There was so much to love about Prince Harry’s beaming and impromptu press conference following the birth of his first child.
The part where he said he’s “so incredibly proud” of his wife, Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex. The part where he called his new son “this little thing” and said he was over the moon with excitement. The part where he thanked the horses.
But what stood out the most for me was what was missing from the interview: Meghan herself.
Meghan gave birth to a healthy seven-pound three-ounce boy at 5:26 a.m. local time, the palace announced Monday. Later that afternoon, Harry talked to the press — alone.
Where was the duchess? I presume she was lying down somewhere, maybe cuddling her sweet bundle, maybe catching a few much-needed ZZZs, maybe icing some body parts that got a little more of a workout during labour than she’d imagined.
I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that she wasn’t standing at Prince Harry’s side, smiling serenely, and rocking four-inch heels and a designer outfit while holding her literally-just-born-baby. In fact, Harry told the press we likely won’t see the baby, and presumably Meghan, for another two days.
And for that, on behalf of all moms, I just want to say, thanks, Meghan, for doing us a solid.
Three years ago, I also gave birth to a healthy seven-pound three-ounce boy. The next day, I left the hospital looking exactly like someone who just had a baby.
I’d barely slept a wink since my son emerged from my body at 2:53 a.m. the previous day. I’d managed to hose the blood off myself in the stall shower in my hospital room, but I had not managed makeup or a comb to the hair. I sweat right through the pits of my oversized grey tank top, so wore a cardigan that really brought out the mild jaundice in my son’s cheeks.
I shoved my swollen hooves in a pair of flip flops, and my swollen hooha in a pair of maternity leggings. As I posed for a photo op in the hospital hallway, my son screamed at the indignity of being strapped into a car seat, and my boobs screamed at the indignity of being forced into a nursing bra.
If you look closely, I’m still swollen and puffy from my epidural. My husband is still wearing his hospital bracelet. Behind our smiles we have the terrified eyes of a couple who can’t believe we are being trusted to take a baby home. Our kid is freaking out, and his head is too big for his trendy little hat, but I put it on him, anyway (I just birthed that melon of a head, kid. You can wear the damn hat).
I never posted the photo the nurse took of our new little family — one of the first pictures that exists of the three of us — because I hated how it looked.
But we looked precisely how we should.
It has been a royal tradition to pose for photos with the new baby, usually just outside Lindo Wing at St. Mary’s Hospital in London, not long after giving birth. Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, most recently posed just seven hours after giving birth to Prince Louis last year.
She was wearing a designer dress, stilettos (in nude! so brave considering what just went down), had her hair and makeup done, and looked, frankly, like a goddess not even of this world. And she looked just as gorgeous and put together in the photo ops after the birth of her first two children, too.
(She did spend the night after giving birth to Prince George in 2013, but left the hospital less than 10 hours after Princess Charlotte’s birth in 2015, Good Housekeeping notes).
I appreciate that Kate has a certain set of expectations placed on her as mother of heirs to the throne. The late Princess Diana posed for the same photos after she gave birth to William and Harry. But even as the world clamours for these first images of the royal babies, those perfect pics can be damaging to new moms who, you know, look and feel ever so slightly less coiffed mere hours or days after giving birth.
In March, the CEO of parenting product company Fridababy asked Meghan to skip the photo op in a full-page open letter in the New York Times, explaining that these pics mask the “raw aftermath” of birth that’s still taboo to discuss.
“Sure your blowout will be perfect for your hospital step photo-op, but people will be opining on all the wrong things instead of having an honest conversation about what women go through during birth and immediately thereafter,” Chelsea Hirschhorn wrote in the letter.
As someone who spent a fair bit of time sitting on ice after giving birth, I fist-pumped when I saw this open letter.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t expect to look like a royal as I left the hospital after the birth of my son. But these beautiful new-baby photo ops perpetuate the myth of bouncing back from childbirth, when what we should really be doing is preparing moms for the reality of what happens to their bodies.
Now, I don’t think Meghan’s move today is earth-shattering, and it’s not a surprise. She and Harry have been notoriously private about the baby’s arrival from the get-go, and they warned us in April that they plan to celebrate privately before they make the big reveal.
Harry hinted Monday that the world will get a glimpse of Meghan and the baby on Wednesday, two days after the birth. And I highly doubt the duchess will appear in maternity leggings and flip flops with unwashed hair (though, bless her if she did).
Let’s be honest — she’s going to look incredible, just like she always does. We’ll all talk about what she’s wearing, how and if her frock pays tribute to Diana, and zoom in on that royal baby’s face to speculate if he looks more like Meghan or Harry.
But in eschewing the traditional hospital photo op and waiting — even just a few days — to go in front of the cameras, Meghan is telling moms everywhere that it’s OK to take a breath after giving birth.
And for that — thank you.
This blog first appeared on HuffPost Canada, and can be read here