New mom Amy Schumer posted a pretty groundbreaking Instagram photo on Sunday night, particularly in the wake of Meghan Markle’s polished, panty-hosed Baby Archie reveal last week at Windsor Castle. In an apparent hospital shot from the recent birth of her son, Gene, the comedian is on the toilet, scowling, in a blue gown. Her hair is a proverbial rat’s nest. Schumer is attached, via IV needle in her hand, to a tower of indistinguishable fluid. But what really got me was the socks—a red pair with grippers, the kind the hospital hands you, along with a folded gown, upon admittance. They are socks you have no reason to wear before or since; and they transported me right back to my own two births, my own matted hair and maddening IV hook-up and the general out-of-body feeling of it all. I’d arguably never felt so seen.
Sure, I’d peered at my own swollen face in the mirror, and helped my very closest friends hobble to the hospital bathroom after their C-sections, but before this striking-in-a-good-way Instagram, I’d never seen my own post-birth reality reflected back at me so acutely by a public person. (And after being remarkably open and honest about suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum her entire pregnancy, too.) After my kids’ births, I felt, frankly, pretty horrified by my reflection—I looked gray, bloated, with dark rings under my eyes. I looked sick, which I was, both times, with preeclampsia. But especially after my first baby, I still felt an inescapable desire not just to look pretty, but to appear as if I were one of the genetically blessed people who could push a child out my body and not appear utterly destroyed by it. It was as if looking “good” was a sign of my resilience; and looking like I’d been run over was proof positive that I was weak.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look and feel like yourself after having a baby, but I didn’t realize just how unrealistic that would be for me. I hadn’t seen many images of other people looking as I did, which is why Schumer’s unfettered picture of reality is a gift. It’s a powerful counter to the prevailing idea that it is an achievement to look gorgeous and nonplussed after delivering a child—an insane, unhinged-from-reality kind of standard that would only be applied to women. (No one but no one cares if men look hot after a vasectomy—which isn’t even a comparison to child birth, but, still). Sure, some people do manage to look okay (glowing, even) after giving birth. Congratulations to them! Others put on liquid eyeliner and get blowouts to try to appear so—by all means, you do you. But many of us look just like Schumer does in this photo, and giving women a more complete representation of post-birth bodies only benefits all of us. Just ask Snooki, who cheered, “Yasss! Show the real deall” in Schumer’s comments. Quoth The Office’s Jenna Fischer: “This is it right here.” Even Orlando Bloom showed his solidarity with a few fire emojis.
Funny enough, Schumer had been jokingly comparing herself and Meghan Markle throughout their coinciding pregnancies, quipping in the first picture of Gene that her and husband Chris Fischer’s own royal baby had been born. It was as if all the subtext and speculation from Markle’s post-birth photo op just a few days earlier (“How is she wearing heels right now?” “Sorry, but is there is a gigantic pad under that lovely white dress?”) had come to life in Schumer’s Instagram. But clearly, the pictures of these two famous women after birth were much different—yes, Meghan had a still visible baby bump, but was manicured, made up, and wearing hose and a dress. She was made to look as much like her pre-pregnancy self as humanly possible.
As a loyal fan of the Duchess of Sussex, I felt a rush of supreme empathy for her in that moment—that she be made to be vertical at all, much less meeting the international press and the Queen herself just days after giving birth to her first. I felt the same for Kate Middleton as she emerged, hair flowing, looking resplendent, after all three of her births. Why must royal family tradition apparently dictate that its postpartum mothers present themselves this way, and so swiftly post-birth at that? Why can't a photo be released in the short-term, and a meet-the-press/pantyhose moment come later (a solid few weeks?) after “Mum” has some time to recover? I resent it on behalf of these royal women, no matter how sparkly and privileged their lives now are, and I resent the message it sends to the rest of us: that we should feel beholden to a standard of beauty and superhuman capability after birth, rather than simply surviving. For every photo of a postpartum mother holding it together and looking amazing, we should get five like Schumer’s, to remind people of how it can really be.
If Meghan Markle’s blog, The Tig, still lived, we might know her more intimate thoughts on that flashbulb-filled moment. What I wouldn’t give! But at least we have Schumer to infuse the post-birth circus with refreshing reality. “Women are the shit. Men are cool and whatever but women are fucking warriors and capable of anything,” she wrote in another Mother’s Day weekend post, showing her holding Baby Gene close. Her closing hashtags: #titsleaking #wearingadiaper.