Earlier this month, the Kensington Palace announced that Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle and her husband, Prince Harry, would be keeping the birth of their first child private. Unlike Prince Harry’s parents and brother and sister-in-law, the couple will not partake in the tradition of presenting their child to the public — standing on the steps of the hospital mere hours after Markle gives birth. The duchess has also opted to choose her own OB-GYN over a royal physician. The steps that have been taken to keep the birth reasonably personal and away from prying eyes were not well-received by the British press, who have spilled gallons of ink criticizing what seems to be Markle’s every move even before she announced her pregnancy.
While the duchess’ situation is a relatively unique one, it has the power to open the floor for conversation about what is expected of and projected on people who are pregnant. Pregnancy, childbirth and child raising are all grueling undertakings and are not made easier by the judgments and interference of others.
Part of the problem seems to lie in the fact that pregnant people are often expected to love every single moment of their pregnancy. They are supposed to accept every bout of morning sickness, food aversion and fatigue with a smile. They are supposed to not ever complain about the pain they are in because any discomfort, no matter how excruciating, will not matter once they are holding a baby in their arms.
“It seems like more and more there is tremendous pressure on pregnant folks to move through life as if pregnancy doesn’t affect them, with standard-setting for what pregnancy ‘should’ look like coming from elite athletes and Hollywood stars who are having, by and large, atypical experiences,” Ragen Chastain wrote for Ravishly. In the article, she told the story of a pregnant friend who had asked her husband to wash the dishes even though he had cooked the meal. The husband responded by saying, “If Serena can win an Open pregnant, I don’t understand why you are having such a hard time with basic stuff.”
Serena Williams winning the Australian Open while she was pregnant is proof of the human body’s power and resilience, but it should not be used to shame other people who live completely different lives. It is also important to note that Williams was bedridden for six weeks after giving birth because of life-threatening complications and has been open about her experience with postpartum depression. The fact that pregnancy and childbirth can have serious physical and mental repercussions is often downplayed, and pregnant people are expected to remain silent even if they are really struggling. Pregnancy should not be viewed as a competition, and everyone’s experience is and should be their own.
The interference does not end after a child is born. New parents seem to be judged whether they decide to go back to work relatively quickly after giving birth or to stay at home with their child full-time. Parents in the United States are granted up to 12 weeks of job security after the birth of a child. The United States does not mandate paid parental leave unlike other countries, such as the United Kingdom, which grants up to 39 weeks, and Canada, which gives a year. For many people, not having paid leave makes it impossible for them to stay at home with their babies for any length of time. On the other hand, not being able to afford childcare may force a parent to stay at home. The choice to continue to work or remain at home is a personal one and should be honored, especially when it is related to finances.
The process of bringing a child into the world is not one that should be taken lightly. Expecting and new parents should not be expected to sugarcoat how they are feeling. They should be granted the freedom to make their own decisions without other people’s unwanted advice or judgment.
Annick Tabb is a junior double-majoring in political science and English.