A successful pregnancy is not a moral triumph: why I chose to reveal mine before 12 weeks

Kate has been forced to announce she's expecting early. Even though Glosswitch miscarried after doing the same, she says she doesn't regret it.

So the Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant. I for one am mightily relieved. I may be a republican but even I couldn’t bear to see one human being placed under so much pressure to breed. Since there was no chance of her ever being let off the hook – and let’s face it, adoption was out of the question – it’s a good job she’s proven herself fecund at last (although I’ll be honest, the conspiracy theorist-cum-lover of crap late 1990s telly in me is still thinking she might have done a “Maria off Family Affairs” out of sheer desperation; let’s all keep an eye out for any suspiciously cushion-like bumps).

Of course, while it’s nice that Kate has (probably) managed to conceive, it’s important we don’t all get too excited. As Telegraph Chief Reporter Gordon Rayner notes “the Duchess is not yet 12 weeks pregnant, which is the normal time when couples announce pregnancies”. Ah yes, “the normal time”. The time when it’s finally safe to tell other people because it’s less likely to go wrong. The time after which, if you do miscarry, people might sympathise with you a little more and blame you a little less. After all, speaking out before then is just bad luck, arrogance, tempting fate. It’s counting your chickens before they’ve hatched. It’s admitting that to you, however early, a pregnancy is real and that if it does go wrong, you still deserve time to grieve (how inconsiderate). Thankfully, in Kate’s case there is at least an excuse for this deviance from the norm.

St James’s Palace have announced the pregnancy “early” due to the Duchess’s admission to hospital suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum. Of the two friends I have who’ve suffered from this, both found it so appalling that they’ve sworn to stick to having one child only. One suspects that Kate – obliged to deliver both heir and spare – won’t be permitted to do this. The only comfort I can offer is that one of these friends found a diet of mashed potato and hula hoops helpful during the brief periods when she could at least eat something (royal banqueting chefs, take note). As for me, I’ve never suffered anything so horrendous during any of my pregnancies. Even so, I’ve always made “the announcement” way before the special 12-week mark, too.

The first time I was pregnant this was simply because I was excited and couldn’t shut the hell up. I didn’t tell everyone, mind. It ended up being quite a random selection of people; colleagues I bumped into in the loos, relatives I hadn’t fallen out with at the time, the woman standing next to me in the queue at Sainsbury’s. Some people, on the other hand, never found out until after I’d miscarried at nine weeks. It was their responses that made me wish I’d blabbed that little bit more. To those who hadn’t been in the know, I’d been pregnant but never expecting a baby. They asked whether the pregnancy had been “an accident”, whether I’d decided “what to do about it”, whether I was “relieved”. On one level I was pleased to note such a liberal attitude towards abortion. On another, though, I was devastated not to be able to make them understand how badly I’d wanted that embryo to become my child; to them it was a non-event but for me, 14 March 2007 will always be the due date that never was.

I’ve told people about subsequent pregnancies early on. Perhaps it’s selfish; it risks making miscarriage more public and causing needless discomfort to those who wouldn’t otherwise have to think about it. Even so, early miscarriage is so incredibly common that I can’t help thinking it would provide a great deal of comfort if it were to become less of a shameful secret. The same goes for infertility and the stress of trying to conceive. We discuss these things, certainly – usually in remonstrative tones, with reference to foolish women who’ve “left it too late” and/or to IVF as the latest middle-class indulgence – but never in a way that makes those who are struggling feel able to admit it. A successful pregnancy is still presented in moral terms. If you are good and virtuous, it will happen to you. If not, then you have failed.

It’s hard to imagine the pressure the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have been under. Trying to conceive is miserable at the best of times. Okay, you get to have lots of sex and that’s not miserable (although sex with specific functional objectives does, in my opinion, lack a certain something). But after that there’s the horrible two-week wait following your most “valuable” shags, and then, if you’re anything like me, you prolong the misery by lying to yourself (that negative test might be wrong, and besides, those five days of suspiciously period-like bloodshed? I just know it’s extreme implantation bleeding). To have that pressure while the whole world is watching seems particularly awful, and yes, I know they’re well paid for it and yes, I doubt Kate’s first thought on seeing that special blue line was “shit - can we really afford this?” But even so, the Duchess of Cambridge is a human being, even if her role makes us think of her as a brood mare.

A wanted pregnancy is almost always a happy thing to announce (I write “almost” since I’ve no idea what it’s like to be so nauseous you spend nine months on a drip, unable to turn your head for fear of vomiting). Nevertheless, I worry that this particular one – the most hotly anticipated pregnancy in years - will become our latest national “success story”. First the Jubilee, then the Olympics, now this. Way-hey! Yet pregnancy is a physical condition, not an achievement. Perhaps this seems a minor concern, given the gravity of the situation, but as one of the lucky ones – and so much of this is just luck – I worry about what this means for those people who aren’t so fortunate, those who never reach “the normal time” when it’s socially acceptable to make “the announcement”. I hope all the excitement doesn’t make them feel even more alone. We live in a country where, for one woman at least, becoming pregnant is the only thing of national importance she can do. I’m glad, for her, that she’s been able to conceive. All the same, perhaps we could all do with being more honest about breeding and what it really entails.

The most scrutinised pregnant woman in the world? Probably. Photograph: Getty Iages

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle