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.