Last week I was at my local Baby + Parent + Caffeine catch up with what seemed like a thousand local infants. I got chatting with one mum about the Royal Baby and the absurdity of expectations upon a new mum to appear dressed and ready for a baby show and tell hours after labour. We mutually expressed our admiration of Meghan Markle sticking it to the die-hard royalists by giving herself a few days grace before appearing before the press.
Having laboured and now having understood the lengthly postpartum recovery process, it bewilders me that she obliged the press on day three by even showing up – in stiletto heels I might add! As she walked gingerly towards cameras, I thought “Power to you woman.” People who’ve popped out babies know that just walking to the toilet in those first few days is a monumental achievement – you’re bruised and blitzed down there and the most you can muster is a shuffle. And she did it with grace and patience. Now, there’s a mother!
Yet, despite my effusive awe, moments later I joked about the size of her boy: 7lbs 3 oz.
“Yeah, but 7 lbs. I mean, that’s a walk in the park. He [referring to my son] tore out of me a whopping 9lbs 5oz.” We possibly laughed about it. Or maybe we didn’t. In fact, having thought about it for days now, it’s such an irrelevant, non-funny comment, I was clearly just trying to add something to the conversation instead of sipping my tea, so the other mum likely just smiled until the conversation moved on. I hope she did.
Because the thing is, it was just was such an easy and cheap thing to do: compare myself to this woman I don’t know and structure our labour experiences on an invisible, irrelevant hierarchy of pain and suffering. It was also so deeply contradictory to grand statements I’d made hours after Augie’s birth. Tears in my eyes with a wavering voice I declared to my parents, and partner – and just anyone who would care to listen – that “It doesn’t matter how you do it. You did it. And that makes you a goddamn queen!”
Months on, with the memory of it all fast fading, old habits have crept back in. There’s been this instinct to glorify – and gore-ify! – my own experience of childbirth, as if weight and size are the only indicators of trauma and endurance. I know nothing of Meghan’s experience, yet from years of conditioning and competitiveness, I devalued and undermined her experience in a split second, rendering it secondary to the birth of my son.
Yeah, yeah, you might think. It was just a joke. It was harmless, I even defend to myself. It was poor humour. Come on, every comedian has their off lines.
Firstly, you’re not remotely a comedian. So just…no.
Secondly, it was actually indicative of something bigger that happens to and between women all the time. I’m probably not stretching it too far by suggesting it’s indicative of human experience altogether because there seems to be a cross-cultural instinct to maintain one’s position in these invisible hierarchies. Often they are based on larger, structural characteristics – race, gender, sex, ideology, faith – and sometimes they are just person to person, petty and provoked by fear of rejection.
Perhaps I’m wading into a more philosophical or sociological territory, for which I don’t remotely have the headspace or time to engage – I mean, it’s taken me 12 days to write this one post… But I do know that I have a tendency to think myself better than others, whether consciously or not. Here was an example of it in action.
And that’s something I’d like to work on, now that I’m raising a person in this big, beautiful, mess of a world.
Maybe the best way to start with making amends, to step towards gentle self-improvement, is with an apology.
Meghan, I don’t know you but I’m sorry I shamed you. What a beautiful boy you’ve brought into the world.