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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Banishing safe seats, and other proposals to bridge the democratic divide

How to improve key areas of democracy.

Labour’s election train is finally pulling into the station, with its new leader announced in just over a fortnight. However, a summer absorbed in the party’s internal democracy has obscured a deeper truth confronting the country: the general election confirmed that unequal political participation rates in the UK – by age, class, ethnicity and region– have become increasingly hardwired into how our democracy operates.

IPPR’s new report underscores the scale of the democratic divide.  For example, less than half of 18-24 year olds voted, compared to nearly four-fifths of the over-65s, while three-quarters of "AB" individuals cast a ballot, against just over half of "DE" registered voters. Critically, this marks a sharp rise in turnout inequality over time. In 1987, for example, turnout rates by class were almost identical but have steadily diverged since.

Similarly, age-based differences have got significantly worse over time. In 1964 turnout for 18-24 year olds was 76.4 per cent, almost matching the 76.7 per cent turnout rate of those aged 65 or over. By 2005 only 38.2 per cent of 18-24 year olds voted against 74.3 per cent of 65+ year olds, with only a very slight improvement this year.

Underlying growing disparities of electoral voice are striking divergences in perceptions of the fairness and effectiveness of our democracy. For example, IPPR/YouGov polling suggests a striking 63 per cent of "DE" individuals think that our democratic system serves their interests badly, while "AB" voters are evenly split.

Given these signs of democratic distress, there remains a strong case for establishing a wide-ranging constitutional convention to reset how our democracy operates. Yet Westminster shows no appetite for such constitutional reformation, and there would only be so much a civil society-led convention could achieve in terms of practical change.

In our report we therefore propose a series of achievable reforms that could update the civic, institutional and technological architecture of our democracy in the here and now, with the explicit goal of ensuring that all voices are better heard in the political process.

On electoral reform, while we reiterate our support for proportional representation for national elections, we know this simply isn’t going to happen this Parliament. We had a referendum on change in 2011 and it was heavily lost. The energies of electoral reformers should therefore focus on extending PR in local government, where it is more obviously in the self-interest of the major parties, as a means of extending their geographical reach.

In addition, the reduction in the number of MPs provides an opportunity to chip away at the number of safe seats. More than half of seats are "safe", a number that has grown over time, even allowing for the electoral earthquake in Scotland. Safe seats typically have lower levels of participation, lower turnout rates, and less electorally powerful voters. While safe seats will always be with us in a first-past-the-post system, too many can be damaging to democracy.

Given this, we have recommended that the various Boundary Commissions of the UK be given a new duty to consider the electoral competitiveness of seats – ie. to tilt against the creation of safe seats – when boundaries are redrawn. The priority would be to meet their current duties of ensuring the geographic coherence of a seat and roughly equal electorates.

However, where these duties can be met we suggest that the Commissions should consider revising boundaries to reduce the number of safe seats, as a step to increasing participation and the voting power of the average elector. Of course, this will clearly not "abolish" all safe seats – nor should it  but it could help re-empower millions of voters currently with little meaningful say over the outcome of elections and force political parties to up their game in safe seats.

At the same time, the transition to the individual electoral registration process risks excluding millions from the franchise, people who are disproportionately younger, poorer or from an ethnic minority. For example, there are clear inequalities by age and ethnicity in terms of who is registered to vote: in the 2010 general election, for which figures are most accurate, 90 per cent of people aged 55-64 were registered, compared to 55 per cent of those aged 18-24, while nearly 20 per cent of BME individuals were not registered to vote, compared to only 7 per cent of the "white British" population.

There are simple steps the government could take to ensure all who are eligible are able to vote: extending the registration deadline to December 2016, and making support available to local authorities to assist registration efforts, weighted towards authorities with higher levels of under-registration, could help reduce inequalities.  In the longer term, electoral registration officers should be given new duties, and the Electoral Commission more powers, to drive up registration rates, with a particular focus on presently under-registered demographics. 

Finally, we recommend introducing a Democracy Commission. At present, the Electoral Commission effectively regulates elections and party funding. Democracy, however, is far richer and broader than electoral processes. It is about formal representation, but also about participation and deliberation, in what Marc Stears has called "everyday democracy".

A statutorily independent Democracy Commission could give institutional ballast to the latter and help reinvigorate democratic life by providing research, resources and capacity-building to facilitate local, civil society-led initiatives that aim to increase broad-based levels of powerful democratic participation or deliberation in collective decision-making processes.

For example, a Democracy Commission could work with the GLA to introduce participatory budgeting in London, assist the Greater Manchester Combined Authority in instituting a public deliberative body with real teeth over how to integrate health and social care in the area, help the Scottish government conduct citizens’ juries on the future constitutional shape of the country, or support civil-society experiments to bring people closer to collective political decision-making processes in their locality.

We are living in a paradoxical political era, where growing political inequality is accompanied by ongoing social and technological change that has the capacity to collapse unnecessary political and economic hierarchies and build a more inclusive, participatory and responsive democracy. However, there is no guarantee that the age of the network will necessarily lead to democratic revival. The institutions and technologies of our political system, products of the 19th century, are struggling in the fluidity and fracture of the 21st century, inhibiting democratic renewal.

With our economy post-industrial, our ways of communicating increasingly digital and more networked, our identities and relationships ever more variegated and complex, it is therefore critical public policy seeks to update the democratic infrastructure of the UK, and, in so doing, help reverse entrenched political inequality.

Such an agenda is vital. If we simply accept the current institutional arrangements of our political system as the limits of our ambition, we must also content ourselves to live in a divided – and therefore inherently partial – democracy. Yet our democracy is not immutable but malleable, and capable of being reformed for the better; reform today can make democratic life more equal. After all, the story of British democracy’s evolution is one of yesterday’s impossible becoming today’s ordinary.

Mathew Lawrence is a research fellow at IPPR and the co-author of "The Democracy Commission: Reforming democracy to combat political inequality". He tweets at @dantonshead.