In an opinion piece in Wednesday’s New York Times, Meghan wrote of how she felt a sharp cramp one morning back in July, and as she was clutching her firstborn child in her arms, she knew that she was “losing my second.”
The revelation has been praised for offering support to others who have had miscarriages — and for helping to shatter the stigma and silence that so often surround a deeply personal trauma experienced in as many as one in four pregnancies.
But such public sharing and insight into royal health is often more limited, putting Meghan’s revelation in contrast to the way in which senior members of the Royal Family have approached matters of their own health.
“Announcements about royal babies and serious health issues relating to senior members of the family normally come from Buckingham Palace, but I don’t think they would ever announce an early miscarriage,” said royal author and biographer Penny Junor.
“The public would only be told if the palace had already announced the pregnancy and the child had been lost.”
That happened in the case of Sophie, Countess of Wessex, who is married to Prince Edward, the youngest son of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Sophie spoke of being “very sad” after losing a baby in 2001 following an ectopic pregnancy.
It also happened in the case of Zara Tindall, Princess Anne’s daughter, “who then went on to tell a newspaper that she had suffered two miscarriages but hadn’t wanted to talk about it because it had been too raw,” Junor said via email.
“So what Meghan has done is unprecedented, but not out of character.”
In the case of royal pregnancy, sometimes the public revelation has come earlier than might have been intended.
When Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, had acute morning sickness in late 2012 and was hospitalized early in her pregnancy with Prince George, it was announced that she and Prince William were expecting their first child.
That child, of course, is in direct line to the throne and would be the subject of particular public curiosity.
“Royal women have always experienced scrutiny of their pregnancies because of the place of their children in the line of succession and the influence of their personal decisions on the wider culture,” said Carolyn Harris, a Toronto-based royal historian and author of Raising Royalty: 1,000 Years of Royal Parenting.
Meghan and her husband, Prince Harry, stepped back as working members of the Royal Family earlier this year. Harry is also somewhat further down the line of succession, at No. 6. Their first child, Archie, born on May 6, 2019, is No. 7.
“Harry and Meghan have stepped away from their roles as senior members of the Royal Family, which gives them more freedom to speak openly about their experiences and their concerns,” Harris said in an email.
Meghan might also have been influenced by royal and celebrity examples of speaking openly about pregnancy and miscarriage, she said.
“Diana, Princess of Wales, spoke about the challenges of undertaking royal duties while experiencing morning sickness during her pregnancies,” Harris said, noting that condition did not appear to affect the public schedule for Queen Elizabeth, who visited France early in her pregnancy with Prince Charles and Canada early in her pregnancy with Prince Andrew.
Meghan’s piece in the New York Times comes a few weeks after model and TV personality Chrissy Teigen shared her grief via social media following the loss of a son during pregnancy in September.
“Meghan’s article where she calls upon people to commit to asking one another if they are OK may also reflect the influence of advocacy among the younger members of the Royal Family for greater emotional support for those experiencing difficult personal circumstances,” Harris said.
Because Meghan and Harry, who are now living in California, are no longer working members of the Royal Family, they can “more or less do as they please,” Junor said.
“And writing in this way is Meghan all over. She feels strongly that it’s important to talk about feelings — something pretty alien to the older generation of the Royal Family — and I suspect would have spoken out about a miscarriage whether or not she had married Harry.”
Junor said Meghan “is brave to be talking about it so soon after the event, and I am sure it will be a great comfort to women who are or have been in a similar situation.”
Still, she said, “it is puzzling that she should go public about something so very personal and painful when she has repeatedly asked for privacy.”
Jonny Dymond, the BBC’s royal correspondent, said Meghan has “made her grief a way of bringing miscarriage closer to the everyday conversation.”
And he suggested on the BBC website Wednesday that her way of sharing her loss and heartbreak was in keeping with her overall approach.
“Meghan made it clear from the first event that she spoke at as Harry’s bride-to-be that she wanted women’s voices and women’s experiences to be heard more clearly.”
Other royals have shared personal pain and grief in the face of stillbirths and miscarriages, although in earlier eras — generations long before social media and 24-hour international news cycles — such views would not have travelled so widely so quickly.
“Queen Anne spoke of her grief regarding her numerous stillbirths and miscarriages [in the late 1600s] in conversations with her friends and courtiers,” Harris said.
“Her confidante Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough, spoke of Queen Anne’s hopes that she would bear a child who survived ‘though she had 17 dead ones.'”
The future King Edward VII was seen weeping at the funeral of his youngest child, Alexander John, who died at birth in 1871.
The way the public responded to such expressions of royal grief has varied, Harris said.
“The death of King George IV’s daughter, Princess Charlotte, in childbirth in 1817, giving birth to a stillborn son, prompted national mourning on a level that would not be seen again until the death of Princess Diana in 1997.”
But while there was public sympathy for Queen Anne, Harris said, “there were also satirical cartoons depicting Anne as desperate for a child and willing to knight any doctor who said that it was still possible for her to have children.”
Sometimes, Harris said, such deeply personal losses for members of the Royal Family become part of larger debates about its public image.