Part of me feels amused that the Daily Mail is lauding the Duchess of Cambridge for not being “too posh to posh”. Isn’t the whole purpose of today’s royal family being posh? Indeed, isn’t she rather letting the side down by opting for a mere vaginal birth, or “natural” birth as the press likes to call it, presumably because a duchess wouldn’t have anything so vulgar as a vagina? I’m not sure what she’s meant to have instead, mind – perhaps a plush velvet gateway, to counteract the sheer commonness of pushing.
Of course, the Kate Middleton may end up not pushing anyhow. Or pushing and having a caesarean anyhow, which is then classed as not having pushed. Pushing is, after all, not a physical act but a moral identifier. Anyhow I don’t really want to think about it because it’s no business of mine or anyone else’s how she gives birth.
One thing really surprises me, though: I cannot believe that in 2013 we are still encountering the phrase “too posh to push”. It’s not as though it wasn’t obviously offensive ten years ago. How can it have lasted so long? What purpose does this phrase serve other than to imply that certain women are too self-indulgent to give birth “properly”? It’s a mean, inaccurate phrase that chips away at the joy of having a new baby and feeds all the guilt and worry that new motherhood brings.
I have friends who’ve used it, part-joking, part-apologetic, part-defensive. “I’m not like one of those too posh to push women. Mine was emergency, not elective.” I’m never sure what to say. I don’t want them to feel bad but it’s hardly for me to grant absolution when they’ve done nothing wrong in the first place. Moreover, I don’t want it to appear like I’m agreeing that some caesareans are “bad caesareans”. It might have a very different outcome, but in some ways this reminds me of the good abortion / bad abortion game. Whatever reproductive choices women make – or don’t even get to make – they’re obliged to mount a detailed defence of their moral character. It’s ridiculous.
The worst thing is knowing there’s a bit of me that already has bought into this. Some small part of me does feel proud that I never had a caesarean, as though this was some great achievement when actually, both of my children arrived quickly and without complications. I’m just lucky, but giving birth always has to be more of a morality tale than that. So I somehow feel I must have done something special despite knowing that I didn’t (if it makes you feel any better, women who’ve had caesareans, I feel really guilty about feeling this way. Probably not as guilty as you’re made to feel for no reason whatsoever, but still).
There’s a lot of talk of women needing to be empowered to make the right birth choices, but perhaps the most disempowering thing is the way in which you end up believing how you give birth will lead others to judge your character. For instance, on my way to the hospital to have my second child, I remember feeling that the pain was so extreme I wouldn’t be able to cope on gas and air alone. I said as much to my partner, and told him I was scared I’d need an epidural and that everyone would think worse of me because I hadn’t needed an epidural with our first. It seems utterly bizarre. In a huge amount of pain, about to meet my new son, I was panicking about letting down “the audience” (as it turned out, he arrived in the car park so I didn’t even get gas and air. And once again, that’s something which has become an unjustifiable source of pride).
Giving birth to a new person is an incredibly powerful thing to do, yet it seems to me that we’ve found ways to talk about it that yet again make women appear weak. Given the pressure I felt when, realistically speaking, no one really gives a damn how I give birth, I can’t imagine what it’s like to have the whole world watching. So in that respect I do feel sorry for the Duchess of Cambridge, even though she’s posh. Or possibly not so posh, depending on how things go.