Independence Day weekend 2011

We here in the United States will be celebrating the birth of our country on Monday, July 4 — a different kind of birth story from the one we usually consider at Birth Story.

Given the difficult times many Americans (and others) are now experiencing, Paul Simon's wistful "American Tune," performed here during a 1981 reunion concert with Art Garfunkel, seems to me a suitably reflective way to head into the holiday weekend.

The rousing anthems and the fireworks will still be there on the holiday itself. I hope it's a happy one for you.

The British royals’ take on birth, Part I

The way the British royal family handles special occasions is interesting, to me anyway, because everything they do has to be examined in advance through history, tradition and protocol. Then the next day, many, many other people run out and do as close to the same thing as they possibly can.

Prince Charles with then-Princess Elizabeth
Prince Charles with then-Princess Elizabeth

Birth is no different.

The last few generations of the royal family have provided boatloads of drama that have kept the tabloids chattering and the rest of us agog — romance, opulence, star-crossed lovers, betrayal, tragedy, untimely death.

This week, in the runup to the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, Birth Story is going to look at a few royal births.

We begin with Prince Charles, William's father, born at Buckingham Palace on Nov. 14, 1948, to then-Crown Princess Elizabeth, 22, and her husband, Prince Philip.

Philip famously played squash with a friend in another part of the palace during his son's birth. To be fair, in 1948 most fathers were at best pacing in hospital waiting rooms during their children's births. And, Philip did bring Elizabeth carnations and Champagne afterwards.

Just two weeks after Charles's birth, in a letter recently sold at auction, Elizabeth wrote a cousin, a bridesmaid at her 1947 wedding,"The baby is very sweet, and Philip and I are enormously proud of him. I still find it hard to believe that I really have a baby of my own!"

Photo by Cecil Beaton

Birth news

Yipes! That was a long hiatus! So sorry. Hope not to do that again.

I am back on Birth Story with huge new respect for teachers, after serving winter quarter as an undergraduate lab instructor at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. What teachers do in the classroom, I discovered, is the tip of the iceberg of the job.

I am back. Yes! So back to our topic, sort of. Well, a tangent, actually.

Nearly every time I Google "birth news" looking for, you know, something to blog about — my topic is birth — I come up with some permutation on the "birther" flap calling for President Obama to produce (on a daily basis, as far as I can tell) his birth certificate. Otherwise, critics will assume he was born in Kenya, his father's country of origin.

Barack Obama

Is he? Or isn't he?

Donald Trump and Whoopi Goldberg got into a dustup on "The View" last week about Obama's alleged reluctance to produce his birth certificate. (Just Google "birth news.")

The next day, "The View" ladies showed what they said was a copy of Obama's birth certificate.

Ben Smith at Politico wrote yesterday that the document Trump claimed was his own birth certificate, produced to needle the President, is not in fact Trump's official birth certificate. (But then Trump did come up with the right one.)

All of which just tells you that you can't go wrong, publicity-wise, getting a corner of this issue, or non-issue, as the case may be. Maybe I'll get a lot more hits today than I do ordinarily, writing about boring old childbirth.

The Arizona legislature is considering legislation that would require the state to sign off on proof of U.S. birth from presidential candidates. (They wouldn't let me teach at Medill until I produced proof of U.S. birth. Surely presidential candidates don't get a pass on that.)

The House version of the Arizona bill calls for evidence that that baby dropped onto U.S. soil, while the Senate version of the bill includes a definition of a "natural" U.S. birth as one to individuals who were U.S. citizens at the time.

I think both those elements have to be there, actually. That is, proof of either of those things ought to be enough, and I think maybe we need some laws to clarify that.

Even though some people go to great lengths to manipulate the law to convey U.S. citizenship to their infants like, allegedly, the Chinese women Jennifer Medina writes about in the New York Times today, it is important for anyone born in the United States to be an "automatic" citizen. Anything else is a total repudiation of what the United States has been, and stood for, for more than two centuries.

At the same time, we live in a small world. Pregnant U.S. citizens travel all the time for work and pleasure, and probably some other reasons, too, and they shouldn't be terrified about losing their children's full rights of citizenship if they happen to be abroad when their water breaks.

The Administration and numerous officials of the state of Hawaii, where Obama was by all accounts born on Aug. 4, 1961, have repeatedly confirmed the President's birth to a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil. Two for two. (So that's settled, right?)

And whatever you think of Barack Obama, he is a stellar example of the promise the United States has made to its residents, going even beyond its citizens — that if you work hard, the sky is the limit on what you can achieve.

Well, that's my two cents for today. It's nice to be back, although like teaching, blogging is a whole lot more time-consuming than I thought it would be before I actually tried it.

Happy spring, dear reader!

Birth Story’s first year: My favorite posts

And so we bid adieu to 2010, Birth Story's first year of life.Happy baby

My Birth Story blog began on Jan. 3 of this year, and this is my 151st post, so I came very close to my goal of posting three times a week.

I have learned a lot. People like compelling stories, posts about history, about medical pioneers, and about advances in the field of obstetrics, “the art and science of managing pregnancy, labor and puerperium (the time after delivery).” They also like stories about celebrities — what a surprise!

Having written about the posts readers liked best, now I would like to showcase some posts from 2010 I especially like. I am really proud of the work I have done on Birth Story, and I like many of the readers' favorites too, but these additional posts are also worth an extra look.

What were your favorite Birth Story posts? I would love to hear from you. Here are a baker's dozen of mine:

1/22 The basics of birth safety

1/27 A Cesarean section in Philadelphia

2/5 A health consumer's BFF

2/22 Pregnant women and drug trials

4/23 To the Lighthouse

5/7 The mothers of Johns Hopkins Medicine

5/14 Riddle me this

6/18 The other Flexner

6/21 Being there

8/18 We dream for our children

8/26 Breast-feeding story: Maeve

11/17 Practical magic

12/22 Your birth plan, courtesy of The Bloggess

Birth Story’s most popular posts of 2010

Well, go figure. My very most popular post by far this year was one I wrote for Women's History Month that had very little to do with the Birth Story per se.

Anne Hutchinson
Anne Hutchinson at her trial

My top post for 2010 was about Anne Hutchinson, a midwife in the Massachusetts Colony, who deftly though unsuccessfully defended herself against heresy charges in 1638. The colony's governors were so shaken that they embedded into the mission of the new Harvard College the mandate to train religious leaders rigorously enough that they would never again be so intellectually pummelled.

Anne figured in another top post as well, "A monstrous birth," about the danger midwives and mothers alike faced after anomalous births in the American colonies.

My second most popular post was a recent one about Ian Shapira's Facebook-driven story in the Washington Post chronicling the death of new mother Shana Greatman Swers.

Supermodel Gisele Bundchen came in third with a post about her much ridiculed assertion that all new mothers should be required by law to breast-feed.

Here are Birth Story's 10 most popular posts of 2010:

1. Anne Hutchinson, Colonial midwife  3/1/10

2. A sad Facebook story 12/10/10

3. A "boob" on the right side of breast-feeding 8/9/10

4. A "monstrous" birth  3/3/10

5. The Pregnancy Meeting 2/8/10

6. Amniotic fluid embolism 1/14/10

7. Fascinated with blood 6/28/10

8. The Frontier Nursing Service  3/15/10

9. The Goodriches one year later  1/11/10

10. The mother of the Apgar score  3/19/10