Has anyone else noticed that when cis, fertile men get sentimental about pregnancy, it’s most likely to be when they’re suggesting pregnant women shouldn’t be allowed to have abortions? This is the moment when the most rational amongst them can turn to mush; witness Mehdi Hasan in his now-infamous New Statesman piece on being an anti-abortion lefty:
I sat and watched in quiet awe as my two daughters stretched and slept in their mother’s womb during the 20-week ultrasound scans. I don’t need God or a holy book to tell me what is or isn’t a “person”.
Aw, isn’t that sweet? (Providing you squint a bit and ignore the part that reduces a living human being to a mere “mother’s womb”.) It’s always nice to find men who are in touch with the cute side of pregnancy, even if it’s only in order to tell the unhappily pregnant that they just don’t “get” it.
When we’re discussing a normal pregnancy – that is, one in which a woman is appropriately receptive to her “with child” state – it’s a different matter. Sure, men write about it, but it tends to be in sarky, distancing (dare I say paranoid?) tones. There’s a real fear of engaging too closely with the subject; you might have been able to impregnate your bird (“he shoots, he scores!” as a million fatherhood manuals quip), but actually showing an interest in the implications of this would undermine the manliness and virility which you’ve only just demonstrated. In a wonderful (and unusual) article on becoming a new father, Sarfraz Manzoor notes that the books he found on the subject “tended to be written by men who deludedly believed they were funny. The blokiness was deeply dull”. God forbid that men should be expected to take pregnancy and birth seriously. It’s way too girly for that.
In his response to the royal baby news, the Guardian’s Simon Jenkins makes it quite clear that he is only interested in the long-term aspects. Indeed, he opens his piece by listing all the other things about which he is seriously not arsed:
I have no opinion on hyperemesis gravidarum. Maternity couture is not my forte. I am weak on Salic law. As for the logistics of twins as heirs to the throne, I leave that to the department of angels on pinheads. Royal babies are ooh-aah journalism. They soften the brain.
Well, thanks for that, Simon. Always good to know where you stand (although as far as I’m aware, hyperemesis gravidarum isn’t a subject upon which one has opinions, unless there really are people who believe that nine months of non-stop nausea and vomiting is anything but horrendous. And as for the twin thing – wouldn’t it just be whoever pops our first?). Far be it from me to state what Mr Jenkins should or shouldn’t write about. Even so, I will say this: this “softens the brain” argument – I’m wondering just how far it goes.
Newspapers and magazines produce lots and lots of rubbish about lots and lots of different subjects. I am sure they will do so about the royal pregnancy (indeed, Zoe Williams pre-empts this in a list of things which shouldn’t be [but already have been] written in relation to it). Even so, in Jenkins’s own list of supposed irrelevancies I can’t help but detect an antipathy towards discussing pregnancy itself, as though it’s not real or important enough. Politics – or reordering the same old cards – is what matters, while producing life is mere background babble.
Maternity couture may not be Simon Jenkins’s “forte” – it’s not mine, either – but the alternative to discussing that doesn’t have to be pompously bigging up the precarious state of the British monarchy as the real issue of the day. The Duchess might feel ill but, Jenkins tells us, “it is not morning sickness that this family has most to fear, it is the demons that follow” (although hyperemesis isn’t just “morning sickness” – or is that an opinion Jenkins is having after all?). I can’t help fearing that this fake either/or division on what really matters will deepen throughout endless months of discussion on the pregnancy. There will be “women’s issues” which, even if they relate to serious health risks, will be dismissively viewed as “baby talk”, and then there will be “proper issues”, such as what Simon Jenkins currently thinks about the status of the monarchy or perhaps which model of pram Prince William is choosing (because men choose prams. It’s dead technical or something, although as a woman, I wouldn’t know [I only ever use my pram to piss off the yummy mummy haters by my very presence]).
I’d like think it is possible to write about women’s experience of pregnancy – perhaps even the ways in which this relates to our expectations of the monarchy – without having every word dismissed as bland, fluffy, porridge-brained wittering. Pregnancy might be an everyday occurrence yet it’s still life-changing and extreme, every single time. If I found out I were to die tomorrow, I’d like to think the responses of those around me would extend to more than a world-weary “what, so you think you’re the first person to die? People have been dying for, like, millennia”. Yet I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen pregnancy reduced to a non-issue, simply because it’s common.
Over the coming months, should all go well with the royal pregnancy, I suspect we will all be expected to divide into two groups: women who talk in squeaky voices about cute little bundles and men who look as bored by all this as they possibly can. And yes, I know some men really enjoy being grumpy and I don’t wish to spoil it all for them. Furthermore, I have no desire to yell in people’s faces “it’s the miracle of life! Be amazed! Why aren’t you more amazed?” There will be plenty of annoying spreads in Hello! and irritating cooing/handwringing at the Daily Express. I understand all that. Even so, right at the start, I’d like to make this clear: whatever you think of baby talk and baby bores, there’s nothing more unoriginal than ostentatious yawning.