Labor, childbirth and the early postpartum hours are stressful enough without having to pull them off in front of a secretary and a bunch of paparazzi. Thank goodness we’re not royals! Because that’s precisely what birthing mothers in the British Royal family have had to endure for centuries — with a couple exceptions, one of whom was Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex.
In the new book Battle of Brothers: William and Harry — the Inside Story of a Family in Tumult by Robert Lacey, the British historian writes about the tradition of, well, not giving the birthing queen/princess/duchess any privacy at all. “Well into modern times, attendance beside the royal birthing bed became the duty of every British home secretary. Queen Victoria gave birth to all nine of her children with her home secretary in the room, along with assorted privy councillors — and this intrusive custom lasted long into the twentieth century.”
So who broke the tradition? Surprisingly, it was not Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, although they did (rightfully) demand privacy for the birth of baby Archie — and did (rightfully) refuse to appear in front of paparazzi afterwards.
But nope. As Lacey writes, the very first “post-1688 heir to the British throne to be born without the ritualized scrutiny of his arrival on behalf of the people” was none other than Prince Charles himself, in 1948.
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Today, The Duchess of Sussex accompanied The Duchess of Cambridge, Patron of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC) to the Ladies’ Singles @Wimbledon 🎾final. Their Royal Highnesses watched Serena Williams 🇺🇸vs. Simona Halep 🇷🇴on Centre Court – sitting in the Royal Box alongside The Duke of Kent – President of the AELTC, former world number one Martina Navratilova and three-time grand slam winner Virginia Wade. Congratulations to everyone who participated and helped make this such an iconic sporting event. Photo credit: PA / Mike Hewitt – Getty Images #Wimbledon #Wimbledon2019
“Clement Attlee’s post-war Labour government had wasted no time in sweeping away the outdated practice,” Lacey writes. So who’s to blame for its unpleasant resurgence? Charles again!
“Charles revived its spirit in 1982 and 1984 with the births of William and Harry, when he and Diana proudly — and dutifully — brought their sons out onto the steps of the Lindo Wing for public inspection and approval, within hours of their births,” Lacey explains. Not quite a home secretary being present in the birthing room, but intrusive (and undoubtedly difficult for the postpartum mother) nonetheless.
By 2013 when Kate Middleton was set to give birth to her first child, Prince George, “the performance” of the postpartum photo opp “had turned into a menacing and undignified scrum among the ever-growing mass of paparazzi, in a most alarming free-for-all,” Lacey writes. Still, “Prince William continued the tradition unquestioningly.” Gotta love that it was William’s choice, not Kate’s. Sigh.
So all that pushback that Meghan Markle received when Archie was born and she refused the “traditional” excruciatingly public postpartum posing for photos at the hospital? She was not the one breaking the tradition; it had already been broken more than 60 years prior. And if William and Kate had been the ones to continue breaking it, they likely would have received much less criticism than Meghan did when she “broke” the already broken (and revived, and broken again, are you exhausted yet?) tradition. All because in 2013 “William still did his duty sturdily, beside him Kate, immaculate and smiling despite the traumas of delivery,” in the words of Lacey. Yikes.
One might argue that Harry and Meghan were just as dutiful and sturdy, if not more so, in their conviction that this was one painful postpartum tradition that needed to die. “Harry and Meghan were resolute that their newborn baby’s first sight of the world should not be the same insane and lethal camera-flashings that had attended — had actually brought about — the death of Diana,” Lacey writes.
And who could blame them?
Childbirth is nothing like in the movies, as these beautiful photos show.