It is possible to look just fine, great even, after giving birth without the assistance of a personal stylist, hairdresser or a fancy designer dress - not that it matters, but the way the media waxed lyrical about the Duchess of Cambridge's hair and her yellow frock when she emerged to face the world was, frankly, embarrassing - although predictable. Of course she was bound to look bloody good so can we cease with the mock incredulity. She has a team of people to ensure that this was always going to be the outcome. She also learnt her lesson after last time when the media clamped down on the two grey hairs that were dancing defiantly in the breeze ruffling her tresses, and the lines that dug deep into her forehead didn't slip by unnoticed either. Hello, she'd been in labour for ten hours the first time round - she was probably knackered. She wore a polka dot dress that accentuated her post pregnancy bump and was lauded for that, at least she got something right then. Second time round she had to ensure that she looked as fresh as a daisy, that her hair was uniform and perfectly curled with not a grey hair in sight because if she'd slipped up what would the press have said? I don't think they would have destroyed her, but they most certainly would have made a comment, which is just not what you need hours after giving birth, is it?
Mother and baby sketch book drawing (pen and ink on watercolour paper 2013)
In my own case I didn't put on that much weight with my second child, about six kilos. I'd completed a mid-career retrospective in London at Rich Mix during my pregnancy and was writing my book Schizophrenics Can Be Good Mothers Too. In terms of fitness I was teaching Pilates, cycling, and doing spinning right up to the day of the birth. But I was doing all this because I was manic most probably, not out of choice. My second baby shot out like a bullet in minutes, with no pain relief needed. It was also a silent birth and that's not because I believe in scientology, I find breathing deeply more useful than screaming, each to their own is what I say, it's not a competition, but I know I am not the norm. It is also often the case that the second birth is a little easier than the first. This was true for both my sister and mother; perhaps genetics comes into play here? Although it wasn't at the forefront of my mind to put on some make up, have a shower and don a nice frock for an impromptu photo shoot, I wanted to have a lovely first memory with my new-born, I was also experiencing post pregnancy euphoria, so I made a little effort and I really emphasis the little. Here are a couple of quick photos taken a few hours after giving birth on my very knackered iPhone.
When I sent out the photos I received various comments such as, 'You are bloody glowing, you will make other mothers jealous'. That certainly wasn't my intention. My obstetrician saw me walking down the corridor and did a double take gasping, 'Did I just deliver your baby a few hours ago?' And a friend asked, 'How can you look like that straight after giving birth?' Well, I never expected such a reaction. Am I being slightly disingenuous? Not really. We all want to look nice don't we? Photos are about cultivating memories and that was certainly a happy one that I will cherish.
Women after birth can look radiant and lovely, if they brush their hair, have a quick wash, put on some gloss and simply smile while holding their baby, but for most mothers that's the last thing on their mind. They will still have the residue of a post pregnancy glow and their cheeks will flush with pride as they hold their newborn, fatigue, pain and bleeding aside. Of course some women have a terrible time of it, they are exhausted, sore, torn, stitched, even traumatised after giving birth. It's probably the last thing on their mind to pose for the camera.
The Duchess of Cambridge and celebrities shouldn't be held up as the norm or examples to emulate, they have vast teams of support to ensure that everything will go smoothly and be as close to perfect as can be. Their clothes, shoes, the whole lot is meticulously chosen to present a polished image that will go down well with the world's media and the public. Remember it's the Duchess of Cambridge's job to look good, be reticent, demure and smile effusively.
Drawing of my first child completed days after giving birth (pencil on paper 2010)
The average woman does not have such a team in tow, but that doesn't mean that without such a team we can't look decent post birth. The point I am making is don't compare yourself with other mothers and don't think you are lesser because you can't be bothered or that you are unable to meet some impossible, unrealistic standard. Just meet you own and enjoy your baby.
I would add that for me personally I was prouder of the artwork I created during the first few days after giving birth than the photos taken. It was drawing my new born baby and painting assiduously that kept postpartum psychosis at bay when it tried to strike on the third day after giving birth as the ebullient mood was superseded by a rapid descent into sleeplessness and visions which brings me neatly to my final point - surely the wellbeing of the mother and baby, not the way she looks, should be the first priority? You would think so wouldn't you?
Painting of my second child done during the days after giving birth (pencil, acrylic ink and coloured pencil on paper, 2013)
Author of Schizophrenics Can Be Good Mothers Too (Muswell Hill Press 2015) Q S Lam