This evening I read my children a lovely story called The Duchess of Cambridge’s Big Adventure. In it, a beautiful princess called Kate visits her friends Biff, Chip and Kipper, owners of a magic key which takes them on amazing trips to far-off lands and … Only kidding. The Duchess of Cambridge’s Big Adventure is actually the story of a woman in her thirties who looks nice while being pregnant. The end.
Disappointing though it is that Kate Middleton isn’t doing something genuinely adventurous, it’s not entirely surprising. Day after day we’re reminded that she’s “ripping up the royal baby rule book” by planning to stay with her parents once her baby is born. And that she’s whipping Kim Kardashian’s much commented-on arse in the pregnancy fashion stakes. All very exciting, at least for those of us who are excited by staying with parents and wearing clothes. For the rest of the world, it’s just a bit bewildering. You know something’s not quite right, but it’s hard to put your finger on it. Is it the crapness of royal protocol, the shamelessness of royalty itself, the fawning press, the sexism, the infantilisation of pregnant women … or all of these things at once? And is it even worth worrying about it now when it’s only going to get worse?
According to Ingrid Seward, who is paid to write on a subject about which even she admits “facts are sparse”, the Duchess of Cambridge has coped admirably with pregnancy, a condition which leads so many of us astray:
Kate has not sat around eating chocolates and watching television during her pregnancy. Her sweet tooth has got the better of her on occasions, however, and she has been craving sweets and even lavender biscuits sent to her by the Duchess of Cornwall.
Meanwhile, she has treated us to a rainbow selection of charming maternity outfits on official engagements, weddings and ceremonies. Always smiling, always interested in what other people have to tell her, she has never faltered.
[…] Kate might now be feeling the heat, but she has never had to swap her high heels for flats, and her hands and feet have not swollen. She looks the picture of health without any of the problems associated with late pregnancy, such as high blood pressure.
Me, I stuffed myself on Black Jacks and Fruit Salads throughout both my pregnancies. And I would have sat around watching television had I not had to go out to work, where I treated my colleagues to a charming selection of “eBay maternity bundle” outfits, always grumpy, always losing concentration when people wanted to discuss deadlines and permissions budgets. And on top of that my feet swelled up. I was a right loser when I was up the duff. Not that I’m any different now (I still wear flats and the last thing my mother-in-law sent me was vodka, not sodding lavender biscuits – this family does not hold with mixing up flowers and biscuit flavours).
Reporting on “the royal pregnancy” is not unlike reporting on any other royal stuff; it’s simpering waffle, largely conjecture and barely taken seriously by anyone. Even so, the royal baby articles make me uncomfortable in a different way. There’s an overlap with how we view pregnancy and pregnant women as a whole, as carriers of precious goods worth more than the women are themselves. Now and then we might express distaste at how the press seeks to “own” the royals, but the presumed public ownership of the Duchess of Cambridge’s bump also aligns itself with a broader presumed ownership of “the unborn”. Perhaps the only difference is that once Kate’s baby is born we will continue to rate it so highly, something that isn’t so true for those unborn who go on to become plain old commoners.
I find myself wishing that Kate would do something properly rebellious. Free-birthing in a car park, refusing to give her child a defined gender until s/he was ready to choose, even just calling her child Nigel. It’s not that it would make that much of a difference to the rest of us, but it would at least temper the “grade inflation” that accompanies rebellion when you’re royal. Instead, in “another break from tradition” we get Pippa Middleton organising a baby shower “where close friends will bring gifts for Baby Cambridge and toast mum with cupcakes and champagne”. It’s radical, I know, but is it wrong to want something more? Instead we’re left anticipating a massive onslaught of classist, casually gender essentialist bollocks, in which the fairytale narrative we impose on “normal” pregnancy blends together with the “real princess” nonsense of royal reporting.
Oh well. At least it’ll be an “adventure”.