The Duchess of Cambridge has handled the world’s gaze with poise and good humour, but her fresh-faced stoicism should not be held up as the norm
Kate Middleton gave birth on 23rd April. Just a few hours later, she was propped up on the steps of the Lindo Wing, smiling and waving for hundreds of photographers - and her image, along with details about her hair, make-up and fashionable dress, was plastered across websites and newsstands across the world.
Yes, she looked great - but this should not be expected of women.
Seconds after my daughter made her entrance into this world, the camera started flashing. At first, it was a few pictures for our own sake – kind staff helping us to capture our first moments as a family of three.
But before long, I started to feel like I was in a performance when, every time someone came to congratulate us, a photo would have to be snapped.
I spent five days in hospital with my daughter and the photos range from shots taken in the delivery suite to me recovering from a C-section. To be honest, they’re not pretty.
Her face is still squished and red from crying, and mine is exactly the same. I’ve never been one for make-up and, in the hours after the baby arrived, slapping on the concealer seemed even less important.
There we are in the photos, her squealing, me with a cannula stuck in my arm and breast milk down my shirt. The white surgical stockings and deflating stomach only adding to the appeal.
When my son was born by emergency caesarean section, my family arrived just as the nurse was carrying out her observations. All his first photos show my arm encased in a blood pressure cuff looking like the hulk, despite feeling incredibly weak after a two-day labour.
My mother-in-law was convinced I’d had my long hair chopped into a bob after she saw one photo, but it was just stuck to my neck after such a mammoth struggle. With both of my children, I was attacked by a hormonal breakout of spots as soon as the words ‘delivery room’ were uttered - and even black and white pictures couldn’t erase the blemishes.
After having my son, I managed to escape to the sanctuary of home after just one night’s stay in hospital. But I vividly remember the ‘pee-test’ before I could leave - filling a jug to an indicated line before any of the discharge forms could be signed. Which is why I felt for Kate yesterday, just a few hours out of the labour room and standing preened to perfection – in heels!
Yes, she has an entourage and perhaps really she does have some of the quickest labours in history, but there’s no doubt her body will have be feeling the effects. In my hospital bag I had packed arnica cream for the bruising, paracetamol because everything hurts after a baby, and huge incontinence-size Tena Ladies, as we all continue to bleed for some days after birth.
I can’t imagine the sort of preparation that goes into standing on those steps for just a few moments, but I know it will have taken a huge effort for Kate both mentally and physically.
While her little one is going to live a very privileged life, I find myself asking what Kate would have given for a private birth followed by a cup of tea and a biscuit afterwards, care of the NHS?
For most women, leaving the hospital after just a few hours is pretty common. In fact, according to a study published in the Public Library of Science (PLOS) Journal, the UK has the shortest hospital stats for new mums out of all the high-income countries, with healthy women and efficient NHS staff cited for the quick turnarounds.
But when we leave, we’re not met by hoards of royalists and a crowd of snappers. We can exit (gingerly), still in our maternity slacks and slippers, while Kate must have the full make-up and blow dry experience. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
The way Kate looked after birth is completely unrealistic for most women, and I truly hope that those without Kate’s resources and assistants won’t feel pressured to emulate her.
There is nothing wrong with leaving the hospital shortly after the birth if it is safe for you to do so, but that doesn’t mean that new mums should feel compelled to pack hair rollers and make-up alongside newborn nappies.
Kate may not be the every-woman, but when every woman in the world is watching her, it’s important to remind ourselves that her fairytale birth is just that.
Images: Getty, Gina Clarke