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Chelsea Clinton and Ivanka Trump Make ‘Postpartum’ Look Easy

July 29, 2016

And that's a complicated fact

This is what my brain thought like for a few months after I had a baby: blahhhhhh. This is what my body felt like: blahhhhhh. This is what I looked like: blahhhhhh.

Thus watching Chelsea Clinton and Ivanka Trump give objectively impeccable speeches at their respective political conventions so shortly after childbirth impressed me to no end. Clinton had a son, Aidan, in late June; Trump also had a boy, Theodore, in late March. And yet they were the opposite of blahhhhhh—they were damn near perfect, and that’s a complicated fact.

Giving birth is a B.F.D. for your body, no matter which way the baby comes out. The physical and hormonal changes that are part of the postpartum period can have all sorts of effects—from pain (vaginal, lumbar, you name it) to hair loss to depression to psychosis—some of which can last for weeks, months or even, according to some mothers, years after giving birth.

Never mind the also scientific fact that it’s often difficult to find 10 minutes to take a shower, brush your hair or rest—even if you’re not breastfeeding, a very tiny person comes with a lot of big demands (someone’s got to hold that bottle; someone’s got to change that diaper; someone’s got to rock, and rock, and rock, and rock…).

Which brings me back to Clinton and Trump. Yes, they likely have helpers of various sorts, from partners and family to staff (both women reportedly employ nannies; Trump’s is teaching her kids to speak Mandarin). Yes, they have the financial means to buy makeup and designer clothes, perhaps tailored to fit. They may have hired trainers to help them shed some weight. It’s probably nice to have scads of money, baby or not. But even with help, it was still probably a tremendous effort with terrifying emotional consequences if they didn’t get it together.

That’s my point: if they had showed up on those stages looking blah—or, you know, like they just had a baby—it would not have been acceptable to many people, even though it would have been totally natural, in line with the historical human experience. Without projecting too much onto either woman’s public canvas, I think it’s safe to say that their convention appearances are likely not the full picture of whatever else may be going on with their bodies and in their minds.

They stepped up to a tremendous amount of pressure, both as potential First Daughters, and as women. We expect way too much of mothers in general, especially just after giving birth. The stigma around postpartum depression, the pressure to return to pre-baby weight (and shape), the burden of feeling like you should feel like your best self, even when you don’t feel like yourself at all—those are real and difficult phenomenons for most mothers, including Clinton and Trump.

Kate Middleton launched a thousand thinkpieces when she emerged from the hospital after Prince George’s birth with a still visible bump, but looking otherwise extremely composed. Some commended her for looking simply “so good” mere hours after birth; others pointed out that said immaculateness could hurt other moms; and still others embraced the “reality” of that bump. (Though as Chrissy Teigen, a vociferous defender of all things normal, pointed out, mom-pressure is doubly dirty diaper: “I think some people actually get really weirded out if you do bounce back too quickly because you really should be at home with this little thing and taking care of her and not so concerned.”)

Meanwhile, Clinton and Trump were put on stage seemingly as proof of their parents’ worthiness—to humanize them, in fact. You can blame the politicians and campaigns for putting them up that way, or you can blame the culture that created the expectation in the first place: the rest of us. Can you imagine that pressure, so exponential?

That’s what makes their speeches all the more impressive. (You hear me, you trolls on Twitter criticizing Clinton for a monotone delivery?) In addition to the substance of their speeches—equal pay, childcare, putting more women in positions of power—Clinton and Trump stand for all of the pressures, double standards and antiquated notions that women still face. Even though that final glass ceiling is so close to being shattered.

So one day when a woman—a potential First Daughter, or a potential President—shows up behind a very important podium with flyaway hairs, bags under her eyes and a squishier than usual midsection, thinking to herself, Blahhhhh, I’ll clap for her, and for all the rest of us, too.