Editor’s Note: Kara Alaimo, an associate professor of public relations at Hofstra University, is the author of “Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication.” She was spokeswoman for international affairs in the Treasury Department during the Obama administration. Follow her on Twitter @karaalaimo. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinion at CNN.
On Friday, ITV news released a clip from an upcoming documentary which showed Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, holding back tears as she acknowledged the challenges she’s faced as a newlywed and mother in the spotlight.
“Thank you for asking. Not many people have asked if I’m OK, but it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes,” she said, before confirming, in the words of her interviewer, that she “isn’t really OK.”
The video clearly struck a chord, and the hashtag #WeLoveYouMeghan began trending on Twitter. As a new mother myself, it was gut wrenching to watch the clip, knowing all too well that many of the challenges the former Meghan Markle faces are totally unfair.
It’s no surprise that Meghan is struggling. Our society’s lack of concern for the well-being of new moms is terribly disturbing — and it’s even worse for her as a royal.
One thing I wasn’t prepared for before I became a mom was how, the second I had a baby, people started infantilizing me by offering unsolicited advice. I can’t wait in line at the supermarket with my daughter without a perfect stranger approaching me to recommend a book about sleep training.
Dealing with family, friends and colleagues is even harder, because these people often feel that it is perfectly appropriate to tell you what kind of child care you should arrange and what you should do with your time. This kind of advice is no doubt well-intentioned, but as a fully functioning adult, I feel demeaned when I’m continually told what to do.
If I am exhausted from constantly deflecting unwanted comments, I can only imagine how depleted Meghan must be, since she must contend with columnists and ordinary people on Twitter dissecting and judging her every move. For example, critics unleashed a torrent of disapproval and blasted Meghan for how she held her own baby when she was photographed at a polo match just two months after giving birth.
It’s no wonder she isn’t OK.
On top of the onslaught of opinions about her role as a mother or her appearance, Meghan must deal with formidable social obligations. This is tough for any new mom, but it must be even worse for her. No matter how many resources you have, it’s nearly impossible to meet your own needs while meeting those of a newborn or infant.
Let’s not forget it takes a long time to recover physically and emotionally from pregnancy and childbirth. Immediately after undergoing this major medical event, new moms must care for their babies, who sleep in very short doses and eat all the time. They like to stay close to their mamas, and exposure to germs in the first few weeks of life can be extraordinarily dangerous. All of this is difficult enough. But it’s made worse for new moms by the fact that, at the exact moment when we most need to be left alone to recover, sleep, and protect and care for our newborns, everyone wants to see the baby!
And the standards Meghan is expected to live up to are incredibly high. People expect her to look polished at all times. Just three days after Archie was born, Meghan and her husband appeared before a slew of reporters and photos of her new family were circulated around the world.
One of my friends who recently had a baby was overwhelmed by visitors, and so I made her a sign and told her to put it on her front door. It said “[My friend’s name] needs to sleep and take care of the baby. Please come back in 6 months.” Unfortunately, putting up that sign wasn’t really an option for me or my friend — and it certainly isn’t a possibility for Meghan. Despite her basic needs, she must make public appearances, meet officials from around the world, greet well-wishers, and attend photo shoots — all while looking composed and happy to boot.
The only positive takeaway from the documentary clip was seeing Meghan’s interviewer ask whether she was OK. Now that the world know’s she’s struggling — given the circumstances, who can blame her — it’s time for the media and Twittersphere to stop obsessing about her and give her the space she needs.
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Recovering from childbirth and caring for a baby is enough of a challenge. But our society’s expectation that new moms should cater to the rest of the world’s every whim instead of tending to their own needs is a cruel and dangerous form of misogyny.