The Duchess of Cambridge gave an emotional and impassioned speech at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in London this morning that has resonated with new mothers everywhere. Speaking to a packed room of doctors and parents, the mother of two opened up about the challenges new mothers face and the importance of treating mental health struggles the same way you would treat any other ailment.
The Duchess was on hand to introduce Out of the Blue, a film series created by Best Beginnings, part of the royal family’s Heads Together campaign that focuses on mental health issues (like depression and anxiety) that many new mothers face. It is the goal of Heads Together — with the support of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry — to both raise awareness around these issues as well as remove the stigma associated with them.
Standing at the podium, the Duchess of Cambridge’s voice shook and her eyes struggled to hold back tears at certain points. Just a day after the London attack, which occurred less than three miles from the royal family’s home at Kensington Palace, Her Royal Highness opened her speech by acknowledging the great tragedy.
“I know you would all want to join me in sending our thoughts and prayers to all those sadly affected by yesterday’s terrible attack in Westminster. We will be thinking of all the families, as we discuss the important issues we’re here to talk about.”
She continued on, visibly gathering her strength, to discuss a matter deeply personal to her — motherhood, and all the unique challenges it brings. Even for someone as privileged as The Duchess of Cambridge, who has a loving husband and a full staff of nannies, chefs, and assistants to help carry the burden, building a family has been an undertaking unlike any other she has faced.
“Personally, becoming a mother has been such a rewarding and wonderful experience,” she continued. “However, at times it has also been a huge challenge — even for me who has support at home that most mothers do not.”
From there, she spoke about the many ways motherhood changes you at your core; how it alters not only your day-to-day life, but also how you see yourself as a woman and a person.
“Nothing can really prepare you for the sheer overwhelming experience of what it means to become a mother. It is full of complex emotions of joy, exhaustion, love, and worry, all mixed together. Your fundamental identity changes overnight. You go from thinking of yourself as primarily an individual, to suddenly being a mother, first and foremost.”
As any parent knows, having children can strip you down to the most vulnerable version of yourself. There is no rubric or set answers to guide you, and all you can do is “make it up and do the very best you can to care for your family,” says the duchess. Of course, this can often lead to a lack of confidence and confusion. For some, that’s all it is. But for many others, doubt can turn quickly into anxiety and depression — and left untreated, it can become a cloud upon your life, leading to “a real sense of darkness and isolation.”
In her speech, the duchess stressed that the internal and external pressures mothers face to be the “perfect parent” who loves every minute of every day can keep us from seeking help when needed. But as lovely and beautiful as motherhood is, it is still work. It is difficult. It is emotionally draining. And there’s no shame in admitting that out loud.
“It’s right to talk about motherhood as a wonderful thing,” the duchess continues. “But we also need to talk about its stresses and strains. It’s ok not to find it easy. Asking for help should not be seen as a sign of weakness.”
In addition to stressing the importance of seeking help when you need it — and doing so without shame — the duchess also noted another critical piece to the puzzle: Just how precisely we should work to normalize the topic of mental health in general. She likens it to a fever, making the argument that if you became sick with a fever while pregnant, you would go to the doctor — and seeking similar treatment for mental health issues is “no different.” Setting this example for our children is crucial, as they are reliant on us to get the help we need to better support them in their lives.
“Conversations are crucial for mental wellbeing,” the duchess continues. “And they should be part of everyday family life. Talking about a problem with a friend or another trusted person can be the beginning of getting better.”
Later, The Duchess of Cambridge sat with fellow moms and listened to their stories and struggles, further emphasizing that the most important thing you can do when you’re struggling is to talk about it. After all, it really does take a village.