“Not many people have asked if I’m OK.”
Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex and wife to HRH Prince Harry, made this simple yet honest statement. She spoke candidly in an interview for a documentary on their whirlwind African trip, during which the royal couple made many stops around the continent, attended numerous engagements and events, and smiled for pictures with their son Archie. She said this with tears in her eyes as she struggled to find the words to convey the challenges of motherhood behind the scenes.
She said this as a mother and wife, not as a member of the royal family.
And with this one short sentence, she resonated with mothers and women around the world.
What the Duchess said was not shocking or news to any mother. What was news was that a member of the royal family, one in a unique position and one who would seem to be handling everything with poise and ease, was struggling. Just like you, and just like me.
Because not many people asked if I was OK either.
I was asked about my babies. I was asked how they were sleeping and eating. They were cooed at and wooed over. Strangers felt the need to comment on my parenting, from the way I was holding my baby or if I should be using formula; well-intentioned friends would stop by unannounced to see the baby; doctors would give me an all-clear medical exam at six weeks and wave me away until the next pregnancy.
But how many people asked how I was feeling? How many people inquired about how I was adjusting to motherhood or if I was sleeping? Who offered to clean my house or take my older children so I could get a break? Where were the doctors to check on my mental health when I could not stop crying or was afraid to leave my house?
Pregnancy is overwhelming. Childbirth is painful. Recovery can be slow. And motherhood, whether it is your first or tenth child, is challenging.
Why would any of us be OK?
I think of how different things were from my first postpartum experience to my fourth … and how much they stayed the same.
When I had my daughter in 2004, I was young and scared.
We had meals dropped off from my husband’s coworkers, and my mother flew in as soon as I went into labor. She cooked and cleaned for the first week, which was a huge help. But I cried all the time. I was tired day and night. I worried about whether I was doing anything right and how I would handle being this tiny person’s parent. My mom could see it; my husband helped as best he could. But there was no else asking me if I was OK, besides physically.
When I had my son in 2015, I was older and scared.
I spent all my pregnancy in therapy and in close contact with my doctor about my mental health. I had a smooth birth and healthy baby. Yet within a few days, I entered the worst postpartum depression of all. I was overwhelmed by people and places. I was exhausted but could not sleep. I never wanted to let my son go but also wanted a break. My mom could see it; my husband helped as best he could. There were more people who asked about me, but still not many.
If Meghan Markle can say it, so can the rest of us: We are not okay. And we need more people to ask about us.
New mothers are struggling. We are exhausted and hurting, definitely physically and often emotionally. We have read every book about motherhood, only to find that there is no comprehensive guide to this part of life. We must become experts on feeding, diapering, sleep schedules, infant development, and life after baby because if we do not, we are told we are failing. We are challenged to handle all these new roles and responsibilities while rocking our prepregnancy jeans and making it look effortless. We are overwhelmed, frustrated, and not OK.
We need to let new moms – all moms – feel safe to admit when they aren’t feeling OK, too.
Ask your new mom friend how she is feeling: physically, mentally, and emotionally. Offer to clean her kitchen or watch her other children. If she needs a break from her baby, get those snuggles in. Pay attention to her words and actions. Listen to her. Acknowledge her. Just be there for her, in whatever capacity you can and however she needs.
Sometimes, it takes a person in the spotlight like Meghan Markle to truly bring about change. These people have a unique stage to talk about things that are not always cute and pleasant and to show the world that certain things transcend privileged and power.
That is my hope with Meghan Markle’s latest interview and honest statement. Who better than the Duchess of Sussex to show the world that appearances can be deceiving; that motherhood is no easier with hired help; that society needs to focus on mothers, fathers, AND babies?
So Meghan Markle – Duchess, wife, mother, and woman – we see you. We thank you for your candor. And just like you, we may not be OK.