Belfast Telegraph

Hannah Fearn: Meghan is right. Giving birth is hard enough without having to pretend that it's effortless too

Royal tradition: the Duchess and Duke of Cambridge with their first child, Prince George.
Royal tradition: the Duchess and Duke of Cambridge with their first child, Prince George.
The Duchess of Sussex has chosen a more private occasion

By Hannah Fearn

Hours after giving birth to Prince George, her first baby, in 2013, the Duchess of Cambridge found herself standing on the steps of a hospital clad in clingy, light blue frock with a full face of make-up and a perfect blow-dry, presenting herself and her new child to the world's gathered Press.

As the flashbulbs popped, what must she have been thinking? "I don't think I can stand any longer in these heels" perhaps? Or, "What if I drop the baby?" Of course, Kate might quite reasonably have been wondering how long it would be until she could sack the royal stylist who decided a pastel blue dress was a good choice for a post-partum photoshoot.

We were expecting to see the whole, sad spectacle repeated once again this month, but we won't, because Meghan Markle has turned her back on this pointless performance of parenting perfection.

Just days before the anticipated arrival of their child, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have confirmed that they intend to keep the details of the birth private. So far, royal photographers have not been invited to capture the first moments post-birth. In fact, the location of the forthcoming event has not been revealed at all.

Markle has decided against the famous private Lindo Wing of St Mary's Hospital, and there's even speculation she's may be opting for a home birth instead.

Well, good for her. Whatever she's decided, her actual birthing experience will probably bear little relevance to the birth plan she's lovingly drawn up. But one thing the Duchess of Sussex can control about this whole complex, emotional process is who she allows to see her new baby - and when.

Those strange hours and days post-birth, when day and night blur into one drowsy amorphous mass, are discombobulating for both new mothers and their partners.

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It is stressful, exhausting, sweaty, grimy, tearful, awe-inspiring, wonderful and awful. It's a bodyshock - and no amount of wealth, or privilege, can protect you from that.

The problem is that our parenting culture seems to demand the opposite. Okay, so very few ordinary women are expected to meet the paparazzi with a groomed face and gleaming barnet shortly after birth. But you don't have to be a member of the royal household to feel the pressure to post polished Instagram and Facebook updates with cute "welcome" pictures.

An old-fashioned term for the post-birth period, which still sometimes crops up today in legal documents such as those governing maternity leave rights, is "confinement". When I first heard this term when I was pregnant, I considered it ludicrous, archaic, even sexist. But confinement is actually exactly what new mothers need.

Many cultures protect this ritual. In China, for example, it's known as the "sitting-in month", during which a post-partum woman isn't expected to do anything apart from, well, sit. And rightly so.

In Britain, as elsewhere in the West, we've seem to have lost our respect for that sacred period of quiet reflection and recovery. Celebrity magazines heap praise on film and pop stars for "bouncing back" after birth, as they are snapped out shopping, or lunching, with tiny newborn slung to their chest like baby kangaroos.

Families demand flying visits to "meet" an infant who may not even wake up during their two-hour tea-and-cake pit stop; much less often are they able to offer real, extended support that would allow a mother to catch up on sleep.

And although shared parental is available to anyone who is in employment, the reality is that the majority of that time is still taken up by mothers with new dads still taking an average of just two weeks paternity leave, or less.

Markle's brave decision to shun royal protocol - if that's what she's chosen - in favour of slouching down in giant net knickers and tracksuit bottoms is a great lesson in how to ignore the pressure to perform.

Giving birth is hard enough. Thank goodness someone has had the guts to tell the royal household that they won't be playing along with the pretence that it's effortless, too.

Belfast Telegraph

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