That’s how the news was relayed to me, via my youngest daughter. Apologies to anyone who has read a million articles this week about the girl with the beautiful hair (no, not the one who goes out with Andy Murray!) who married a prince and -OH! they had a baby. I am not much of a royalist, but Kate and William are so inoffensive and clearly such sweet people that it’s really quite hard to muster much revolutionary zeal whilst the focus is on this post-racist, drives-itself-about, does-lots-of-charity-work kind of monarchy. That is quite clearly the idea behind brand Kate&Wills. They’re normal! They’re nice! They shop in Waitrose! Take our money! Take our land! etc. And I am very happy that they had a healthy baby boy. I will always be excited about babies being born. Particularly other peoples’ babies, whom I bear no responsibility for. It’s all the cute with none of the sleep deprivation/milk-vomit/actual birth. Win!
But there was something else playing on my mind, as I watched some of the (pretty unavoidable) media coverage and reaction. Society and the media, who judge women anyway, on a daily, inexorable basis, rarely judge them as much as they do just after giving birth. Kate, who has conformed to every perfection that the media could possibly have expected her to: beautiful but demure, sensible, polite, supportive of her husband, educated, from a “normal” background, so as to fit into the fairytale, was scrutinised throughout her pregnancy. What was she wearing? Eating? Avoiding? Saying? Having now done the ultimate thing and produced a royal heir, she is now just at the beginning of her time of being mum-judged.
So far I have seen judgements on her choice of pram, car seat, post-baby dress choice, the name of her child. In this sense, apart from the fact that these judgements have been trending on Twitter, Kate’s experience is no different from being an ordinary mum. I have never been so judged as I have since I’ve been a mum. Even in the hyper-judgemental teen years, where your choice of music, brand of jeans, trainers, bag etc was ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL to your social status, I’m not sure it was that bad. (Perhaps I have blanked it out. Trauma.) I am a young mum – the judgements start there. But intriguingly, my friends who are ‘older mums’ also feel judged. A lady who knew my friend once asked her why she’d ‘left it so long. You must be so tired!’ (“I went home and cried! Stupid bitch. Of course I was tired. I had a two year old and a teething baby. A 17 year old would have been knackered!”) I felt for a long time that I had to do everything PERFECTLY, so as to prove I knew exactly what I was doing. Which of course I didn’t. It’s much nicer now I cheerfully admit I haven’t got a clue.
The issue of how much and how soon you lose the ‘baby weight’ is a big deal, as Kate’s experience has highlighted nicely. O.K magazine have already had to apologise after they ran an article about ‘How Kate will regain her figure!’ the day after she gave birth. And so they should. The last thing you want to think about after a gruelling 10 hour labour is losing weight. Sleeping might be a priority, and some decent pain relief. And the small matter of the LOVELY BABY you have just produced. Having a shower feels like heaven, tea tastes like champagne. You have created a new, tiny, beautiful person. Everything is magical – now how about that extra stone and a half? Skinny jeans anyone? And if the weight does disappear, which it well might, if you have another two children as well as a new baby, and are constantly on the go; well, that’s an issue too. “You are really quick to get rid of your baby weight, Alice. What have you been doing to lose it? Do you just, like really want to be thin?” I’m not kidding, someone actually said that. I did lose a lot of weight after I had Tilly. It wasn’t intentional, I just never sat down! I ate really well, breastfed, and walked everywhere. It was fine, but I felt I had to constantly apologise for it. After a while I thought the best thing would have just been to eat donuts and stay in bed all day for a week.
But the judging doesn’t stop at the weight issue. Have you got the right buggy? changing bag? Do you use the correct nappies? Does your child have dummy? Suck their thumb? Eat fruit and vegetables? Are you breastfeeding? Do you let the baby sleep in your bed? Have you dressed your child well? Does your child know the alphabet, or are you just doing phonics? Do they do ballet, or tap? Are they learning an instrument? Do you do baby yoga? Having sweated pretty much all of this with my older two, I was too tired and busy to care so much about being judged the third time around. I remember the joy of the first time I was able to admit ‘actually, she really doesn’t eat meals. She likes dry cereal and melon chunks, and left to her own devices, she will lick the butter off my toast. She’s a bit on the small side, but on balance seems happy enough – THAT’LL DO.’ And it is funny how you can be judged so differently. I gave up a complicated half-breastfeeding, half formula feeding regime with Polly, who was born with PKU, at about six weeks. It was exhausting and tricky. She went on to two different types of formula. We were both happier and slept better. I discovered that some people are completely militant about breastfeeding. ‘But breast is definitely best!’ they would trill (not to me, but certainly in the general vicinity.) One asked how the transition had gone: ‘I just think it must be so hard for them! I mean, a rubber teat and that… formula must be such a shock! And it’s such a bonding time for you, the feeding. ‘ Er, thanks. She seems to be fine…
Conversely, I remember the silence that fell when I fed a 12 month old Tilly at a playgroup once, surrounded by bottle-feeding mums. ‘OH! You’re still….doing that!’ Well, yes. This one doesn’t really eat, so the milk is probably kind of essential. And it’s actually a lot less hassle than heating up/cooling down bottles of milk…
Oh, if only I had had the confidence to say that at the time. Or something wittier, and sharper.
But the thing is, I think, that we -and by we I mean mums, society, the media ; all of us – judge women at precisely the time when we should be supporting them. Post-birth, you are at pretty much your most vulnerable. Nobody in that emotional, physically drained, weak stage needs judgement of any kind. You need support, friendship, practical help and a lot of tea and toast. You need the space to say that you’re not sure what to do, or that you’re not sure if what you are doing is OK. If you want to know why so much post-natal depression goes unnoticed or untreated, it’s because there is a massive desire amongst new mums (and not so new) to prove that we can do it, and do it BRILLIANTLY! That we will be the BEST mum ever, and we are having the GREATEST time doing it. It’s not easy to admit that you feel sad and tired and feel unattractive and boring. Especially when all the other mums seem to be beaming and immaculate all the time.
I hope Kate loves motherhood. I’m sure she will. But despite all of the help she will undoubtedly receive, she will be under extreme pressure to be a Good Mum. I hope that if she slips up at all in her perfect mother journey, that we are kind, forgiving, and non-judgemental . I know I will be. To be honest, I would be bloody grateful!