Belief that Duchess Meghan is sending messages is symptomatic of our dysfunctional mothering culture

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There has been a spate of articles purporting to explain what Meghan, Duchess of Sussex is trying to “tell us” with her choices.

The subtle but important message Duchess Meghan is sending new moms about giving birth:

Meghan showed the world something that many of her royal predecessors have covered up: what a woman’s body looks like a mere 48 hours after birth. Her simple and understated white dress did not hide what her body had gone through. A simple belt tied high above her waist, in fact, seemed to be an intentional signal.

It was as if she was saying to the world, “Hey, I told you you’d have to wait a couple of days before you could see me, and this is what I look like. This is what happens to a woman’s body, even a woman like me who made a career out of rockin’ the pencil skirts on ‘Suits.’ ”

The belief that Meghan, Duchess of Sussex is trying to tell us something is symptomatic of our dysfunctional mothering culture that insists that the personal must be political. No longer can a mother make a choice simply because its the right thing for her baby and herself. We imagine her, and insist she must imagine herself, as sending messages about how to perform mothering.

But what if the “message” Meghan is trying to send is that she is not going to be trapped by a culture that insists she must send messages?

Mothering is no longer an intricate, intimate, largely private physical and emotional dance of baby and mother. It is assumed to be a highly stylized dancing performance created for the delectation of other women who seek to parse its “meaning.”

But what if the “message” Meghan is trying to send is that she is not going to be trapped by a culture that insists she must send messages with her choices?

What if she desired a homebirth because she feared being victimized by a hoax like that played on the hospital staff during her sister-in-law’s first pregnancy?

What if she postponed her first postpartum photo-call because she couldn’t stand unaided until then?

What if she chose that particular dress to wear because her first choice had been ruined by blood flow that couldn’t be contained by the multiple pads and net panties that were almost certainly underneath and her second choice promptly got stained by milk when she let down after hearing her baby cry?

What if she makes choices simply because they seem to her to be the best choices for baby and herself, and she has absolutely no interest is the choices that other mothers make?

What if the personal is just personal and NOT political?

We live in a mothering culture that is constantly trying to force mothers to behave in predetermined ways. We are every bit as rigid in our sanctimonious prescriptions for unmedicated vaginal birth, breastfeeding and baby-wearing as previous generations were in their prescriptions for twilight sleep, formula feeding and limited mother-infant contact designed to avoid “spoiling” babies. But whereas they were honest with themselves, we fool ourselves by insisting that we aren’t pressuring women, we are “normalizing” natural behaviors.

Feel free to correct me, but I’m not aware of a single health parameter or mental health parameter that has been improved by switching from an rigid insistence on one type of mothering to a rigid insistence on its “natural” opposite. It’s as if the various processes doesn’t matter — because they don’t.

Mothers should make choices for their children because — knowing their children and themselves best — they think those are the best choices. They should not make choices for their children that are designed primarily to impress other mothers.

They should not fool themselves into thinking that their own choices ought to be “normalized” for the edification of everyone else.

And women should not imagine that other mother’s choices are a commentary on their choices and need to be praised or resisted. Other women, including the Duchess of Sussex, are not trying to send them messages; they’re just trying to do what feels right.

The fact that we think otherwise is symptomatic of our dysfunctional mothering culture.

  • PeggySue

    I think, though, the “alternative” crowd may have felt a little entitled because of Meghan’s well known liking for the woo–her “lifestyle” blog is an example–so they were hoping she would stand up for “alternative” pregnancy choices. So between that on the one hand and the racism on the other, it’s a tough spot to be in. The baby’s cute and looks healthy, and I am happy for them.

  • mysteriousgeek

    Christ she still looks better than me. I had a giant zit from hell right on my forehead. I didn’t care, I was so happy

  • RudyTooty

    Thank you. This is insightful commentary. We’re – as a society – becoming deranged with our priorities. Performative as if everything we do and experience is a political act. It’s exhausting. And unnecessary.

  • mabelcruet

    The countess of Wessex (Prince Edward’s wife) has a horrible obstetric history-she had a ruptured ectopic first requiring emergency surgery after being airlifted to hospital, and then later had a placental abruption at 8 months with her next pregnancy-she needed emergency section, and both she and the baby were admitted to intensive care for a while. At the time (about 15 years ago), there was little press coverage. As far as I remember, it was respectful and brief; there was an announcement, and some papers did ‘what is ectopic pregnancy?’ type stories, but that was about it. Since then the countess has supported birth charities and made a point of visiting neonatal units etc, and each time there is a mention of the difficulties she had, but there isn’t this incredibly intrusive demand for intimate details about what happened to her. There was a brief flurry of newspaper reporting about her daughter’s eye (she’s got a squint and they chose not to have surgery until she was older), but apart from that there is very little made public about her pregnancies and her children.

    I don’t know why the media coverage of the more recent royal pregnancies is so different. Is it because Meghan is more interesting? Because she’s biracial and we’ve never had any diversity in the royal family before (other than Greeks and Germans!). Is it because the public expect and demand more and more private details these days?

    • rational thinker

      Perhaps because of the growth of the internet since then. Also smart phones, face book and the growth of social media in general.

      Perhaps due to the attention seeking behavior of others who feel the need to put everything out there including what they ate for lunch (with pictures). So because that kind of behavior has now become commonplace people think they are entitled to someone else’s personal information and if they don’t get it they will speculate or just make things up. Sadly privacy seems to be a forgotten concept and respect of privacy is increasingly becoming a thing of the past.

      Yes tabloids have been dong this for decades but It seems to have gotten a lot worse just in the past two decades alone.

    • Eater of Worlds

      Louise actually had surgery as a toddler and it either wasn’t corrected enough, didn’t work, or just needed more correction as she aged. They probably waited until any changes due to her growing were likely to be done with or she was upset with the way she looked before they had the second surgery done instead of continuing the surgery and aftercare on a toddler when waiting up to a point wasn’t going to hurt anything. Her parents have pretty much said nothing about it until people noticed it was gone and then it was a brief “this happens in premature children and it was fixed.”.

      I think that coverage has changed of pregnancy in general. Women are much more open about pregnancy, you can even see that pregnancy style has changed to highlight the body instead of hiding it. Couple that with the internet and a lot more instant gratification going on these days it’s no wonder that both these women had their pregnancies on show.

      • mabelcruet

        I vaguely remember there being discussion about it when she was a bridesmaid (for Kate Middleton’s wedding I think?) and her squint was noticeable, and there was some grumbling about why were her parents not doing anything about it. I’m quite sure her parents and Louise had all the information they needed to make decisions about their own health care without Daily Wail readers chipping in their tuppence ha’penny worth of gossip.

        And then for Meghan’s wedding, the Daily Wail readers were complaining that Louise was wearing a skirt that was too short-shock horror! It blew up with the wind when she was on the steps with the smaller children. How dare her mother let her out in such a revealing outfit??!

        I use the Daily Mail as a teaching example when I doing careers talks-I tell students considering healthcare as a career choice to read the Daily Mail and in general, the morally and ethically appropriate answer is the stance directly opposite to that that the Mail is taking. They usually get asked in their interviews about issues like the NHS, government involvement in health care issues like vaccinations and screening, IVF pregnancy funding etc so the Wail is a good place to start to see some of the more bizarre and strange health care responses. Absolute rag of a paper, but the comments are usually very enlightening.

    • Sarah

      I think it’s a mixture of things:

      – Prince Edward never having been the subject of as much interest as those higher in line to the throne, especially with them being Diana’s kids

      – The 24 hour news cycle being so much more pervasive now even than 15 years ago. It was there then, but I don’t recall it being in public places anything like as much.

      – Relatedly, people just expect more now, with the advent of social media.

      – Megan is also famous in her own right. Maybe being biracial is part of the interest, being that beautiful certainly is.

      I think also probably with Sophie being genuinely pretty ill there was more of a tendency to back off. Whereas with a normal/normal-ish birth and everyone healthy and ok, there’s less of a tendency to think a respectful distance is required.

  • Eater of Worlds

    I remember when Kate had her baby they were going on and on about how it was awesome that she showed her postpartum bump. That Princess Di had to wear baggy frocks to hide that all. Except that all three women did the EXACT same thing right after birth. They wore clothing that was trendy at the time and they are comfortable with. Showing off your pregnant body didn’t really become the thing it is until the late 90s or so. That’s why Kate and Megan both showed off their postpartum bumps.

    https://www.usmagazine.com/stylish/news/meghan-markles-post-birth-outfit-compared-to-kate-middleton-pics/

    You can see how they both wore their signature styles, including hair and shoes. Showing their body shape has everything to do with current pregnancy style vs feminism. The only thing that might be a step away from the usual dog and pony show is Megan waiting two days to introduce the baby vs Kate’s hours, but maybe Kate just wanted to get it all over with so she could go home and rest and not have to go out again for a while.

    https://www.elle.com/fashion/personal-style/g28423/maternity-style-evolution/
    for interesting fashion over the last 800 years or so.

  • The Kids Aren’t AltRight

    I remember after Kate had her baby that she looked thin and perfect afterwards because she did not get an evil epidural, but this seems to suggest that naturalness won’t save one from the difficulty of pregnancy.

    • demodocus

      She also gets the hyper-vomitting thing, so gaining weight was probably pretty hard for her

    • rational thinker

      I think the after birth bloating is actually due to how long you were on IV Pitocin. But these a holes will always blame the evil epidural anyway.

    • mabelcruet

      And the papers were full of how she went for midwife led care and that just proved it was the best. There was very little mention that one of the midwives was a professor of midwifery, and there were two consultant obstetricians and a neonatologist on stand-by in the next room (allegedly they hadn’t been allowed to drink alcohol for the final 3 months of her pregnancy in case she was admitted early). At the slightest hint of anything not being entirely normal, it would not have been a ‘natural’ delivery at all.

      • Sarah

        Her obstetrician with the first baby was also given a gong shortly afterwards, so make of that what you will.

    • momofone

      I also remember the flurry of articles about her opting to show her postpartum body, and how “real” she was for not hiding her postpartum belly. I can’t imagine the set of expectations that go along with her position. I’d have wanted to stick a poster in my hospital window flipping off the world (though I would have loved to have had someone do my hair).

  • namaste

    On the one hand, I hear what Dr. Tuteur is saying. You couldn’t pay me to marry into that family; the level of scrutiny is ridiculous. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for flipping the bird at the cultural expectation that women should walk out of the delivery room looking like they’re ready to pose for the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated.

    • mysteriousgeek

      idk, I think being a princess/queen and the privilege level involved might just make up for the paparazzi 😛

      • PeggySue

        The Duchess of Cambridge has a Cartier watch that could tempt me for at least a several year stint…

  • mabelcruet

    I feel very sorry for Meghan Markle-yes, she knew who she was marrying and what she was marrying into, but having your every outfit, every gesture, every comment dissected to the nth degree must be so difficult.

    She’s married into privilege, but that doesn’t give the public the right to demand that she tells us everything-the way the media has been complaining that she won’t share details about the delivery, that she ‘lied’ about going into hospital and ‘lied’ about having a home delivery. She gets so much grief about cutting her family out, and she’s expected to explain her family dynamics in public. She has an absolute right to expect privacy when it comes to her own body, no matter how much money they get-yes, we pay taxes which fund the royal family, but that does not give me the right to learn whether she uses pads or tampons, and whether she plans to breast feed or bottle feed.

    Rags like the Daily Mail whinge on about upstart Americans like we have some sort of congenital distrust of American women because they are all on the make like Wallis Simpson. The UK media is horrendous-look at the way they sneer over Kate Middleton’s parents (a former air hostess-oh how common and how tacky…). I can completely understand why they are allegedly considering moving abroad as part of their charity outreach work.

    • demodocus

      Like Harry and old Edward had nothing to do with it. *snort* From what I’ve heard, Edward did more of the chasing than Wallace.

      • mabelcruet

        And yet Wallis is still absolutely hated here-every film, every newspaper article basically calls her an amoral Nazi-loving slut who gouged Edward for money and jewels and who turned him into a traitor to his country. From what I learned in history class, and read about later, he would have been a rotten king.

        Poor Meghan is criticised in the same way-the cost of her jewellery and clothing is dissected in the minutest detail, she’s criticised for not following royal dress codes (how dare she wear dark coloured nail varnish, how dare she not wear pantyhose, how dare she wear an off the shoulder dress). Even normal activities get pulled apart (how dare she sit with her legs crossed, how dare she wear a cross body purse). I know Diana faced similar intrusive media, but that was largely sympathetic and she was never ripped apart as viciously as Meghan has been-there’s a really nasty edge to reporting on her at the moment.

        • Kim Thomas

          The most bizarre criticism of Meghan was that she cradled her baby bump. I can’t get my head around people who think that is worthy of comment, let alone criticism.

          • mabelcruet

            She was showing off and flaunting it, obviously. So 1) she was announcing to the world that she’d had sex, the wee minx 2) she was doing it purely as a photo opportunity as she knew it would get her in the papers, and it was contrived and false and just acting.

            I think the press were kind of a little stuck-Kate Middleton didn’t wear such tight fitting outfits so her bumps were less obvious, but because she was in hospital with hyperemesis, we knew more details about the pregnancy. Meghan, on the other hand, is flaunting and showing off her bump, but refusing to give the press intimate details. Kate used to be criticised for not having a career, and not doing anything significant before her marriage, but since Meghan came along, Kate is now the perfect princess and Meghan is the witch determined to tear the monarchy apart.

          • rational thinker

            Usually for any woman pregnancy is special time and a cautious time so of course you are going to touch and cradle your bump all the time. Also having crowds follow you all the time I think it is also a protection reflex. Just an instinct to protect your baby that every mother has. I was pregnant my last year of high school and I had to walk through crowded hallways and up and down stairs and I certainly held my bump to protect it until I got where I was going. It is just a normal instinct/reflex that every woman has. I don’t know why this makes for interesting news/gossip its pathetic they have nothing better to talk about.

          • Kim Thomas

            Yes to all of that. What it indicates to me is that there is absolutely nothing you can do as a pregnant woman or new mother that isn’t regarded by someone as worthy of judgement – even something as innocuous as cradling your baby bump. It worries me. I think society is becoming more misogynistic rather than less.

        • rosewater1

          My thought when I saw the dress is that she looked cute and comfortable. Maybe it was a favorite dress that worked for the occasion?

        • Eater of Worlds

          Not only did they bitch when she didn’t wear pantyhose, they bitched when she did wear pantyhose because she couldn’t find a pair of “nude” ones that actually matched her skin color.

    • namaste

      Meghan is from my home town, and i will be the first to say that both she and Wallis Simpson strike me as an opportunistic, gold digging little snakes. On the other hand, pretty much every royal marriage in any country that ever existed has been strictly utilitarian, to secure some financial and/or political advantage. That, and a Hitler sympathizer on the British throne during WWII wouldn’t have done the world any favors anyway.

  • EllenL

    The Duchess of Sussex and the Duchess of Cambridge have never publicly discussed birth plans, childbirth ideology, breastfeeding and/or formula, baby wearing, bed sharing, etc. They consider their choices personal and no one else’s business. They are not joining the mommy wars. I say, good for them!