Don’t save it for the duchess. All new mothers should be treated like royalty

Celebrity Gists, News

A woman has had a baby. I know! Amazing, really. It’s baby-shaped, as far as we can tell under the blanket, and appears more than capable of doing things newborn babies generally do, such as lying there. It may do other baby-like things soon, such as having a name. More as we get it.

And yet let’s not be churlish here. The reason pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge on the hospital steps still resonate for many – achingly fashionable as it is to wish the whole circus would just go away – isn’t just that they evoke fond parental memories. It’s that being pregnant and having a baby even of the non-royal variety is such a weirdly visible thing to do. Everyone feels a sense of ownership when you’re pregnant. Everyone feels the need to ask inappropriately intimate questions or pat the bump or offer advice about going back to work, plus in some cases bare-faced nagging dressed up as attempts to be helpful. The world’s cameras may not literally be trained on every new mother, but at times it damn well feels like it.

The day the Duchess of Cambridge gave birth, pregnant women could look forward to side-eye in Starbucks amid reports that drinking more than one coffee a day might be bad for the baby (never mind that it is based on one study from Norway describing a very slightly elevated risk of having an overweight child, and the causation has been described as “weak”). Then over that guilty flat white, they could read all about how one in four hospitals now refuses women’s requests for a caesarean delivery for anything other than clinical reasons. This is despite guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence that says women should have a choice, even if they have endured grim vaginal deliveries previously, or are terrified of the process, or even if they are just grown adults who, having read up on all the risks, were mad enough to imagine they might have some say.

NHS patients quite properly make choices all the time about which form of medical intervention suits them, yet nobody is ever described as being Too Posh To Choose Conservative Management Over Radical Surgery For Slow Growing Cancer; it is only the routine choices that women make over childbirth that attract such intense public debate and censure.

Yet at times parenthood comes to feel like one long process of being invited to defend and explain choices that aren’t really anybody else’s business. If a grown woman is confident wearing heels when pregnant, in the full and certain knowledge that there might be an infinitesimal risk of falling over in them, then who are you to stand between her and the pleasure of dressing at least one part of her body in something recognisable from a previous life? Who cares which bit of your body the baby came out of, so long as everyone’s alive and well at the end?

Performative parenting of the achingly middle-class kind – the sort that involves dragging an oblivious toddler round a museum, talking at the top of your voice about educational things just so everyone knows what an excellent parent you must be – may be exceptionally irritating to witness, but it’s a defence mechanism deep down, an insecure reaction to that feeling of being silently judged.

Play Video
 Duke and Duchess of Cambridge leave hospital with baby son – video

There have been endless calls for royal births to be treated more like the ordinary, mundane events they really are; to be politely ignored, not plastered all over rolling news. But honestly, there is a reasonable argument that it should be the other way round, and that every single woman who has given birth deserves to come out of hospital to the works: a faux town crier and Kay Burley in full cry and someone reverently erecting a golden easel outside the house, which anyone who will be spending the next three weeks sitting on a rubber ring knows damn well they have earned.

But given the practical difficulties of granting everyone their own 16-page commemorative tabloid pullout, many new parents would settle for the other thing royal mothers now get from the media: a very particular sort of scrutiny from strangers, which at least bends over backwards to be kind. One that focuses chiefly on how well the children behave at weddings, considering their age, or how sweet they look in their dressing gowns; and one which is increasingly afraid of being hammered on social media if it’s seen to judge too harshly or harp on about when mum is losing the baby weight. The Duchess of Cambridge isn’t the only one who deserves a break.

 Gaby Hinsliff is a Guardian columnist


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