Meghan Markle and Serena Williams have both had difficult moments where they were forced to keep working despite their children having been hurt or in danger.
The professional tennis legend was the first guest on the Duchess of Sussex’s podcast Archetypes, which launched on Tuesday as part of production deal between Archewell Audio and Spotify’s Gimlet Media.
During the hour-long chat, titled “The Misconception of Ambition,” both women opened up about an occasion where their professional obligations were in tension with their ability to care for their children. In the case of Markle, it involved her and Prince Harry’s trip to South Africa in 2019, where the duchess said a fire broke out at the residence where the couple and their then four-and-half-month-old son, Archie, were staying while she and the Duke of Sussex were completing a speaking engagement.
“The moment we landed we had to drop him off at this housing unit that they had had us staying in. He was going to get ready to go down for his nap. We immediately went to an official engagement in this township called Nyanga,” Markle recalls. “There’s this moment where I’m standing on a tree stump and I’m giving this speech to women and girls and we finish the engagement, we get in the car, and they say, ‘There’s been a fire at the residence.’ What? ‘There’s been a fire in the baby’s room.’”
Markle said they raced back to where they were staying where they found their nanny in “floods of tears.” The Duchess reveals that a small decision by the nanny, who typically kept Archie with her tied to her back with a mud cloth, is ultimately what kept him safe.
“She was supposed to put Archie down for his nap, and she just said, ‘You know what? Let me just go get a snack downstairs,’” Markle says. “Her instinct was just, ‘Let me bring him with me before I put him down.’ In that amount of time that she went downstairs, the heater in the nursery caught on fire. There was no smoke detector. Someone happened to just smell smoke down the hallway, went in, fire extinguished. He was supposed to be sleeping in there.”
Markle said upon returning, everyone was “shaken” and “in tears,” but that ultimately “we had to leave our baby.”
“What did we have to do? Go out and do another official engagement,” Markle recounted. “I said, ‘This doesn’t make any sense.’ I was like, ‘Can you just tell people what happened?’”
Markle’s story followed Williams’ after the tennis star, who recently announced she would be stepping away from the sport, in part to focus on her family, opened up about having to leave her daughter Olympia after the baby experienced an injury.
It was within the same year that Williams had her daughter — and the night before the 2018 French Open final, during which Williams wore her “infamous catsuit” designed to prevent blood clotting. Olympia had fallen out of her highchair and broke her wrist while under Williams’ care, something that “devastated” the gold-medalist and grand slam winner.
“So she fell, we went to the hospital, and she had a small tear or break in her wrist, so she had to get a cast. We didn’t get back until like four in the morning. Meanwhile, of course, this is the one day I was playing early,” Williams recounted. “I remember holding her the whole night and just rocking her to sleep. I just didn’t let her out of my sight at that point.”
Williams said she was “so mad at myself for even allowing that to happen” she only got about 30 minutes of sleep before she had to play the game.
“I somehow managed to win, but I was so emotionally spent and so emotionally drained that it was crazy,” she tells Markle. “Then like every night after that, I just was with her the whole time. It was like, ‘You’re gonna be with me.’”
The tennis star goes on to say that “moms do a lot” and doesn’t know how her own mother, who had five children did it.
After hearing both Williams’ story and sharing her own, Markle notes how optics and archetypes when it comes from high-profile working parents can misrepresent the realities of their lives.
“So much I think optically the focus ends up being on how it looks instead of how it feels,” she says during the podcast. “Part of the humanizing and the breaking through these labels and these archetypes, these boxes that were put into, is having some understanding on the human moments behind the scenes that people might not have any awareness of and to give each other a break.”