caused the membranes to rupture, releasing “delightfully smelling” amniotic fluid. He went on to describe the terrible pain, the 5FM crew dutifully groaning in the background. Then he discussed the baby coming out the vagina (“Covered in all that grease and fluid!” yelled Cliff, enthusiastically) finally aiming for the obvious climax: that the baby usually comes out facing the mother’s anus, and that there’s a good possibility it will encounter a bit of poo on the way. There was then a bit of blathering about the afterbirth, the crew egging Witt on to explain how is often needs to be pulled out of the uterus. He duly obliged.

This slot really had nothing to do with an intelligent discussion around childbirth, but rather served to perpetuate the stigma around the process, further enforcing the idea that it’s disgusting, barbarically painful, dirty, smelly, and the kind of thing adolescent boys rightfully spend their days guffawing about. Witt, doubtlessly proud as he is of his thirty seconds of national radio fame, was completely unprofessional and did the medical community a huge disservice by showing such utter disrespect to a process his own mother quite possibly went through to birth him.

Childbirth is painful. It is messy, and the smells do take some getting used to. There is blood and various other bodily fluids involved, and nobody is going to tell an expecting couple that it’s easy. It is, however, also a completely natural and human process, and one in which there is great beauty and power, if supervised by professionals who respect it as such. Witt is supposed to be such a professional, but the slot this morning just showed him to be another man not mature enough to rise above the supposed grossness of a woman’s body doing what it’s been made for.

To all expecting parents who were horrified and put-off by Witt’s talk this morning, do yourselves a favour and find a real obstetrician or midwife to talk through your fears with. You’ll feel so much better for it. DM

* Take his segment with a pinch of salt: Witt is in fact not an ‘expert’ in the field of childbirth. In order to truly be one he would have had to have specialised for at least four years to become an obstetrician, or have done a full nursing degree and then specialised in midwifery.

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