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


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.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]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? [/pullquote]

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.