Style Voices

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Chrissie Russell: 'There's something very uncomfortable about royal baby watch - no woman's womb should be up for public debate'

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex waves after attending an engagement with the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) at City, University Of London on January 31, 2019
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex waves after attending an engagement with the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) at City, University Of London on January 31, 2019
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (Richard Pohle/The Times)
Meghan, leaves the National Theatre in London. Photo: Reuters
(L-R) Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (L), talks with Britain's Meghan, Duchess of Sussex (R) as Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, stand by attending the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey in London on March 11, 2019
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, attends an event at Canada House, the offices of the High Commision of Canada in the United Kingdom, to mark Commonwealth Day, in central London, on March 11, 2019
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex attend the Commonwealth Service on Commonwealth Day at Westminster Abbey on March 11, 2019 in London
Meghan wearing Reiss at The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust to mark International Women’s Day. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire
Kate with baby George. Photo: PA
Jenny Packham reported a 58pc increase in frock sales after Kate wore her dress following Charlotte’s birth
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their newborn son
Prince William and Kate Middleton holding their third child outside the Lindo Wing of St Mary's Hospital on April 23, left, and Prince Charles with Princess Diana holding Prince Harry in 1984, right

Chrissie Russell

“They say the baby might be on its way!” read my text to my mum the other night.

“Hmmm, I think it’ll be a boy,” came the swift reply. “James, Arthur or Alexander do you reckon?” I write back. No, this isn’t me who is about to give birth, it’s not even a close friend or relative, but my mother and I instinctively know who we’re referring to: Meghan Markle. 

Since the moment the 37-year-old shed her ‘Suits star’ title and took on the mantle of Duchess of Sussex, speculation has been rife about when we’d hear the pitter patter of tiny royal feet.

Since confirming the news last October, the royal pregnancy has been a veritable feeding frenzy: bump speculation, bump shaming, doula and home-birth shocks...and much like many others, I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I’ve been lapping it all up. 

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, attends an event at Canada House, the offices of the High Commision of Canada in the United Kingdom, to mark Commonwealth Day, in central London, on March 11, 2019
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, attends an event at Canada House, the offices of the High Commision of Canada in the United Kingdom, to mark Commonwealth Day, in central London, on March 11, 2019

Of course there will be plenty of people reading the royal baby headlines and rolling their eyes asking the inevitable question of commenters 'round the world, 'Why is this news?' But there's undeniable public interest in the workings of Meghan Markle’s womb, bizarre a construct as it is.

This however, begs the question - is her pregnancy one of those occasions where what constitutes public interest isn't actually in the public interest and do we really need to know everything about Baby Sussex's arrival?

I had a baby almost exactly a year ago so it’s fresh in my memory just how irksome speculation in one’s unborn infant can be. People mean well, but particularly if you’re a ‘geriatric’ mother (something Meghan and I have in common) then carrying a baby and delivering one can come with a large dose of anxiety and you really don’t need any added stress on your plate.

It was initially reported that the duchess’s due date would be the end of April, now making her overdue, something fairly common with a first child. Both my boys went 16 and 12 days over respectively and I was ready to punch people in the face for  texting and querying “any baby yet?”, I can only imagine what it’s like to have the world’s press doing the same.

Then there’s all the judging. Every new parent just wants to do the best for their child and Harry and Meghan will be no different. I’ve no doubt the parents-to-be will have done their research and if the home birth, doula route is what they’re hoping for then they’ll have come to that decision themselves for the best reasons.

Again, I feel a kinship here having opted for a doula with my second-born, but while I just had the occasional elderly relative raise a confused eyebrow at the word ‘doula’, Harry and Meghan have had to deal with reams of press and online coverage dissecting and weighing their decisions.

While it’s unlikely the Sussexes are wading through the comments section of every article written about them, but the establishment of their Instagram page (and the very clear voice of Meghan that one hears reading that page) suggests a certain level of media savvy and engagement with the online world. Who knows what she’s read and how upsetting that might have been?

The lines of royal private life – and indeed all our lives – are increasingly blurred by the accessibility and intimacy of social media. Everything is content. I personally posted a snap to Twitter soon after I had my baby and the wave of likes only added to my post-birth, oxytocin high. I was in love with my little bundle of joy and had an overwhelming urge to share that. Perhaps Meghan will be the same. 

Prince William and Kate Middleton holding their third child outside the Lindo Wing of St Mary's Hospital on April 23, left, and Prince Charles with Princess Diana holding Prince Harry in 1984, right
Prince William and Kate Middleton holding their third child outside the Lindo Wing of St Mary's Hospital on April 23, left, and Prince Charles with Princess Diana holding Prince Harry in 1984, right

Should she feel under pressure to share a newborn photo? No.

Should she, like her sister-in-law Kate Middleton, feel compelled to don high heels and blow dry to pose for a post-delivery photo just hours after delivery? Dear Lord no.

Should Meghan and Harry feel any duty to disclose the details of labour, cord-cutting and birth weight? Absolutely not.

As royals, their role is to show up for ribbon cuttings, champion good causes and try not to cause a scandal. 

There’s something very uncomfortable about the tone of some of the royal baby watch coverage,  that seems to suggest that just because Meghan and Harry are in the public eye and part of a family that receives publicly funded money, then the public is somehow entitled to ownership of them and their offspring.

No matter what your status and finances are, no one has the right to tell you what to do with your body or the little person that might come out of it. Everyone should have the right to personal autonomy, something I feel is especially pertinent when it comes matters around women and their bodies.

By choosing not to follow protocol and keep the public up to date on baby’s arrival (imminent or already past) Meghan is actually sending a much more powerful message that, regardless of who you are, you’re entitled to privacy. No woman’s womb should be up for public debate.

So even though I’m nosey and dying to hear all about the squishy newborn, keen to see who he or she looks like and curious to learn how the delivery went – I hope it’s only because the royal couple choose to share those details, not because they feel obligated to.

Until then, mum, myself and the rest of the world will just have to keep playing the guessing game and checking that Sussex instagram page.

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