Ten years ago, when I was pregnant, I sought homeopathic assistance with labour and childbirth. I didn't believe in homeopathy any more than I believed attending weekly "Pregnant Yoga" sessions, in which we were encouraged to imagine our bodies "opening up like a flower", would help with a process that, frankly, seemed thoroughly unnatural and improbable.
But since I was ostensibly aiming for a hippy-style natural birth (while secretly wishing for a nice easy C-section) I sought every alternative tool I could think of. As well as the homeopathy consultation and yoga sessions, I acquired a Swiss ball - and hired a portable birthing pool and a TENS machine. As it turned out I need not have bothered with any of the diligent preparation. My daughter was delivered swiftly and painlessly by emergency C-Section.
I still occasionally think of my failed attempt at natural childbirth and of the lovely young homeopath who was based somewhere in the vicinity of Grey Lynn. She furnished me with dozens of little white pills that I was supposed to put under my tongue as required during labour.
There were written instructions that went along the lines of: "If you feel pain take this remedy," "If you feel helpless take this one," "If you feel uncomfortable take this one," and "If you feel angry take the homeopathic remedy container and hurl it at your husband's head". (I'm joking about that last instruction.)
I think I took maybe two of the tiny pills before accepting what I'd suspected all along: that they're no match for the mammoth forces of labour. Of course, I'm not the first person to doubt the effectiveness of homeopathic remedies nor am I the first to wonder whether the entire industry is an orchestrated sham designed to mislead the guileless.
The College of Natural Health & Homeopathy explains that: "By utilising the principle of 'Similars' or 'Like Cures Like' and using only the smallest doses of non-toxic medicinal substances, the therapy is both safe and effective." While information about a four-year course for budding homeopaths lends some gravitas, it can't quite compensate for the peculiar use of language: "Similars" and "Like Cures Like" sound as if they owe their heritage more to superstition and ancient belief than, say, the fields of science or medicine.
Yet the NZ Council of Homeopaths (NZCH) states: "There is an abundance of evidence for their effectiveness." It lists an eclectic array of conditions said to have been eased by homeopathy, including: chronic ear infections, post-vaccination difficulties, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after childbirth, learning difficulties, night terrors, dyslexia and withdrawal from P.
But NZ Skeptics remains unconvinced. It interprets the NZCH's admittance that "[i]n homeopathic remedies above the 12th potency no molecule of the material substance remains" as evidence that the "expensive concoctions" of this "multi-million-dollar industry" are "just water".
The NZCH describes homeopathic remedies as being "ultra dilute using a method of dilution called potentization. This involves a dilution process and a succussion process (ie vigorous shaking) ... Converse to conventional medicine, the more dilute the medicine the greater the potency or strength (because it has been succussed more times)".
If the process of succussing strikes you as a bit dodgy, you're not alone. The people at Quackwatch call homeopathy "The Ultimate Fake" while the Huffington Post reveals its "dangerous transition from the quackosphere to the halls of academic institutions across the globe".
And perhaps that's the greatest concern. It's one thing for homeopaths to simply ply their dubious trade from artsy suburbs like Grey Lynn but when homeopathy is taught at tertiary institutions and promoted in supposedly trustworthy outlets such as pharmacies, it lends the controversial practice an elevated level of credibility many would claim it doesn't deserve.
What's your view of homeopathy? Have you ever tried it? Is it a valid alterative therapy or pure quackery?