Tuesday 27 September 2016

Jamie's happy news becomes a huge brag

Jamie Oliver's baby announcement last week was full of joy, says Sarah Caden, but it was also full of boast

Sarah Caden

Published 14/08/2016 | 02:30

OLIVER’S ARMY: Jools and Jamie Oliver leave the Portland Hospital in London with the newest addition to the Oliver family, a baby boy, and their older children (left to right) Daisy Boo Pamela, Petal Blossom Rainbow, Buddy Bear Maurice and Poppy Honey Rose. Photo: John Stillwell/PA
OLIVER’S ARMY: Jools and Jamie Oliver leave the Portland Hospital in London with the newest addition to the Oliver family, a baby boy, and their older children (left to right) Daisy Boo Pamela, Petal Blossom Rainbow, Buddy Bear Maurice and Poppy Honey Rose. Photo: John Stillwell/PA

Last Monday, Jamie Oliver and his wife, Jools, had their fifth baby, a boy. It was, of course, a happy occasion and being a public person with a lively presence online, Jamie went on both Instagram and Facebook to show a picture of the little swaddled boy and post a message about his arrival.

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"And then this just happened guys!!" Oliver wrote. "IT'S A BABY BOY!! J Everyone in the Oliver family is very surprised and beyond happy. He arrived safely, mum [Jools] was really really amazing, unbelievably composed, natural birth and my two eldest Girls got to come in at the very end as the baby was born which was amazing to witness very very emotional."

Anyone who's ever given birth, been at a birth, been close to the emotion of a new arrival understands a lot of what drove that message. The joy, the relief, the adrenaline, the lack of sleep, the sense that the world has stopped moving around this bubble of baby-arrival. There's nothing to compare to it and Oliver was in the thick of it.

By the next day, one element of that message had been picked out and picked apart. His two eldest daughters, Poppy (14) and Daisy (13) were at the birth. In fact, Jools revealed later that day - with a photo of herself effortlessly breastfeeding - they helped to cut the cord on their new and second brother. Some people were not happy.

The following day, one English newspaper described childbirth as a "brutal" and "terrifying" process that "no child should have to witness". Now, needless to mention, if Jools Oliver had been having a difficult birth or one beset by complications, you can probably be fairly confident that her eldest girls would not have been allowed in to the delivery room. Given that Jamie has made it clear that it was relatively plain sailing, then why not?

Of course, that why not is based on several assumptions. First is that the girls have seen their mother's body before and won't die of fright at the sight. Second, is that the girls know all about how babies come out and aren't going to be horrified by the truth. Again, while the Oliver girls are more than old enough to know it all, it's stunning how many children are "protected" from the realities of procreation.

A lot of little girls are told that babies come out of their mummies belly buttons or not out of their mummies at all. This is not just a way of avoiding telling them how they come out, but an avoidance of telling them how they get in, of course.

We're doing little girls, in particular, no favours by "protecting" them thus. This is particularly true with little girls, who may wonder, when they find out the truth, if they were protected from it because it is awful. And, who may well have to do it some day, so best to demystify it as early as possible.

Last week, what the Olivers did for their daughters was to involve them in something natural and intimate, and I'm sure it was emotional and bonding for all involved. Then, however, what they did with Instagram and Facebook was to draw everyone else into that intimacy.

Which is where it gets a bit much. Everything, these days, is brag-fodder. Social media is the biggest brag platform ever invented and Jamie, with his messianic tendencies, was doing just that. Sure, he's proud of his wife and daughters, but what was an intimate family thing became a boast and more of a birch with which women who just don't match up could beat themselves.

There are key words in Jamie's birth announcement that jump out at women. "Unbelievably composed" and "natural birth". These words are, of course, the contradiction and the slap down of the "brutal" and "terrifying" image of birth that came with the condemnation of their experience.

Also, though, they cause the hearts to sink of mothers who experiences were less than blissful, who didn't look as good as Jools when she left the hospital a day after giving birth to her fifth. Or who, for that matter, don't have teenagers who give a damn about new babies or cutting cords or coming within 5ft of their mothers, giving birth or not.

The modern culture of oversharing and humble-bragging means that we all now know far too much about the births of others. Not in an educational, need-to-know way, but in an utterly-non-need-to-know way. Most women would probably say that they weren't "unbelievably composed". Good for Jools; but where did we go wrong?

And "natural" doesn't work for everyone. Whether that's natural, as in no pain relief, or natural as in not a caesarean. Caesarean guilt is real for a lot of women who have them, who are careful of the company in which they admit to them, who feel the guilt when someone is applauded for not having one.

Jamie Oliver's sharing on Monday was more than just husbandly pride. It was Jamie doing what Jamie does, which is to point out the right and good way to live. That's what he does, and of course he was going to do it in this instance. So when Jamie paints a truly perfect picture of a perfect birth, with perfectly delighted kids in attendance and a perfect family assembled outside the hospital on the way home, well, a lot of women feel irked, because they feel less than perfect.

But, hell, we're all less than perfect. Even the Olivers. But in that moment of baby-bubble bliss after a birth, we all feel superhuman. So we'll grant Jamie the brag, and await the name they give the boy who joins the ranks of Poppy, Daisy, Petal and Buddy Oliver.

Sunday Independent

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