Gone are the days when a royal could experience an at-home Caesarian after 30 hours of labor, and recoup inside the moat, away from the cameras, as did Queen Elizabeth II (technically, no moat). Princess Diana established the tradition of stepping out with royal babies on the steps of the Lindo Wing of St. Mary's Hospital — a ritual carried on by Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine in the immediate hours following her births, and one roundly rejected by the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, whose first photos with regular baby Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor show that she was not having a bar of that pony show.
After giving birth to her son early on Monday, May 6, Greenwich Mean Time, per the palace, Markle and her husband, the Duke of Sussex, obliged the royal baby fever two long days later when they strode down the hall at Windsor Castle with the seventh-in-line to the British throne in a messy swaddle blanket. Ever a media pro, you must trust that the actor and humanitarian knew exactly what she was doing when she put on a sleeveless double-breasted dress designed by Grace Wales Bonner, per Time, and made that walk.
First, to the fashion: Between Princess Diana's billowy maternity tent after the birth of the wee Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, and Kate Middleton's sartorial decision to allow that bellies do not magically deflate after the passage of a royal infant, there was unmistakable progress on expectations of women's bodies, postpartum. We saw a baby bump, and we — the people who care about these things — were thrilled.
Markle's chosen outfit, cinched above the belly, is a nod to this reality. Despite her efforts to obfuscate the details of the birth (which I fully appreciate as someone who issued an embargo on the state of my cervix during both births), she has evidently carried a child in the recent past. The cut of the dress — that handy dandy deep V — even alludes to the possibility that she might, oh, I don't know, want to breastfeed in it. (Having reviewed archival footage of Middleton's postpartum photocall outfits, I conclude that there is no way she was nursing in those things, not out the neck-hole, not out the arm-hole, no way no how.)
There doing his part, Prince Harry is wearing creased pants — an allusion to how godforsaken tired he probably is — and some kind of hiking shoe, while Archie is dressed in a swaddle cloth and beanie — iconic.
The expectations placed on Markle for her first appearance after birth were ridiculous: recall the full-page ad in the New York Times from the CEO of Fridababy that warned Markle "us moms will know know that while you wave from that step, you'll be one pair of mesh underwear away from that first postpartum poop (brace yourself!)" and went on to ask "Why doesn’t she get rolled out in a wheelchair sitting on a throne of ice as the rest of us?"
But Markle, who did press well before she joined the Windsors, is too smart to fall into the traps set by jokers around the world. Before the most exciting pregnancy of our lives, she gamed her engagement perfectly: where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge took an awkward on-camera stroll together as fiancé and fianceé and then issued a tabloid-looking "royals at home" engagement shoot, Markle commissioned a photoshoot with Alexi Lubomirski that made you want to shop that look, so to speak. She wore couture, yes, but the difference between her engagement photos and Middleton's was that Markle's told a story, and told her story. Make no mistake, that's what she set out to do with her baby on May 8.
It's no accident either that Markle's engagement photos were taken outside, while Middleton's were domestic, royal, parlour-y — Markle is doing this her way. It's no mistake that Markle has foregone a royal title for baby Archie. It's no mistake that her hair for the photocall was done but not flawless.
Women spend an average of two days in the maternity ward recovering before checking out and making that slowwww drive home with baby in the car seat. On May 8, two days after delivering her first child, Markle stepped out into the public for a few minutes — given the circumstances, an overwhelmingly normal event.
On May 8, beyond the discussion of postpartum bodies and royal duties, you had to admit that the whole thing was really beautiful.