Postpartum Parade: Reality vs. Royalty

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve already seen the instantly iconic images of Princess Kate standing outside of the hospital in a red, Diana-esque dress a mere SEVEN hours after giving birth to her third child. Suffice it to say, I’ve had dentist appointments that lasted longer than it took her to labor, deliver, apply make-up, and exit the hospital. And naturally, if you’ve seen these images, then you’ve likely seen the comments, opinions, and, yes, I dare say, tirades, that have resulted. As much as I want to scream at the universe, “WHHHYYY?!!” when I see someone so perfectly coiffed, adorned, and wearing high heels moments after the train wreck that is childbirth, I find myself in the position of coming to the postpartum defense her royal highness.

A few years ago, there was a major trend on social media of women who went viral for showing off “true” postpartum bodies. They posed for selfies in bikinis or showed off their jelly bellies and stretch marks in crop tops and spandex.  And I absolutely applaud them for their honesty and willingness to put it all out there. How great is it that we finally have examples other than what we see in the mirror of what the human body can look like after stretching to the breaking point?

But the comments about how Princess Kate isn’t the real deal following her postpartum photo shoot got me to thinking. Sure, Kate looks amazing. But think of what would happen if she didn’t. While the rest of us can reside in the safety of knowing that photos of our swollen faces and broken bodies will go no further than our personal photo albums or our social media network, Kate has tabloids, paparazzi, and an international public ready to pounce and dissect every misplaced hair.

The point is, women don’t “look great” after childbirth because they are perfect, superhuman, or even because they are a princess. Anyone who’s had a baby “looks great” if they are not wearing an orange jumpsuit because they killed their husband during labor when he suggested that they “stay calm and breathe.” They deserve even greater credit if they do not kill him in his sleep in the coming weeks when, yet again, he “didn’t hear the baby crying.” (He heard his alarm clock just fine…and guess what? So did the baby…who started crying again.)

In fact, any woman who makes it out of the house with matching shoes (yes, slippers count) “looks great.”

I’ll admit, from labor to high heels in a matter of hours is pretty extreme. But let’s keep in mind, our girl Kate isn’t common folk. She’s a princess. She not only carries some extra baby weight; she carries the weight of a nation – or at least the pressure of being the face of a nation. It’s the same with many celebrities. We say they can only look that good because they have personal stylists, nannies, trainers, and chefs. And you know what? You’re exactly right.

But that’s a lot of pressure, too. I GUARANTEE that if you had to be in a designer dress on the red carpet 3 months after childbirth, or even on the hospital steps to smile and wave when what you really wanted to do was cry a little and sleep, you’d do everything in your power to put your parts back where they started, then you’d shove them all in a set of Spanx from your neck to your knees.

I get it, though. It’s frustrating when something that seems so hard for us looks so easy to someone else. And it’s not that we don’t need to celebrate the “reality” of childbirth or accept what we really look like after giving birth – seven hours or seven months later. But we can also feel a pretty high level of relief that no one expects us to look like Princess Kate moments after birth.

The fact of the matter is, for Princess Kate, “real” is exactly what we saw. Girlfriend had to carry a baby for nine months in the public eye pretending she didn’t have heartburn, backaches, and all the other weird and wonderful things that come with pregnancy. She then had to have the baby (however it might have happened) and leave the hospital with a crowd of absolute strangers prepared to scrutinize her every move. I can almost guarantee that our girl got home, grabbed the first pair of pajamas she could find, told Prince William to stop saying “she did great because she KNOWS she did great,” then begged the royal doctors to let her sleep for just two hours.

We often discredit ourselves by comparing our reality of childbirth, parenting, and postpartum experiences to others. And that’s why it is nice to see the nitty gritty being talked about openly because many of us have a common experience – and it’s a bloody, exhausting one filled bodily fluids (ours and the babies), sleep deprivation, and no showers for days. But when it comes to our bodies and how we look before or after having a baby, the “reality” is a combination of circumstance, choice, external demand (or a lack thereof), and some simple genetics.

I’ve had three kids and I don’t have a perfect body by any means. No time for exercise, wine after another long day, and Cheez-Its as a breakfast food make that kind of hard. But I’m ok with where I am. In fact, I’ve been lucky in a lot of ways. I didn’t get stretch marks thanks to pure, luck-of-the-draw genetics (I owe you one, mom). I left the hospital all three times wearing regular clothes, not maternity clothes. And I usually dropped back down to below my pre-pregnancy weight within a few months. But I was just as “real” as the next bone-weary, vomit-covered, hormonal bag of crazy out there.

I’ve seen just as many women get slammed for looking like models after having a baby as others who have been scorned for their sags and wiggly bits. Aren’t we “body shaming” both? Should the super fit be made to feel guilty along with the ones who are accused of “letting it all go”? And sure, we are pushing the pendulum pretty hard from a decades-old idea of virtually unachievable beauty and stick-thin idealism. But we need to be careful and stay on-point.

Let’s celebrate women who embrace the body that brought a life into the world, even if it was ravaged in the process. But let’s not isolate women who are able to give birth and still wear their pre-pregnancy jeans. Some of these women just got lucky that their body snapped back, others work really hard at it because it’s what makes them feel good.

At the end of the day, ladies – if you’ve given birth, you’ve either pushed a watermelon-sized being out of your…well, you know where…or you’ve been cut open WHILE CONSCIOUS, had your internal organs MOVED and then had that same watermelon-sized being forcibly removed. And prior to THAT, you spent nine months with another human being inside of you – living, growing and acting like your ribs were a kickboxing target.

Bottom line: You are a hardcore, she-beast, warrior goddess. And yes, that includes Princess Kate.

Anyone who has ever had an infant, by birth or adoption, has gone without sleep for days, has had every bodily fluid imaginable shot at them with projectile force, wondered if you would ever have another shower, and cried because the screaming banshee that replaced their sweet baby won’t stop banshee-ing. If you’ve made it this far, then I’m here to tell you, mama – you are an angelic being and should be granted sainthood.

And if you’ve ever loved a child, by birth, adoption, or fostering, then you know what it is like to wear your heart outside of your body. You have given your power completely and entirely away to another person who would live in their own filth if not for you, who demands that you peel their grapes, who continuously loses just one shoe (and will well into their teen years), and who actually has the audacity to question your infinite wisdom. But then that same person makes the sunshine and the angels sing with a simple “I love you, Mom.” You, too, are the bravest of the brave and a goddess like the world has never seen. Future generations should be writing songs about you.

I have seen the saying “I am a tiger and proud of my stripes” in reference to the “real” postpartum body. I do not have stripes, but I assure you, I am no less a tiger for it. I have three stunningly, breathtakingly, magically beautiful daughters. And some were easier to get here than others. Some took a greater emotional toll, some a greater physical toll. But each one brought with them pure magic, and I, unlike Kate, was fortunate enough to know that the light shone on them, not on me.

Face it, some women are going to walk out of the delivery room looking like they’ve been through a war. Some women are going to walk out looking like a queen – or princess as it were.

It is up to us, brave tribe of mother-warriors, to teach acceptance and love. It is up to us to encourage and applaud other women, not because of what they look like but because of what they do every day. Let’s clap our hands for those who look just like they did before they had a baby – and let’s cheer for those who don’t. But let’s cheer because THEY HAD A BABY. And they are ALL tigers, just like you.