The Markle birth plan: Why do babies and bumps provide society with a licence to judge women?

The recent news that Meghan Markle was planning to use the hypnobirthing method during her labour was met by suspicion in some quarters and mild hysteria in others.

According to palace sources, the newest royal was "desperate" to deliver her baby using this perfectly reasonable relaxation and pain management method.

"Meghan is fixated on making the birth as natural as possible." Even aside from the sentiment that it is somehow bizarre to want to prepare oneself for childbirth and wrest back a certain amount of autonomy in a situation that is unknown and profound, the language being used is revealing. The word "fixated" here makes the whole thing sound like some pathological obsession. According to the same source, Markle has apparently been "warned" that royal protocol may overrule her birth plan. What do they think hypnobirthing is exactly? Do the advisors believe she attempting some form of mind control on the royal baby, a bid to extract state secrets encoded in its DNA?

Carte blanche for society

A bump or a baby is a carte blanche for society at large to opine on everything from a woman's body size to her birth preferences to her career choices

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Obviously, Markle is a unique case, in that she has essentially married into a huge family business that hinges solely on appearances and archaic protocol. However, this media scuffle perfectly indicates a very real and pervasive attitude towards mothers in general.

Women are already under scrutiny for our every move from underwear choice to what our bodies look like to our likability. Add a bump or a baby into the equation and a woman becomes a target for sanctioned judgement. It's a judgement free-for-all.

Historically in this country, we have demoted a woman's rights when a family is in the mix. We held fast to the Marriage Ban until 1973, the 8th amendment prioritised a potential life over a woman's life. Surely all this constitutional collusion is an enormous contributing factor in the cultural attitudes towards women who are mothers.

A bump or a baby is a carte blanche for society at large to opine on everything from a woman's body size to her birth preferences to her career choices and, crucially, to claim to be making these judgements with the best interests of the child in mind.

I wager that if that same child was being annoying at the table next to them at brunch, they would not be so concerned. Unless of course the mother happened to be doing something they might disagree with: drinking a midday mimosa, feeding her kids chips or breastfeeding a toddler, insert "transgression" here. It's a case of selective concern, a "would somebody please think of the children!" excuse for righteousness.

Insidious and deeply ingrained

Since becoming a mother, I have been lectured for cycling while pregnant, eating pate while pregnant, having "no bump", being "enormous" and according to one untrained male onlooker putting myself at risk for gestational diabetes, breastfeeding, bottle-feeding, not disciplining my child enough, shouting at my child and on and on.

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Of course, women who aren't mothers are also still targeted for judgemental attitudes. If you're walking around touting a vagina then invariably you're being unfairly scrutinised and judged – that is still where we're at in 2018. What I believe is that when you do happen t have children, those small people are often used to justify whatever judgements others see fit to cast.

I am guilty of it too. It's insidious and deeply ingrained. I have seen women smoking while pregnant and caught myself thinking "disgusting behaviour, when there are women who would only love to have a baby and can't". This is ludicrous logic on my part, this woman is not hoarding a baby that some other woman could have. That's not how it works. It's more likely that I'm judging her smoking and feeling righteous and justified because there's a foetus involved. I know nothing of her situation. She could have received dire news and needs a crutch in this bleak moment for all a judgey b*tch like me knows.

Infantilising and infuriating

"whose genetic makeup appears to be 50 per cent goji berry recipes and 50 per cent Mumsnet posts"

A friend who has a larger body, dreads her antenatal appointments because bigger women are treated differently in the maternity system. After a recent appointment, without being told, she was referred to a dietician. And essentially isn't that what all of society really wants to do with fat people? Order them to the dietician? When there's a baby in the mix, it's a goer apparently.

Fat positive activist, Sarah Tyrrell says her weight is often discussed in reference to setting an example for her young daughter, most recently when she appeared on Claire Byrne LIVE. As if there's even such a thing as what a woman's body should look like. Never mind the increasingly toxic examples provided on a global scale by the entertainment industry, daily undermining whatever positive messaging a mother may try to communicate.

Occasionally I notice a tone in the discussion of mothers that feels infantilising and deeply infuriating. References to baby brain and depictions of women transforming into schoolgate politics-obsessed fools. In his 2017 book, This Is Going To Hurt, Adam Kay (a former obstetrician-turned comedy writer who detailed his years as a doctor in the best-seller) described Patient GL "whose genetic makeup appears to be 50 per cent goji berry recipes and 50 per cent Mumsnet posts". The book is mostly great but some of the characterisations of the women he dealt with irritated the hell out of me. The woman is essentially pushing a turkey through a keyhole, if she wants to eat her own placenta, fair balls to her.

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It all feels like an extension of the women can't be trusted line of reasoning. We can't be trusted with our hormones, our kids, our genitals, our truth, our own bodies. We can't be trusted to keep men from victimising us. We can't be trusted to keep ourselves out of harm's way.

Well, if I ever have another kid, I'm going to be devouring that placenta with a dash of tabasco just to make a goddamn point, judgement be damned.

Photo by Zahed Ahmad on Unsplash

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