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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Q&A: What are tax credits and how do they work?

All you need to know about the government's plan to cut tax credits.

What are tax credits?

Tax credits are payments made regularly by the state into bank accounts to support families with children, or those who are in low-paid jobs. There are two types of tax credit: the working tax credit and the child tax credit.

What are they for?

To redistribute income to those less able to get by, or to provide for their children, on what they earn.

Are they similar to tax relief?

No. They don’t have much to do with tax. They’re more of a welfare thing. You don’t need to be a taxpayer to receive tax credits. It’s just that, unlike other benefits, they are based on the tax year and paid via the tax office.

Who is eligible?

Anyone aged over 16 (for child tax credits) and over 25 (for working tax credits) who normally lives in the UK can apply for them, depending on their income, the hours they work, whether they have a disability, and whether they pay for childcare.

What are their circumstances?

The more you earn, the less you are likely to receive. Single claimants must work at least 16 hours a week. Let’s take a full-time worker: if you work at least 30 hours a week, you are generally eligible for working tax credits if you earn less than £13,253 a year (if you’re single and don’t have children), or less than £18,023 (jointly as part of a couple without children but working at least 30 hours a week).

And for families?

A family with children and an income below about £32,200 can claim child tax credit. It used to be that the more children you have, the more you are eligible to receive – but George Osborne in his most recent Budget has limited child tax credit to two children.

How much money do you receive?

Again, this depends on your circumstances. The basic payment for a single claimant, or a joint claim by a couple, of working tax credits is £1,940 for the tax year. You can then receive extra, depending on your circumstances. For example, single parents can receive up to an additional £2,010, on top of the basic £1,940 payment; people who work more than 30 hours a week can receive up to an extra £810; and disabled workers up to £2,970. The average award of tax credit is £6,340 per year. Child tax credit claimants get £545 per year as a flat payment, plus £2,780 per child.

How many people claim tax credits?

About 4.5m people – the vast majority of these people (around 4m) have children.

How much does it cost the taxpayer?

The estimation is that they will cost the government £30bn in April 2015/16. That’s around 14 per cent of the £220bn welfare budget, which the Tories have pledged to cut by £12bn.

Who introduced this system?

New Labour. Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor, developed tax credits in his first term. The system as we know it was established in April 2003.

Why did they do this?

To lift working people out of poverty, and to remove the disincentives to work believed to have been inculcated by welfare. The tax credit system made it more attractive for people depending on benefits to work, and gave those in low-paid jobs a helping hand.

Did it work?

Yes. Tax credits’ biggest achievement was lifting a record number of children out of poverty since the war. The proportion of children living below the poverty line fell from 35 per cent in 1998/9 to 19 per cent in 2012/13.

So what’s the problem?

Well, it’s a bit of a weird system in that it lets companies pay wages that are too low to live on without the state supplementing them. Many also criticise tax credits for allowing the minimum wage – also brought in by New Labour – to stagnate (ie. not keep up with the rate of inflation). David Cameron has called the system of taxing low earners and then handing them some money back via tax credits a “ridiculous merry-go-round”.

Then it’s a good thing to scrap them?

It would be fine if all those low earners and families struggling to get by would be given support in place of tax credits – a living wage, for example.

And that’s why the Tories are introducing a living wage...

That’s what they call it. But it’s not. The Chancellor announced in his most recent Budget a new minimum wage of £7.20 an hour for over-25s, rising to £9 by 2020. He called this the “national living wage” – it’s not, because the current living wage (which is calculated by the Living Wage Foundation, and currently non-compulsory) is already £9.15 in London and £7.85 in the rest of the country.

Will people be better off?

No. Quite the reverse. The IFS has said this slightly higher national minimum wage will not compensate working families who will be subjected to tax credit cuts; it is arithmetically impossible. The IFS director, Paul Johnson, commented: “Unequivocally, tax credit recipients in work will be made worse off by the measures in the Budget on average.” It has been calculated that 3.2m low-paid workers will have their pay packets cut by an average of £1,350 a year.

Could the government change its policy to avoid this?

The Prime Minister and his frontbenchers have been pretty stubborn about pushing on with the plan. In spite of criticism from all angles – the IFS, campaigners, Labour, The Sun – Cameron has ruled out a review of the policy in the Autumn Statement, which is on 25 November. But there is an alternative. The chair of parliament’s Work & Pensions Select Committee and Labour MP Frank Field has proposed what he calls a “cost neutral” tweak to the tax credit cuts.

How would this alternative work?

Currently, if your income is less than £6,420, you will receive the maximum amount of tax credits. That threshold is called the gross income threshold. Field wants to introduce a second gross income threshold of £13,100 (what you earn if you work 35 hours a week on minimum wage). Those earning a salary between those two thresholds would have their tax credits reduced at a slower rate on whatever they earn above £6,420 up to £13,100. The percentage of what you earn above the basic threshold that is deducted from your tax credits is called the taper rate, and it is currently at 41 per cent. In contrast to this plan, the Tories want to halve the income threshold to £3,850 a year and increase the taper rate to 48 per cent once you hit that threshold, which basically means you lose more tax credits, faster, the more you earn.

When will the tax credit cuts come in?

They will be imposed from April next year, barring a u-turn.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.