Just as Meghan Markle plans to do, I had my second baby in Los Angeles. The Duchess hails from the city and is more used to the Tinseltown rules — but she’s never had a baby there, and it may come as a culture shock.
She had first child, Archie, in the UK — as did I, a native Brit — so she’ll be finding LA an odd place to be pregnant. There’s the laid-back, hippy, organic lifestyle — but there’s ego, image and vast price tags, too.
The Sussexes already know they’re having a girl — asking the baby’s gender is standard in LA. I found out I was expecting a girl the minute I could at 18 weeks, as did most of my Stateside friends. We argued it would help us feel prepared — and a lot goes into that when you get pregnant in LA.
Sarah Ivens who is a native Brit, shares memories from giving birth to her second child in Los Angeles, as Meghan Markle prepares to also give birth in the city known for its laid-back lifestyle. Pictured: Sarah with Matilda in California
The California mamas I met had reflexologists, dermatologists, nutritionists, acupuncturists and yoga teachers on speed dial. Some even spent fortunes on crystal healers and astrologers to get birth charts drawn up for their future offspring. One woman hired a celebrity interior designer to create lighting in the nursery that mimicked twilight at the nearby Joshua Tree National Park. She thought it would be restful.
Then there’s the baby sprinkle party Meghan will probably have. Baby showers are for first babies, and it’s considered crass in LA to have a big party and a long gift list for subsequent children.
Before Archie’s arrival, Meghan had a fabulous New York shower hosted by Serena Williams in the penthouse at The Mark, a dreamy uptown hotel, where guests including Amal Clooney and Oprah’s bestie Gayle King enjoyed a flower-arranging class.
Her sprinkle is sure to be just as sophisticated — just a few close friends, offering thoughtful gifts rather than necessities such as cribs and car seats. I held mine at Shutters on the Beach, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Friends gave me an embroidered pair of Ugg boots, a Sophie la Girafe chew toy and piles of Aden + Anais swaddling blankets.
One friend bought an amber necklace — a must-have for Californian babies. Locals swear it helps with teething.
My group of British mothers wolfed down the afternoon tea, although it is standard practice at these gatherings for women to stare hungrily at the delights without touching anything.
One friend recalled getting teary as a $300 (£215) cake was binned at a sprinkle, because no one would tuck in. She didn’t want to cut a slice and stand out as being too British.
Home births, which Meghan is rumoured to favour, are popular and of course paparazzi-free… you get to invite your own photographer, which many of my friends did.
Meghan gave birth to Archie at The Portland in London, a private hospital where births cost £20,000 on average. Pictured: The Duke and Duchess of Sussex with their son Archie
They set up a water pool in their dining room, get in surrounded by their partners, their children, their doula, or female birthing pal in attendance. It might be fun for Archie to be there as his baby sister arrives.
Lori Bregman is the doula and wellness empowerment coach that all the rich and/or famous West Coast mothers want as they give birth.
If Meghan does go for a hospital delivery, she has two A-list options: Cedars-Sinai or St. John’s.
Meghan gave birth to Archie at The Portland in London, a private hospital where births cost £20,000 on average.However, even that doesn’t come close to offering the A-list concierge facilities and lavish suites of Cedars-Sinai, which the duchess may well choose, although it is over an hour’s drive from her Montecito home.
Cedars-Sinai’s VVIP maternity ward is the creme de la creme. Victoria Beckham had daughter Harper there. Kate Hudson, Kourtney Kardashian and Penelope Cruz chose it, too. Stars with big entourages prefer this hotel — sorry hospital — as the deluxe maternity suites have three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and include a personal 24-hour doula and vegan meals for mum (guests pay extra) for about $4,000 per night, a bargain when you’re busy selling the rights to your first family magazine shoot.
But the Starbucks in the lobby is full of reporters nosing around, and one fellow Londoner, who’d had her baby boy a year before, told me it felt like the ‘social scene at Soho House’ and maybe not so good for new mothers.
Sarah (pictured) said a friend told her that planned C-sections were becoming more usual to avoid messing up schedules with ad-hoc births
At my doctor’s suggestion I planned to go to the Maria Shriver Nursery of St. John’s Health Center, the more low-key option for celebs wanting to avoid the paparazzi. Maria gave birth to her and husband Arnold Schwarzenegger’s four children there and liked it so much, she became patron of the nursery, where newborns are taken while mothers rest.
Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise had Suri there; American football star Tom Brady flew in on his private jet to be there for his ex-girlfriend, actress Bridget Moynahan, as she gave birth to their son — leaving new girlfriend Gisele Bundchen at home. Lisa Marie Presley and Brooke Shields had their babies there, too.
Like Meghan, I was considered a geriatric mother (I was 38 when I had Matilda, the duchess will be 39) and planned C-sections were becoming more usual. Friends said it was because the doctors didn’t like to mess up their Palm Springs golfing weekends with ad-hoc births, but apparently A-listers found it handy, too.
‘Busy people find it useful to plan their diaries,’ my doctor said, ‘and those in the public eye find it convenient to get a tummy tuck and liposuction at the same time.’ He laughed at my shocked expression. ‘What? You thought those actresses really lost their pregnancy weight with exercise and breastfeeding?’
I’d been editor-in-chief of the U.S. version of OK! magazine for five years, so I shouldn’t have been so naïve.
I wasn’t keen on a Caesarean — like all Californian mothers-to-be I’d been on a hypnobirthing course. I wanted to breathe my way through a natural labour with the help of aromatherapy oils, scented candles and British grit.But when I was diagnosed with placenta previa, when a low-lying placenta covers the cervix, I had no choice and a C-section was scheduled.
‘Good, that means you’ll be able to get your highlights done the day before,’ an American TV presenter friend said seriously. ‘And get a long-lasting blow-dry, and your brows and lashes tinted, too. Those photos will haunt you for ever.’
Sarah (pictured) said she looks weirdly put together in both her pre- and post-birth photos, after following advice to go into surgery with her hair and makeup done
Rather than thinking this a ridiculous idea, as I probably would if still at home in England, I thanked her for the sound advice, and booked into the salon. I went into surgery with my hair and make-up done like I was heading for the red carpet at the Oscars. It was very un-British of me, and I look weirdly put together in both my pre- and post-birth photos.
Thankfully, the delivery went as planned and Matilda squealed her way into the California sunshine, healthy and strong, in a room decorated with framed beach prints, as The Eagles played softly on a playlist.
The entire medical team were incredibly beautiful, like extras from an American soap opera, even my octogenarian doctor. We were wheeled back into a recovery room with glorious views of palm trees.
The hospital food was probably better than the usual slop, but the Whole Foods market next door was busy with new dads buying their partners acai bowls and kale smoothies — fortifying snacks for every new LA mum.
While I ate my organic buffet and tried to sleep, my husband Russ took on another rite of passage for British dads in LA: wetting the baby’s head at Ye Olde King’s Head on Santa Monica Boulevard. It is the go-to for every homesick Englishman in Los Angeles who has good news to toast.
Sarah said nurses found her choice of names – Matilda May – hilariously old-fashioned. Pictured: Sarah and Matilda
When my husband was in there celebrating Matilda’s birth, Scottish action movie star Gerard Butler was charming the bar staff and Vinnie Jones was holding court. Harry will love it.
While Russ drank beer, I was offered lots of post-birth drugs —Percocet, Tylenol, others I can’t remember now. When I said I’d rather feel what was going on in my body, and weaned myself off fast, I was considered strange.
Another memory is the nurses finding my choice of names — Matilda May — hilariously old-fashioned, revealing that the other babies born on the ward that day had the far more exciting names of Pacific, Atlanta, Ignatius and Juniper. I could tell they felt sorry for my little one, being saddled with something so dull.
News reports suggest that Meghan and Harry will choose a non-traditional name. In my son’s LA pre-school there were two Jaggers, two Londons and one Ocean. And his music teacher asked, ‘Wilhelm? Willem? How do you spell it?’, as we pulled our toddlers around on tie-dye blankets singing John Lennon’s Imagine in English, Hebrew and Mandarin. I thought she was being sarcastic, until the roll call of other names showed you don’t get many Williams in Los Angeles.
Meghan will find it liberating. Apple Windsor, perhaps? That’s far more LA than Elizabeth or Victoria.
Sarah said she raised her children on the sand as the climate is perfect for being out and about year-round. Pictured: Belle Enfant, the British label your LA baby should be seen in
So what about the post-birth experience? I stayed in my suite on Santa Monica Boulevard for two nights, and considering the major surgery I’d just had, slept well, thanks to the ocean breeze wafting in and the 24-hour care from the hands-on nurses. They really helped me get Matilda to breastfeed.
Another indelible memory was being handed the bill on checking out. Matilda’s birth cost us $10,000 (£7,000), a bargain for the joy she’d already brought us, but still — a huge chunk of change.
Were the tropical views and piped-in whale sounds worth it? Probably not, but we knew it was how the U.S. health system works, and that Cedars-Sinai would have presented an even larger tab.
At one of the less smart LA hospitals, it would have been a bit cheaper — but no medical care is free in the U.S., and it all depends on how your insurance company works with your health provider.
Someone as wealthy as Meghan, who has huge deals with Netflix and Spotify, won’t need to worry about the fact there’s only a legal requirement for 12 weeks unpaid maternity leave in the U.S. When Matilda was born, I was able to work from home for the drama development team at HBO, and they would courier over scripts and novels to read and write reports on while I was nursing.
I remember weeks spent rocking Matilda to sleep as I made my way through thousands of pages of Game Of Thrones.
Sarah said she had weekly get-togethers with other Brit mums at Books and Cookies, a hideout for stressed mothers owned by one of Diana Ross’s daughters. Pictured: Diana Ross
But it’s not all expensive and bizarre. Where Los Angeles comes into its own is the climate: it’s perfect, and means instead of hiding from the damp indoors as you may have to in the UK, you can be out and about year-round.
I raised my children on the sand, pushing them past Muscle Beach to the Santa Monica pier every day, getting us all much-needed fresh air, and helping me to shift my post-baby weight and blues naturally.
The baby classes were also more exciting in LA. I’d have weekly get-togethers with other Brit mums at Books and Cookies, a sweet little hideout for stressed mothers owned by one of Diana Ross’s daughters.
During one particularly La La Land class, when the legend came in to sing Wheels On The Bus, William became obsessed with the tassels on her moccasin boots. I had to apologise to Diana, while peeling him off her feet.
Another time, the rock star Alanis Morissette came in, super smiley and breastfeeding while we polite British woman tried to avert our eyes. Another favourite baby class was held at The Cow’s End Café, near the beach — always filled with surfers, scriptwriters and yogi mamas like Meghan who headed upstairs for ‘mommy and me’ meditation sessions.
Harry would be a big hit with the worn-down Brit mums who gather there looking for a lift during those first few months with a new baby.
Yes, LA parenting can be silly, but the sunshine helps — as does a big Netflix deal! So long as Harry and Meghan have a group of Brits to laugh and cry with, it’ll be the perfect place for Archie to become a big brother.
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