The Royal Baby photo call, That Question, and the myth of the ‘good baby’
When news of Harry and Meghan’s arrival broke, I squealed — my default and involuntary response to any Baby Has Been Born announcement, whether it’s to the nice couple down the street or the sixth in line to the throne.
WhatsApp group chats jumped into life, I phoned my mum to share the happy news, and — along with the rest of the world’s media — I found myself speculating and theorising on every detail of this new little human. Did the Duchess of Sussex have a home birth, as reportedly planned, or did she transfer under the cover of darkness to an undisclosed ‘London Hospital’? If reports are to be believed, probably the latter — it’s really none of our business, but somehow we can’t help but get drawn in.
The Duke of Cambridge’s accidental smugness in welcoming his younger brother to the “sleep deprivation society” is cringeworthingly familiar to those of us who have been the first in our families or friendship groups to have a baby. Consciously celebrating each new parenting journey without reference to the hindsight gained from your own first-hand experiences takes effort, and it’s easy to fall into the ‘me too-ism’ trap.
But while unsolicited advice to new parents is generally best avoided, I believe it is the responsibility of those who have ‘gone before’ to speak out and counteract the barrage of misinformation pervading every aspect of society’s ’new baby’ narrative — from feeding intervals to gender roles.
The most damaging of which can be summed up in one single question. You know the one. If you’ve ever had a baby, you’ll have been asked it repeatedly — in the GP waiting room and in aisle 15 at the supermarket; by well-meaning colleagues, the postman, your mother-in-law, and a never-ending miscellany of well-wishers.
And, if you’re the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, you’ll be asked The Question by a TV reporter.
“Tell us a little bit about your son — what’s he like? Is he sleeping well?”
Here it comes.
“Good baby?” He went there, and I groaned.
For Harry and Meghan, this is just the beginning. Over the next few months, Meghan will have to repeatedly steel herself as she answers the ‘good baby’ question over and over with the same grace and poise (and an undercurrent of grit) as she did to that reporter. But while I understand the reasons behind her press-pleasing response — “He’s got the sweetest temperament. He’s a dream. He’s really calm” she gushed with pride — I also worry that, for thousands of new parents, the newborn days fall just a little short of ‘dreamy’.
It’s clear that Meghan has the strength of character to withhold such societal pressures, even when played out on a global stage. Already, she is doing things Her Way — as it should be for every new mother. Remembering with a wince Kate’s trilogy of Lindo Wing appearances, I was relieved to see Meghan taking steps to preserve both her own body and her baby’s first precious days in their newly formed family unit. OK, two weeks might’ve been better than two days, but the photo call was short and, as any woman who has gone through labour will know, you can do just about anything for three minutes and 14 seconds.
As a former actress, Meghan will no doubt continue to play the press game with ease, smiling and making all the right noises in public, while continuing to parent little Archie in whichever way is right for him — and for her.
But we do not all have Meghan’s protective press training, and we certainly don’t all have her access to the litany of little things that will ease her transition into motherhood in the coming days, weeks, and months.
For most of us, new motherhood is overwhelming and all-encompassing — our physical strength depleted, our emotional stamina weakened and vulnerable to outside influences, however well-meaning. The problem with the ‘good baby’ myth is that it sows a tiny seed of doubt at an incredibly impressionable time; inferring to sleep-deprived and physically-delicate new mothers that their bundle of joy who most likely cries and feeds solidly from 4pm until midnight every day is in some way falling short of the ‘ideal’ rather than simply following a biologically normal routine. Even those who trust their instincts may, in the face of one too many ‘good baby’ questions, feel that their baby is not ‘good’, after all.
They may begin to worry that breastfeeding is not satisfying their baby — the ‘good baby’ question has long been associated with our staggeringly low breastfeeding rates. Asked enough times, mothers may feel they are doing something wrong. That their baby is not content, or ‘dreamy’, or ‘calm’. That they are not enough. And that, ultimately, lengths must be gone to (from formula top-ups to gadgety sleeping devices) in a fruitless effort to solve a non-existent — but societally perpetuated — problem.
None of which, of course, are true; the amount a baby sleeps bears no correlation to their health or contentedness by whatever measure — and certainly not to their future nature and personality.
Seasoned parents all over the world know it. Prince William definitely knows it. And, in due course, in his own way, Archie will ensure that Meghan knows it too.