Have yourself a Meghan Markle pregnancy, not a rigid royal one

Kate Middleton acted like childbirth was no tougher than a game of croquet, writes Jennifer O’Connell

The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle is pregnant, and is expecting her first child with Prince Harry. The royal baby-to-be will be born next spring, according to Kensington Palace, whose announcement on Monday morning put an end to pregnancy rumours that had been rife since – well – Friday.

That’s when Meghan was photographed at Princess Eugenie’s wedding wearing a loose-cut coat that she didn’t take off during the ceremony, and which was (crucially) unbuttoned around the waist.

She also, according to Twitter, had a slightly rounder face than usual, hasn’t touched up her roots recently, and (the absolute clincher, apparently) carried not one, but two folders in front of her stomach when she got off the plane at Sydney, where the couple are currently touring.

The news that a woman of 37, who has said repeatedly she wants children, and married five months ago, is now pregnant, should really come as a shock to precisely no-one, particularly the online magazine that has been running a “Meghan pregnancy” tracker since before the weekend. (Stay classy, Cosmopolitan.)


But at least the confirmation spares the world several more weeks of such breathless updates about the state of her roots and the degree of roundness of her cheeks. Instead, oh joy, we can go back to hourly updates on that other bloody, painful event due to transpire in spring 2019. Step forward, Brexit, the stage is once again yours.

So what are the expectations around Meghan’s pregnancy and birth? None, you’d hope.

She’s a modern, self-made, independent-minded feminist, who likes to do things her own way – such as announcing her pregnancy to the extended family, including the Queen, at her husband’s cousin’s wedding which, in some parts of the world, is regarded as just one notch below sleeping with the groom in terms of a breach to protocol.

Slightly more significantly, in terms of an indication of her plans to do this her way, the palace confirmed that she and Harry will travel as planned to Fiji and Tonga, where there is a moderate risk of the zika virus, although Markle is opting out of one early morning engagement in a forest.

Of course, this is the royal family we're talking about – the same royal family that had Princess Diana "vetted" by the surgeon-gynaecologist to the Queen so that her virginity could be "guaranteed immaculate".

Those days are hopefully long gone, but when it comes to royal babies, protocol still dictates everything, from the names royal children can be called, to the clothes they wear on official engagements, to the kind and number of nannies they’ll have, to where they go to school.

And if Kate Middleton’s more recent three birthing experiences are anything to go by, there are still fairly rigid expectations around how royal mothers-to-be are supposed to approach the whole, messy, painful business of giving birth. Or one expectation, at least: that they treat it as though it’s about no more challenging than an enthusiastic game of croquet at Kensington Palace.

Kate Middleton is the poster girl for this. Despite having been stricken with the horrific condition of hyperemesis gravidarum during each of her pregnancies, which meant she was hospitalised early on and had to retire from public duties, she still managed to appear within hours of giving birth outside the Lindo Wing, sporting heels, bouncing hair and a dusting of blush, looking as though she'd just come through a nine-month session at the beauty salon.

Of course, everyone experiences birth differently. There are as many birth stories as there are people in the world. And some of them probably do culminate in a new mother looking as fresh and glamorous as if she had just emerged from the pages of a Boden catalogue. Even so, the royal approach to childbirth, to date, has been as relatable to most mothers in the real world as a renaissance painting of Madonna and child.

The actor Keira Knightley recently contributed an essay to a collection of feminist writing about her own brutal, animalistic experience of giving birth, and contrasted it to Middleton's appearance, "seven hours later with her face made up and high heels on".  "Look beautiful, look stylish, don't show your battleground Kate," she wrote.

Knightley, who last week had to clarify that she wasn’t “attacking” the Duchess of Cambridge, won’t be alone in hoping that Markle, a self-proclaimed feminist, refuses to conform to a game that forces women to, as she wrote, “hide. Hide our pain, our bodies splitting, our breasts leaking, our hormones raging.”

The early indications do suggest that Meghan Markle will approach this pregnancy her own way. When the time comes, this might even extend to not buying in to the notion that the brutality and beauty of childbirth are something to be ashamed of, denied, and wrapped up in a Jenny Packham dress – because the conspiracy of silence around childbirth and recovery does women no favours.

Of course, all of that is a long way off for the Duchess of Sussex, who has just had her 12-week scan.

How long exactly, or even roughly, is the subject of much confusion online. Google has revealed that in the immediate aftermath of the news, searches for "when is spring?" spiked.

And you thought Brexit was Britain’s biggest worry.