You’d have to have been living in a wireless cave not to be familiar by now with the images of the future Queen of England emerging from hospital last week with her new baby. And if you aren’t, don’t bother. It will only annoy you. (Or at least it might do once you’ve read my take on things). But before I launch into my diatribe, I feel that I have to say that I’m happy for her: she got through another birth; she has another beautiful, healthy child. Congratulations, mama Kate.
But I’m not that happy.
Firstly, because I don’t really care - I’m not much of a monarchist. And secondly, because I’m positively unhappy about the PR show that surrounded the announcement, and the subliminal message that it transmitted - and therefore promoted - across the globe to us, mere mortal, women.
Why? Because I believe that this message was at best, unhelpful and at worst, very damaging.
Let me explain. I understand that the Duchess of Cambridge wanted to look her best for the global media hoards that were surrounding the hospital from the moment she arrived - so I’ll allow her the makeup and coiffed hair - but to come down the steps in a fancy dress and heels? That was just unnecessary. And that is what got to me the most: the damn high heels.
Because we ALL remember what it is like to give birth. (How can we forget?) It is gruesome. Or at least, it is most probably the most demanding, physical act that you will ever accomplish. It is not, in any way, pretty, groomed or neat and tidy: your body is a mess; the baby comes out in a mess; you make a mess. The whole thing is MESSY.
Whether you feel pain throughout as well as straight afterwards or not is a different matter – modern drugs can be a godsend. But even if you do choose, or are forced to go down that route, they soon wear off and the pain and discomfort hit you later. In short, however ‘straightforward’ your birth experience, you are not going to be as intact as you were before the baby emerged. It’s just not physically possible.
Perhaps you were one of those lucky (?) women who orgasmed as your child crowned and magically avoided the ring sting/tearing/ripping/emergency cutting that most of us encountered, but even so, you won’t have avoided the seemingly endless lochia (that no-one tells you about before you have a baby but which you have to deal with straight away after). Which, for those who aren't not in-the-know, entails wearing industrial-sized sanitary towels as thick as a child's mattress for at least two weeks to cope; equally industrial-sized, granny pants to keep these monsters in the right place; thick, flesh-coloured, knee-high compression socks (in the case of an emergency C-section); multiple trips to the loo; the re-opening of wounds and associated pain during every aforementioned trip to the loo, as well as a very tender, swollen belly. (I'm not even touching upon boobs because that's not relevant to my gripe but that's a whole other story for prospective mamas to look forward to).
So for most of us, recent childbirth means hobbling about, very slowly, in very flat slippers.
And yet Kate made it look as though she had just popped out of a spa: no visible (granny) panty line (let alone a visible industrial-size maternity pad line), no matted hair, no bleary eyes, a silky dress and perfect makeup. She positively BREEZED down the steps - unassisted - whilst also CARRYING a precious bundle, in HEELS.
It’s just plain annoying. Mostly because it cannot have been easy. In fact, it must have been really, really hard. And the Duchess of Cambridge is media-savvy enough to know that whatever she wears, says or does gets copied. So her actions can only mean that by trying so hard to look effortlessly graceful and glamorous, she was knowingly promoting the message that women’s appearance and togetherness are overarchingly important, whatever the extreme circumstances.
This isn’t empowering. For us or for her. It is actually demeaning and it belittles what our bodies go through in order to birth a human being: the physical and emotional havoc that it wreaks, the time and space that is needed for us to heal, the rawness of it all, the very UNGLAMOUR.
Childbirth is probably the only truly visceral thing we can do as women that makes us feel like the animals that we actually are: all of your senses, thoughts and instincts are acutely tuned to the matter in hand as you are forced to become fully present to the excruciating and sometimes unbearable pain.
It is one hell of an initiation into a lifetime of sacrificing your wellbeing on behalf of someone else's. So to take what is so uniquely special about it away by trying to normalise and indeed glamourise childbirth is belittling the one thing we have left that cannot be commercialised.
I hope that Kate is now sitting at home in her oversized t-shirt and bedroom slippers ‘enjoying’ the one time in life when she doesn't have to look immaculate. But for us, the damage is done. The world has received one more staged image of a perfect mother 'bouncing back' to normality in less than a working day.
So it’s up to us - non-royal - mamas to keep it real instead. To speak up for what birth is truly like and in doing so to remind those that don’t know, how unrealistic her portrayal of new motherhood was. It is our duty, for their sakes, to reassure prospective and new mamas that they DON’T need to follow suit.
Here’s my attempt. Now it's over to you…