The Backlash Against Meghan Markle Represents Everything That’s Wrong With How We Treat Postpartum Women
I'm an anglophile from way back. I grew up with Brit Lit and transitioned into a Masterpiece Classics fanatic in my twenties. Beatrix Potter, Agatha Christie, and Downton Abbey…I love it all. We can talk Jane Austen adaptations all day long, but I’m still going to argue that for swoon appeal you can’t beat Richard Armitage in North and South.
Which should make the fact that I’m a big fan of the royal family, no surprise. I remember watching Princess Diana’s funeral on a tiny TV in my bedroom with my mom. Like any self-respecting 90s girl, I crushed on Prince William. A few years ago, I watched The Crown and grew to adore the Queen and even complicated Prince Phillip. I love the pomp, the circumstance, the outfits, the fanfare.
But I get it, they're a complicated bunch. And what we see, is only surface-level deep. All the same, I've enjoyed watching the royal weddings and checking in on the various "royal baby watches" over the last few years.
Like almost everyone else, I was in awe (and crazy jealous) of poised and perfect Kate Middelton, who stepped out of the Lindo Wing after each of her births looking better than most of us could hope to look on our best day.
Unlike many royal fans, I loved that Meghan Markle chose to skip that particular tradition. I naively hoped that the media might run with the "breaking with tradition" storyline for a day or two and then move on. But, no.
Instead, the backlash Meghan Markle has faced since the birth of her son Archie in May has perfectly summed up everything that's wrong with how society treats postpartum women.
We fetishize “the due date”
We celebrate the birth as the endpoint to an epic journey, instead of the transition from one beautiful and complicated thing (pregnancy), to another, motherhood. We focus on “the due date” and speculate about the exact moment a woman will know she’s in labor.
There was infinite speculation about when the royal baby would be born. Countless news organizations camped out, sending veteran reporters to “cover” the event. And, I get it. A royal birth is newsworthy and profitable. But, after the announcement of the birth and the speculation over his name, the fanfare died down and coverage became almost entirely speculative on when the next appearance would be.
New moms face this all the time. We may not have CNN camped out outside the hospital, but how many women have had friends, family and even distant acquaintances "check-in" almost constantly in the weeks before delivery? How many have had the initial visits, celebrations, and offers of help disappear after the first week?
We speculate on the mental health of new moms
The media were eager to run with a storyabout a supposed, “telling off” that new mom Meghan Markle received at the Trooping of the Color in June. Both legitimate reporters and the Twittersphere were quick to speculate on Meghan's reaction and make connections between her mental health and the (almost certainly overblown) incident.
Many new moms have legitimate mental health problems dismissed as “baby blues”. But, many of us have had our grievances and concerns written off by coworkers, family and even our spouses as the hormonal ravings of a new mom.
The reality is, the weeks and months after birth are mentally, physically and spiritually difficult for a new mom. That should go without saying. It should also go without saying that unsubstantiated and unhelpful speculation about her mental health isn’t remotely helpful or appropriate.
We apply a fixed timeline mentality to postpartum care and recovery
Every time I hear the phrase, “the fourth trimester”, I roll my eyes a bit. Dr. Harvey Karp’s concept of adding 12 weeks to the timeline of a baby’s development was a helpful reminder to parents and caregivers that life outside the womb is radically jarring for new babies. But, it's been co-opted to apply to postpartum care for women too.
Like the similarly unhelpful phrase, “ 9 months on, 9 months off”, these arbitrary timelines become cemented in the minds of new moms and in the greater discussions we have as a society about how to care for postpartum women.
There are guidelines for when to return to walking (huh), running, lifting and sex. There's a fixed timeline for when a woman should "get her body back" and when she should return to work. Even our political debates about paid family leave and childcare revolve around a fixed timeline of something that can't be quantified.
The truth is, maybe Meghan Markle is recovering slowly, maybe she was up and around on day two. Maybe her return to "work" won't look exactly like Kate Middleton's. Maybe it will? As one of the billions of human beings who were defiantly not in the delivery room with her, it's quite frankly, none of our business.
And, it’s not our business how quickly our friend or sister or neighbor is “bouncing back” either.
We (still) comment on their bodies
Let’s just be honest. Most of the coverage of Meghan Markle’s postpartum style had been a thinly veiled attempt to draw attention to and speculate on her body. Even articlesthat sought to praise Markle on the way she did or didn’t highlight her postpartum belly did so by pointing out that other royal moms had hidden theirs.
In 2019, in a time where almost any mention (positive or negative) of a woman's body is suspect, the one class of women who we are free to comment on are postpartum moms. Even pregnant mamma's bodies are usually off-limits to body shaming.
I imagine the editorial staff of gossip magazines and fashion blogs meeting to discuss which celebrities they will highlight for having "gotten their post-baby body back."
First of all, their body wasn't missing, it didn't go anywhere. They don't need to "get it back" this isn't a 1930's mystery novel.
Secondly, how many of these writers and stylists have had children? How many are even women? The women of America aren't interested in taking postpartum fashion advice from a single, childless 22 year old's whose biggest maternal concern is asking their mom for a loan to buy Coachella tickets.
The truth is, Meghan Markle probably doesn’t need our sympathy. I’m pretty sure she’ll get the last laugh. But, for the millions of new moms who aren’t royal, we need to do better. We need to treat the new moms in our lives with dignity and lift them up. And mostly, we need to mind our own darn business.