Even with modern medication, having children is a painful, messy process. So you can only imagine what it was like before the time of emergency rooms, epidurals, and proper aftercare.
Queen Elizabeth II successfully gave birth to four children in her 20s and 30s. And thanks to The Crown, we got a glimpse into what that eventful process may have looked like back then. Here are the details of what occurred, including the rule the queen totally broke (page 6). Don’t miss another royal who’s known for bending the rules, too (page 7).
1. Queen Elizabeth II gave birth in Buckingham Palace, but that wasn’t always the case
The queen was lucky enough to give birth to all of her children in her home. And considering everything else she had to go through during childbirth, she should be happy she didn’t have her children in a royal “birthing venue” like her ancestors did.
The Loop explains a traditional birthing chamber for a queen contained two beds, low ceilings, and tapestries. The idea was that the queen sleeps on the larger bed and then gives birth on the daybed. And it could take days — or even weeks — of being confined in this space before the birth happened.
Next: Her labor with Charles took an awfully long time.
2. She was in labor for 30 hours with her first child, Charles
It was November 1948 when Queen Elizabeth gave birth to Prince Charles, her firstborn. Town & Country Magazine reports the queen was just 22 and gave birth via Caesarian section. To make matters worse, the labor took a whopping 30 hours.
And what was her husband, Prince Phillip, doing at the time? Playing squash with his secretary, of course. Then, upon seeing his son, he said Charles looked like “a plum pudding.”
Next: The drug Queen Elizabeth was given during birth was extremely dangerous.
3. The queen was given ‘twilight sleep’ for her birth to Andrew
You may recall one scene from The Crown of the queen giving birth to Andrew while under the influence of a powerful drug. And it turns out the actual details of her childbirth were even scarier than depicted. Babyology reports the queen was given an anesthetic known as “twilight sleep” to get her through the pain.
“Twilight sleep” was typically a cocktail of drugs ranging from ether to a mixture of morphine and scopolamine. Mental Floss notes it didn’t knock you out — but it did totally erase your memory so you didn’t remember the horrifying ordeal when it was through.
Next: There’s a serious downside to “twilight sleep.”
4. The drugs didn’t always do the job, however
We’re glad for pain medications that actually do the trick, because “twilight sleep” came with variable side effects. Mental Floss explains women “routinely hallucinated” while on the drug. Some even had to be restrained or blindfolded during the actual birth of the child. And for women who woke up during the process, they were usually just given another dosage until they passed out.
The one advantage to using this drug was that it ensured the mother absolutely did not remember what was going on during the birth, though.
Next: The way the baby was removed from the mother is a practice still used today.
5. The baby was then removed using forceps
It didn’t take long before physicians realized “twilight sleep” was leading to some ill effects on the child. Babyology notes the medications traumatized the mothers and depressed the nervous system of the babies, which often resulted in death. As for how the babies were then delivered, they were typically removed from the body with forceps.
This practice might seem archaic to most, but it’s actually still quite common in the west, says Mental Floss. One in eight babies born in the U.K. is delivered with the help of forceps.
Next: Here’s the one rule the queen broke.
6. The 1 rule she broke: Prince Philip was in the room when Edward was born
It was against royal protocol to have the husband in the room during the birth. But Queen Elizabeth broke the rules and had Prince Philip present during the birth of Prince Edward, The Independent reports.
Author Ingrid Seward, writer of My Husband and I: The Inside Story of 70 Years of Marriage, wrote that Elizabeth read it was important to involve the father in the child’s life from an early age. Therefore, Philip held his wife’s hand during Edward’s birth. As Seward says, “Compassion comes from the Queen.”
Next: This modern royal chose to break some rules, too.
7. Kate Middleton also broke royal protocol
While many royals choose home births (as is the traditional way now), Kate decided to have her children at the hospital. And that’s not the only rule she broke. Traditionally, when a royal baby is born, the announcement is placed outside of Buckingham Palace. But Daily Mail Online reports Kate and William posted their own announcement on Twitter, which was certainly different.
As for other broken rules, Prince William was reportedly in the room during the birth of their third child, too.
Next: What will childbirth be like for Meghan Markle?
8. As for Meghan Markle, here’s what we can expect
The royals are accepting modernity more than ever before. But what can we expect from Meghan Markle if — or when — her and Harry decide to have children? Of course, the first question on everyone’s mind is when the happy couple plan on starting a family of their own.
Harry has said before that he hopes to start a family “in the near future.” And Meghan has mentioned that raising a family “will be a wonderful part” of being “anchored to something grounded.” As for royal birthing protocol, we’re willing to bet they might go a bit off the beaten path, as they’ve never done things super traditionally.
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