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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We're racing towards another private debt crisis - so why did no one see it coming?

The Office for Budget Responsibility failed to foresee the rise in household debt. 

This is a call for a public inquiry on the current situation regarding private debt.

For almost a decade now, since 2007, we have been living a lie. And that lie is preparing to wreak havoc on our economy. If we do not create some kind of impartial forum to discuss what is actually happening, the results might well prove disastrous. 

The lie I am referring to is the idea that the financial crisis of 2008, and subsequent “Great Recession,” were caused by profligate government spending and subsequent public debt. The exact opposite is in fact the case. The crash happened because of dangerously high levels of private debt (a mortgage crisis specifically). And - this is the part we are not supposed to talk about—there is an inverse relation between public and private debt levels.

If the public sector reduces its debt, overall private sector debt goes up. That's what happened in the years leading up to 2008. Now austerity is making it happening again. And if we don't do something about it, the results will, inevitably, be another catastrophe.

The winners and losers of debt

These graphs show the relationship between public and private debt. They are both forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility, produced in 2015 and 2017. 

This is what the OBR was projecting what would happen around now back in 2015:

This year the OBR completely changed its forecast. This is how it now projects things are likely to turn out:

First, notice how both diagrams are symmetrical. What happens on top (that part of the economy that is in surplus) precisely mirrors what happens in the bottom (that part of the economy that is in deficit). This is called an “accounting identity.”

As in any ledger sheet, credits and debits have to match. The easiest way to understand this is to imagine there are just two actors, government, and the private sector. If the government borrows £100, and spends it, then the government has a debt of £100. But by spending, it has injected £100 more pounds into the private economy. In other words, -£100 for the government, +£100 for everyone else in the diagram. 

Similarly, if the government taxes someone for £100 , then the government is £100 richer but there’s £100 subtracted from the private economy (+£100 for government, -£100 for everybody else on the diagram).

So what implications does this kind of bookkeeping have for the overall economy? It means that if the government goes into surplus, then everyone else has to go into debt.

We tend to think of money as if it is a bunch of poker chips already lying around, but that’s not how it really works. Money has to be created. And money is created when banks make loans. Either the government borrows money and injects it into the economy, or private citizens borrow money from banks. Those banks don’t take the money from people’s savings or anywhere else, they just make it up. Anyone can write an IOU. But only banks are allowed to issue IOUs that the government will accept in payment for taxes. (In other words, there actually is a magic money tree. But only banks are allowed to use it.)

There are other factors. The UK has a huge trade deficit (blue), and that means the government (yellow) also has to run a deficit (print money, or more accurately, get banks to do it) to inject into the economy to pay for all those Chinese trainers, American iPads, and German cars. The total amount of money can also fluctuate. But the real point here is, the less the government is in debt, the more everyone else must be. Austerity measures will necessarily lead to rising levels of private debt. And this is exactly what has happened.

Now, if this seems to have very little to do with the way politicians talk about such matters, there's a simple reason: most politicians don’t actually know any of this. A recent survey showed 90 per cent of MPs don't even understand where money comes from (they think it's issued by the Royal Mint). In reality, debt is money. If no one owed anyone anything at all there would be no money and the economy would grind to a halt.

But of course debt has to be owed to someone. These charts show who owes what to whom.

The crisis in private debt

Bearing all this in mind, let's look at those diagrams again - keeping our eye particularly on the dark blue that represents household debt. In the first, 2015 version, the OBR duly noted that there was a substantial build-up of household debt in the years leading up to the crash of 2008. This is significant because it was the first time in British history that total household debts were higher than total household savings, and therefore the household sector itself was in deficit territory. (Corporations, at the same time, were raking in enormous profits.) But it also predicted this wouldn't happen again.

True, the OBR observed, austerity and the reduction of government deficits meant private debt levels would have to go up. However, the OBR economists insisted this wouldn't be a problem because the burden would fall not on households but on corporations. Business-friendly Tory policies would, they insisted, inspire a boom in corporate expansion, which would mean frenzied corporate borrowing (that huge red bulge below the line in the first diagram, which was supposed to eventually replace government deficits entirely). Ordinary households would have little or nothing to worry about.

This was total fantasy. No such frenzied boom took place.

In the second diagram, two years later, the OBR is forced to acknowledge this. Corporations are just raking in the profits and sitting on them. The household sector, on the other hand, is a rolling catastrophe. Austerity has meant falling wages, less government spending on social services (or anything else), and higher de facto taxes. This puts the squeeze on household budgets and people are forced to borrow. As a result, not only are households in overall deficit for the second time in British history, the situation is actually worse than it was in the years leading up to 2008.

And remember: it was a mortgage crisis that set off the 2008 crash, which almost destroyed the world economy and plunged millions into penury. Not a crisis in public debt. A crisis in private debt.

An inquiry

In 2015, around the time the original OBR predictions came out, I wrote an essay in the Guardian predicting that austerity and budget-balancing would create a disastrous crisis in private debt. Now it's so clearly, unmistakably, happening that even the OBR cannot deny it.

I believe the time has come for there be a public investigation - a formal public inquiry, in fact - into how this could be allowed to happen. After the 2008 crash, at least the economists in Treasury and the Bank of England could plausibly claim they hadn't completely understood the relation between private debt and financial instability. Now they simply have no excuse.

What on earth is an institution called the “Office for Budget Responsibility” credulously imagining corporate borrowing binges in order to suggest the government will balance the budget to no ill effects? How responsible is that? Even the second chart is extremely odd. Up to 2017, the top and bottom of the diagram are exact mirrors of one another, as they ought to be. However, in the projected future after 2017, the section below the line is much smaller than the section above, apparently seriously understating the amount both of future government, and future private, debt. In other words, the numbers don't add up.

The OBR told the New Statesman ​that it was not aware of any errors in its 2015 forecast for corporate sector net lending, and that the forecast was based on the available data. It said the forecast for business investment has been revised down because of the uncertainty created by Brexit. 

Still, if the “Office of Budget Responsibility” was true to its name, it should be sounding off the alarm bells right about now. So far all we've got is one mention of private debt and a mild warning about the rise of personal debt from the Bank of England, which did not however connect the problem to austerity, and one fairly strong statement from a maverick columnist in the Daily Mail. Otherwise, silence. 

The only plausible explanation is that institutions like the Treasury, OBR, and to a degree as well the Bank of England can't, by definition, warn against the dangers of austerity, however alarming the situation, because they have been set up the way they have in order to justify austerity. It's important to emphasise that most professional economists have never supported Conservative policies in this regard. The policy was adopted because it was convenient to politicians; institutions were set up in order to support it; economists were hired in order to come up with arguments for austerity, rather than to judge whether it would be a good idea. At present, this situation has led us to the brink of disaster.

The last time there was a financial crash, the Queen famously asked: why was no one able to foresee this? We now have the tools. Perhaps the most important task for a public inquiry will be to finally ask: what is the real purpose of the institutions that are supposed to foresee such matters, to what degree have they been politicised, and what would it take to turn them back into institutions that can at least inform us if we're staring into the lights of an oncoming train?