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Why Melania Trump's kidneys are not your business

Updated 10:17 AM ET, Wed May 16, 2018

Editor's Note: Peggy Drexler is a research psychologist and the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is currently at work on a book about the failings of feminism. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN) - What's wrong with Melania's kidneys?

Since it was reported Monday that First Lady Melania Trump went in for a kidney procedure at Walter Reed Medical Center, news outlets have sought, fairly desperately, to answer that very question. A better question to consider might be: What business is it of yours?

The White House released what it deemed the necessary information on the matter: That the kidney condition was benign and treated with an embolization procedure that was successful. And that Mrs. Trump is expected to recover after a short stay in the hospital.

Apparently, that's not enough.

The news touched off a torrent of speculation aimed at filling in the missing pieces of the story: commentary from doctors (who are not Melania's) across the country offering thoughts on what the "condition" could be, HIPAA laws be damned, (the likely culprit, it seems: a non-cancerous growth called an angiomyolipoma), as well as in-depth reports on what an embolization entails, how kidney abnormalities are found, and who's at risk.

Enough, then; it's time to get a grip, America, and allow this woman the bodily autonomy to keep her medical issues to herself. In an earlier time we might have referred to this as "privacy."

It is understandable why we might feel entitled in some way to know about Mrs. Trump's health: we're a nosy culture -- the nosiest. But even more than that, we've spent nearly 18 months wanting more from her; more participation, more visibility, more insight into her thinking.

Recall, however, that we are talking about Melania Trump, who has conducted herself from the start of her tenure in the White House as an exceedingly private person.

She is not Betty Ford, the first lady who helped many when she made the decision to go public with news of her breast cancer in 1974 and later her drug dependency -- and was an example of one unafraid to reveal personal details of herself and her health (but let's keep in mind that while Betty Ford chose to reveal her alcoholism, she certainly waited longer than 24 hours to do so).

Nor is she among the first ladies who have conditioned us to expect them to use their position for something significant -- Nancy Reagan with her "Just Say No" campaign, or Michelle Obama and her fight against childhood obesity, for example.

She is a different kind of first lady. After refusing to move to the White House for her husband's first five months in office, Melania Trump kept a low profile, making few public appearances and giving even fewer interviews.

Which, of course, should be OK. Melania is not required to be a particular version of first lady just because the American people want her to be. She wasn't the one who ran for office. Many, including unofficial White House biographer Michael Wolff, have suggested that Melania never wanted the gig, that election night found her in "tears -- and not of joy."

Despite this, there is some indication that she is finding her voice. She has been less and less subtle at swatting away her husband's attempts at hand-holding. She recently announced her official cause as first lady, an initiative to teach kids about kindness on social media, a move some have seen as a dig at her husband's behavior.

As she grows more comfortable in her role, and the spotlight, perhaps Melania will reveal the nature of this medical procedure, or other struggles -- in time.

Or she won't -- and that's OK, too.

The fact is, if we want Melania to keep showing up, we need to afford her the room and respect to do so at her own pace and in her own time. Rummaging through her medical files isn't the way to get to know this woman. Who among us would want this?

And as far as information we should be demanding from this presidency, a full explanation of the first lady's kidney growth should be pretty low on the list.


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