I’ve known for three hours and I’m bored with it already. The Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant again. Cue months of speculation on the sex of the baby, the size of Kate’s bump, the birth plan, the relationship between hyperemesis and morning sickness, whether or not Diana co-ordinated the whole thing from up on high, plus endless whingeing about the coverage itself (look, I’ve started already!). As each of us knows, it’s not simply an embryo that’s implanted in a woman’s uterus; it’s a public event. Someone far more important than you or I exists in embryonic form; rejoice!
You can see it all unfolding, a slightly less showy replay of events leading up to Prince George’s birth in July last year (since we’re dealing with the spare and not the heir). There will be intrusive reporting on what is presumed to be taking place within a body that contains something far beyond its own worth (fourth in line, even if it’s a girl!). We know that the whole process of hereditary monarchy necessarily reduces women like Kate, temporarily at least, to the status of brood mares. We don’t mind because hey, look at all the wealth and privilege she gets in return. When I got pregnant again after a similar gap, I despaired at how I’d ever afford to go back to work; no such worries for the Duchess. As for workplace discrimination, well, isn’t getting pregnant – along with smiling and accepting bouquets of flowers – basically her job? Looked at that way, theoretical dehumanisation seems a small price to pay for material luxuries of which most humans can only dream.
Yet alongside the speculation on the pregnancy itself, there’s also rumour and conjecture on an alleged miscarriage that preceded it. Such an event lacks the power to stop the current narrative in its tracks, but in many ways I wish that it could. It’s a reminder of how ineffectual and painful the process of human reproduction can be, even for those whose offspring will be rated far more highly than yours or mine. It shows us that our narrative of pregnancy from the outside – watch the bump! – is sanitised and incomplete. It doesn’t allow for false starts, failures, risks and disappointment, yet any pregnancy, wanted or not, can feature all of these things. Of course, part of me wants to think “her miscarriage – if she had one – can’t have hurt the way mine did”; women like her don’t suffer in that way. I don’t want to feel any degree of connection with someone whose role involves endorsing the concept that some people are innately superior to others. Yet a body is a body, flesh is flesh. If I’m honest, I think any pain, given the pressure she must be under, would have been horrendous.
We’re about to embark on several months of judging a woman by the contents of her body but also – quite deliberately – not really thinking about that body at all. If women are dehumanised by anodyne pregnancy narratives which fail to account for doubt and disruption, a royal pregnancy is doubly dehumanising. Royals aren’t meant to be people, anyway. They’re better than that, or so we’re meant to think (against all evidence to the contrary). Whatever else they do (have affairs, go to parties dressed in Nazi uniform, make racist jokes), having babies still fits neatly into the storybook template of “what princes and princesses ought to do”. So another fairy tale pregnancy will be thrown in our faces, at everyone’s expense. We all know the perfection is a lie but few of us can bear to admit it.
The screwed-up system that is hereditary monarchy may treat Duchess of Cambridge as a baby machine, but we don’t have to. She’s a person who feels and bleeds just like the rest of us and I don’t envy her the pre-ordained path she has to tread throughout her very public pregnancy. And yet, if we could learn to see her as more than the royal bump-bearer, this might, in some small way, contribute to a more Republican way of thinking. It is not healthy for an entire country to have such an investment in the contents of a woman’s womb. Whatever stories we need to sustain us, we cannot depend on something so complex, fragile and personal as cells splitting beneath another person’s skin.