Let me preface this by saying I do not regularly watch The View so my opinion of Meghan McCain – co-host, an outspoken conservative, and daughter of late statesman John McCain – is based almost entirely on viral clips circulating social media as well as news articles I’ve come across. From this limited review of the evidence, I am confident our politics and personalities don’t align. But that’s what makes what I’m about to say even more important.
Meghan McCain, a stranger on television, I owe you an apology-ish.
To explain, I often watch Good Morning America now that I’m working from home and, on occasion, will leave the TV on in the background, which is how I found myself half-listening to the January 4th episode of The View and McCain’s first show back after giving birth last fall.
McCain said she originally planned to return to work before the election (just six weeks after giving birth) but had unexpected complications that kept her home through the end of the year. While acknowledging how fortunate she was to have paid leave and family help during that time, she stated, “As I thought about it, the angrier I got that there weren’t women in the rest of America that had the same kind of luxury I had.” She then declared that federally mandated paid maternity leave would be her new mission.
My ears (and judgment) perked right up when I heard McCain’s epiphany. I ranted in my head and later out loud to my husband, “Of course, now that it impacts her, Meghan McCain decides paid maternity leave is important. How convenient! Did she miss every single study over the last 20+ years clearly showing America is failing women and babies, particularly those of color? Maybe she needs to be homeless for a night so she can acknowledge poverty too.”
Over the next few days, I felt vindicated in my character assessment by each headline calling out McCain’s about-face. As I read articles and social media posts questioning her ability to empathize and asking why it took having a baby for her to care about women’s health, my bleeding liberal heartfelt pretty darn smug.
Until slowly, but surely, some memories started to surface.
Like the time I repeatedly called my Congressional representatives to voice my concern about the failings of our healthcare system … after being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 34.
Or when I wrote a stat-filled email to my HR person about why it’s actually in our organization’s business interests to provide infertility coverage as a part of our health insurance … after having gone through three failed rounds of IVF.
You know, kind of like arguing for paid maternity leave after having a baby.
Oof. Isn’t it amazing just how much it stings when slapped in the face with your own hypocrisy?
In my defense, even when it didn’t directly benefit my family or me, I’ve always been supportive of some form of universal health care, mandated paid parental leave, and so many other human rights issues. I show this support at the ballot box, through financial contributions to organizations, and by volunteering for different charities. So, unlike McCain, I have never disparaged or actively fought against these types of social programs and causes.
Still, it would be unfair of me to pretend like my own reactions to two life-changing events – cancer and resulting infertility – weren’t similar in look and feel to McCain’s. I mean, before my own experience, I knew colleagues who had dealt with infertility. If I had learned they were advocating for better insurance coverage; I absolutely would have supported them and joined in the fight. But I didn’t voluntarily initiate that passionate plea to HR until my husband and I faced the emotional and financial weight of our three failed attempts.
Realizing that I haven’t always proactively fought for certain causes until after their arrival on the doorstep of my glass house forced me to examine the stones I was throwing. I asked myself, “How would I have wanted someone to react to me?” And the first thing that came to mind was Maya Angelou’s famous advice to Oprah: “When you know better, you do better.”
Now, let me be crystal clear. I don’t think these words are a free pass for failing to treat others with basic human decency and respect. Empathy is a skill we must actively cultivate. Hence the “ish” on my apology. I’m not hailing McCain as a hero for her newfound mission, as we all need to be held accountable for our past errors in judgment.
Maybe this is just a self-serving salve for my own bruised ego, but I do think Angelou’s words allow for some grace as we encounter significant life experiences that change and deepen our understanding of the world and those around us. I know I am a continuous work in progress, grateful for opportunities that challenge my perspective and force me to grow in my beliefs and values. Why should I deny someone else the space and grace to do the same?
And so for that, Meghan McCain, I apologize-ish for my original criticism and judgment. While I’m so sorry to hear you had complications post-childbirth, I am grateful the experience opened your eyes to the necessity of paid maternity leave. Now that you know better, I look forward to you using your platform and political power to do better on behalf of mothers everywhere.