Much has been made over Meghan Markle's decision to not travel for Prince Philip's funeral. It's time to stop questioning the choices that pregnant women make to protect themselves and their unborn children.
On Sunday, Prince Harry arrived in the United Kingdom ahead of the April 17th funeral services for his grandfather, the late Prince Philip.
Since news of Markle's decision to remain stateside broke, many headlines have looked like this:
Prince Harry to attend Prince Phillip's funeral, but Meghan will not: https://t.co/TITmbxvxXJ https://t.co/sSSr3E9MD9— Forbes (@Forbes)1618104126.0
Prince Harry will attend grandfather Prince Philip's funeral without Meghan Markle https://t.co/6D3D5xmpiq— TODAY (@TODAY)1618079389.0
Prince Harry to Travel to UK for Prince Philip's Funeral, Meghan Won't https://t.co/p8PDXCNGpY— TMZ (@TMZ)1618075744.0
Here's the thing: Markle is due to give birth this summer. She experienced a miscarriage last summer. And according to a royal spokesperson, she has been advised by her doctor to not travel for this event.
The problem with those previous headlines is the information that's conveniently missing: She's pregnant. Her doctors advised her to not travel. She's staying home to keep her unborn daughter safe, not because of any ill-will felt towards the royal family. Oh, and there's still a global pandemic going on, one that has increased the risk of severe illness and death for pregnant women who contract COVID-19.
If we wanted to rewrite those headlines, they might look something like this:
Pregnant Meghan Markle has been "advised by her physician not to travel" for Prince Philip's funeral
See how easy that was?
Even then, Markle shouldn't have to divulge private conversations between her and her medical team to a global audience. She shouldn't have to explain the rationale behind every action of hers.
She's a mom, making difficult yet necessary decisions to keep herself and her children safe.
Baby news! “We can confirm that Archie is going to be a big brother,” says a spokesperson for Harry and Meghan. “Th… https://t.co/CYuNsPW8Jc— Omid Scobie (@Omid Scobie)1613330983.0
When I was pregnant with my first child, my husband and I drove from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Rhode Island, so he could see his family before deploying for the third time in five years.
I was only 26 weeks pregnant when we left North Carolina and was going to be 27 weeks when we returned. Technically, I was within the window considered safe for air travel but my husband and I opted to drive instead. We liked the idea of being able to control our travel schedule and take breaks as needed.
During that 12-hour drive back to Fort Bragg, I began bleeding. We drove to the next city on our route, Philadelphia, and found the closest hospital. Doctors determined that I was experiencing a placental abruption—they just weren't sure how severe my condition would become. There was a chance that the abruption could stabilize and that I would be able to carry my son to term. There was also a chance that I was in the process of a full placental abruption, in which case, I would have to deliver my son immediately.
Doctors gave me drugs to slow my contractions and to help my son's lungs develop quickly just in case his birth was imminent. We were visited by specialist after specialist, who tried to prepare us for what lay ahead if we had to deliver. It was a terrifying experience with a happy outcome: overnight, my contractions and bleeding slowed. We spent ten days at that hospital before finally being discharged and allowed to finish our road trip.
Here's why I'm sharing this story: Two years later, I was pregnant again. My husband had the opportunity to take leave around the time that I was 26 weeks pregnant. Our friends and family in Rhode Island began asking when we were coming to visit—surely, we were coming home, right?
There wasn't a cell in my body that wanted to make that drive again. Intellectually, I knew that the road trip probably didn't cause my partial abruption. I knew it was a stroke of chance with that pregnancy. I knew that this time around, we'd probably be fine.
But I also knew the terror that came with facing the possibility of losing my desperately wanted baby. I knew what it was like to spend almost two weeks living in a hospital, praying that my decision to prioritize a fun trip home to see family didn't somehow harm my child.
And we now had a toddler. What would we do with our son if, once again, we found ourselves admitted to the hospital?
We faced quite a few questions from well-meaning loved ones about why we weren't coming home. We talked about probabilities (of experiencing another partial abruption, of when we'd be able to come home next if we didn't seize this chance) and we talked about emotions (how much we all wanted to see each other).
Ultimately, none of it mattered. I wasn't comfortable with the idea of making that trip. So, we didn't.
That's where the hardline needs to be: not in emotions and optics, not even in doctor's recommendations.
If a pregnant woman isn't comfortable with traveling, then we need to respect that. Full stop.
Taking the occasional flight during pregnancy is largely considered safe, especially if you don't have health problems or complications that make flying risky, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Most commercial airlines allow pregnant women to fly up to 36 weeks of gestation. Some restrict pregnant women from flying internationally earlier in pregnancy.
If you do plan to fly while pregnant, there are some things you can do to make your experience safer. To reduce the risk of blood clots, remember to take breaks to stretch and walk around to improve circulation. Compression socks can help, too.
Wear your seatbelt while seated, just in case your plane hits a patch of severe turbulence. And don't forget to stay hydrated.
The global pandemic adds a new layer of concern for travel. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends delaying travel until you're fully vaccinated because travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.
They also recommend wearing a mask, social distancing, and frequent handwashing, as well as getting tested for COVID-19 before and after your trip.
If you have any questions or concerns about travel during your pregnancy, bring them up with your doctor. It will be easier to make a decision when you're armed with information.
When it comes to traveling, you know best, mama. You know your body, your baby, and your situation.
When it comes to Meghan Markle's decision to not travel, we support it—because we support her.
It doesn't matter if she's six weeks pregnant or 36. It doesn't even matter if her doctors cleared her for travel or not (although again, in this case, they didn't). The only thing that matters is whether she feels safe enough to travel. She doesn't, so she isn't.
It's time we stop over-analyzing the decisions pregnant women make about their health—and start supporting them, instead.
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