Yesterday, in a glut of flashing cameras outside St Mary’s Hospital in London, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge introduced their - as yet unnamed - second son to the world. This morning, BBC presenter John Humphrys talked to Arthur Edwards, The Sun’s royal photographer, on Radio 4’s Today Programme. While they were chatting good-naturedly about how good the Duchess of Cambridge looked six hours after giving birth, John Humphrys said this, with a conspiratorial little giggle:
‘You can imagine a lot of young mothers hating her!’
Now, this was at the end of a three-hour show, so possibly Humphrys didn’t give this throwaway comment a second thought as he was clearing away his coffee cup and notepad, but it’s stuck in my mind ever since. Because it’s such a strange thing to a) say, and b) think it’s okay to say.
First of all, why would one mother hate - hate! - another for having the temerity to not look completely wrecked by birth, especially when the world’s media has trained the tightest of focuses upon her?
I mean, granted, I did not look anything like as glamorous as the Duchess of Cambridge during or after either of my own births (or, if I’m being honest, at any other point during my life at all). In fact, both my sons were heralded with traumatic labours, and arrived via emergency caesarean sections, so all my new-mum photos feature me looking boss-eyed from anaesthetic, with a swollen, sweaty face, hair gone askew, massive circles under my eyes and yesterday’s top on. Plus I’m pretty sure I’m flashing a nipple in at least three of them. So, if anything, I’m grateful these photos only went out on Instagram and Facebook and not to the international media circus the royal family has to face every day.
So, when I saw the Duchess of Cambridge in her lovely red dress, did I seethe with rage because I hadn’t had my own team of stylists on hand for the birth of my sons? Of course not. Because when you have given birth, to look at any photograph of a new mother and her baby is to be instantly transported to the tender moments after your own labour. In Kate I saw the mad, elated maternal exhaustion I experienced when both my sons entered the world, with all its accompanying rush of emotions about the new life in my arms; weird, almost dissociative mental state; and sore, sensitive, wracked body.
And this was the case for most of the mums I know, young and otherwise. ‘She looks so lovely,’ one friend commented, as footage of Kate and William outside St Mary’s Hospital started pouring: ‘But I hope she gets to sit down soon.’ ‘She should have Kit-Kats,’ said another. ‘Lots of Kit-Kats, and tea. How is she standing there in heels?’
Tea and chocolate needs aside, Many of us wondered how intrusive the process of styling and media appearances might have been on kate, because we remember how important it was to have long, empty moments of just staring at our new babies, with cups of tea going cold by our sides. Sometimes even the presence of a close family member could feel like an invasion, so how vulnerable must Kate have felt with all the cameras pointed at her?
These are the thoughts that I, a mother, and many of the mothers I know, had about Kate and her new baby. You’ll notice none of them were ‘hate’.
This isn’t the first time John Humphrys has been accused of sexism. And in this morning’s single momentary throwaway comment, he has managed to do so much. He has pitted women against each other needlessly. And, in doing so as a joke, revealed that this is what he thinks of women, and mothers. And, in making that joke so offhandedly, confirmed that the cattiness of women is just a thing to be expected, like weather.
The reality is so different. As was the case with the last two royal births, yesterday’s news has opened up social media conversations - at least among mums - about our own births; what we did; how we felt. We’ve shared our experiences and feelings, relived the wonder and terror of new parenthood, wished Kate and William well and, at the end of the day, perhaps seen our own kids in a refreshed light, and hugged them a little harder.
That’s not hate. That’s empathy. And it’s what I can imagine that mums, young and old, are feeling for the Duchess of Cambridge right now.