If you were watching — like much of the rest of the world — Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, went home (coifed, dressed and, yes, standing up) hours after she gave birth to the royal couple’s third child.
Giving birth doesn’t exactly feel like an outpatient activity to many. But watching her stand outside the hospital, holding their new bundle, almost makes a mom forget just how hard that actually is to do after having a baby.
For the duchess, of course, things are different. She likely has whatever she needs as far as comfort and medical intervention ready for her at home. Her early departure also may have happened in part so there would be less frenzy at the hospital where other women are giving birth. I’m sure those families would like to thank her for that. And really, if you were Catherine, wouldn’t you want to head to the comfort of your well-prepped home instead of a hospital? (Have you seen “The Crown?” Sign me up for one of those fluffy beds, please.)
However, watching Catherine, for the third time, walk out of giving birth with that hair! That makeup! That fresh face! Well, it’s enough to give a woman pause. (Remember when the hospital staff made you sit in a wheelchair to leave? And all you wanted was a shower?)
It’s important that we know what we’re looking at here. Clothing likely picked out weeks or months in advance. A hairdresser, makeup artist and stylist at the ready. Heels. And also: a life that puts a ton of pressure on a woman being prim, proper and perfect. Yes, we can be thrilled that she didn’t try to make the baby-bump disappear just because she gave birth hours prior. And I love that she can go home and rest (or so it seems). But just read this and think: Would you want to be this poor woman? Who wants to get dressed after giving birth? Have a makeup artist or hairstylist touching you when all you want to do is sit in an ice bath? Wave to hordes of strangers just hours after pushing out a baby? (The writer Anna Whiston-Donaldson posted on Facebook: “I have my sound down but from reading lips I think she told Will to hurry up and get her home so she could change her adult diaper and get out of those heels.”)
It’s not the norm, and we all know that. RIGHT? Okay, good.
Aside from the duchess’s unique situation, the United Kingdom has one of the shortest postpartum hospital stays in the developed world, just a day-and-a-half, according to a study in PLOS medical journal. New mothers in the United States average two full days in the hospital before going home.
Of course, many women in the United States and other countries choose to have their babies at home or in a birthing center, where stay times are usually shorter than in traditional hospitals. This latest birth-and-run can bring up a lot of discussion about the right way to give birth, the wrong way to give birth, why one way is better than another and how it’s shameful that a new mom would [fill in the blank].
We all try to do what’s best for us, for our babies. We’re moms, after all.
But for some, the duchess brings up uncomfortable comparisons. Samantha Shanley will never forget how she, as an American mother in a German hospital, decided to take the tram home the day after her son was born in 2008. Her then-husband carried the baby, and they walked five blocks in the winter cold to the tram. “I’m like, my insides are turning out, and I still have to get out of the station and walk home five blocks,” she said. “I kept stopping at park benches to rest.”
Shanley says her mother had always perpetuated that “women-can-do-anything, 1970s-women’s-lib version of birth. But what that meant was pushing yourself beyond what was normal and natural.” Shanley ended up with a fever, mastitis and guilt. “I was living up to an ideal. Kate Middleton isn’t going home to take care of everything.”
For many, Catherine’s smiling appearance outside St. Mary’s Hospital is just one example of how our culture idealizes childbirth. “We don’t talk about postpartum or how much healing has to occur,” Shanley says, which “perpetuates this feeling of failure. All these people are posting pics of tender moments with babies. … It’s almost like we ignore how it changes women’s bodies.”
For me, the sight of the royal family heading home looking rested, put together and thrilled is nothing more than a reminder that the duchess lives in a different reality than most of us.
We’re all trying, birth can be incredibly difficult, and it’s not a perfect fairy tale, no matter how it looks.