My twitter feed is currently full of comments like ‘I’m no fan of the royal family but…’ in reference to the birth of Prince Harry and Meghan’s son. And many people have commented on the lovely photo featuring the Queen, Prince Philip, Harry, Meghan, the baby and Meghan’s mother, that was released yesterday. Whatever you think of the royal family, it is a beautiful picture and the Queen’s enthusiasm as her youngest great-grandchild is introduced to her is plain to see.
The birth of Harry and Meghan’s son, the first mixed heritage baby to be born into the royal family, has particular meaning to me as my children are also mixed heritage. The royal birth is perhaps particularly poignant given the proliferation of racist views in British public discourse since the EU referendum.
Brexit and royalty aside, a newborn baby is always something special: a new life, as yet unspoiled, full of potential, yet vulnerable and innocent, is something to celebrate no matter whose baby it is.
I still recall the birth of my daughters as the most magical, life-affirming moments of my life, and since then I count myself enormously fortunate to have become an aunt several times over, most recently last week, when my sister gave birth to her third child.
I sometimes say, jokingly, that I wish I could get a job that simply involved carrying around babies, because of the sheer joy it gives me to hold a baby in my arms.
What is it about cradling an infant that makes me feel so happy and full of life? It’s not just the fact that they’re adorable to look at and that they smell lovely, but, as I discovered a few years ago while holding a Guatemalan baby in my arms at a cleft-clinic in Antigua, it’s something much more profound. It’s the realisation that each baby, no matter what its circumstances, is born perfectly whole.
Baby Juan was three months old when I met him, and he was about to have his first operation to repair the cleft lip and palate, which, like me, he was born with. While I adore all babies, I admit I am somewhat partial towards cleft babies, which I consider the most beautiful babies of all. It’s just something about their eyes and their captivating cleft smiles.
Baby Juan was no exception. Luckily for me, he was in a jolly mood on the day, and perfectly happy to be held by a bunch of strangers, some of whom practically fought over him. Cradling him in my arms, his gaze meeting mine, I was almost taken aback by the sheer strength of the euphoria that radiated through me, very similar to what I experienced when I first held my newborn daughters. Whenever I’m having a rough day, I just have to take a look at the photo of baby Juan and me that sits in my study, and I feel at once a little happier.
And to the psychiatrist who once said to me, ‘you need a baby like you need a hole in the head,’ I say, babies are far more effective anti-depressants than Prozac.