It’s April again, which means it’s been nearly a year since that very special day when I woke up at 4am, brewed myself a pot of Raspberry Royale tea, and tuned in to BBC America to watch Miss Middleton morph into the Duchess of Cambridge.
Since that day, tabloids have alternately proclaimed that Kate is pregnant, or is too thin to become pregnant, or is infertile, or, really seriously this time, is pregnant. With her first anniversary just over three weeks away and no pregnancy announced, the Duchess is breaking with over a hundred years of royal tradition. Her mother-in-law announced her pregnancy a mere four months after her marriage; the heir to the heir to the throne was born within a year of the wedding. Prince Charles was born six days before his parents’ first anniversary; Edward VIII made that deadline with three weeks to spare. (Yes, Queen Elizabeth was born a full three years after her parents’ wedding, but her father was not heir to the throne at that point and, consequently, much of the pressure was off.) Queen Victoria was so prompt in her childbearing that her first daughter was born almost exactly nine months after her wedding, both marriage and birth occurring within the same calendar year. (Victoria would go on to have eight more children within seventeen years.)
And yet, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have not yet made that expected announcement of expecting.
In the past when the royal family failed to reproduce it was a matter of national upset. We all know what happened when Catherine of Aragon couldn’t provide Henry VIII with a son, but hers is just one case. Mary I is believed to have had two false pregnancies (or pseudocyesis) partially as a result of the emotional and mental strain of not becoming pregnant. Catherine of Braganza, the wife of Charles II, was ostracized after not supplying her husband with an heir (despite the fact that he had over a dozen children with his various mistresses). Mary II’s reign was marked by the profound sadness from her repeat miscarriages.
Yet, this historical baby bump watching was often with (somewhat) good reason – if the line of succession wasn’t clear, it could mean major problems when you have a monarchical government. This is no longer the case with William and Kate.
Today, the baby bump monitoring is without purpose other than the attempt to satisfy curiosity and the belief that women’s reproductive lives should be more public. When magazines muse on the state of the Duchess’s uterus, it’s with the same intrusive questioning that they pose to all celebrities: Is Reese Witherspoon expecting, E! wonders? Then, when it’s clear she is, she’s apparently “showing off her bump” by walking down the street. Reese, of course, isn’t the only celebrity subjected to this – it happens constantly. The is-she-isn’t-she preoccupation is both a way of criticizing women’s bodies and reducing them to their reproductive functions. Fox News spells it out when they ask, “So what do you think: are the stars sporting baby bumps, or did they just order extra guacamole with their burritos?”
We have no right to know the answers to these questions. They’re just none of our business. So often – and very rightly – we bemoan the fact that politicians are so concerned with the contents of women’s uteri. Yet, we let the media get away in an entirely different way.
And sometimes this isn’t mere speculation, but downright criticism. Even a blogger at Jezebel feels there are appropriate moments for intense scrutiny and ridicule when discussing other women’s reproductive lives. A recent post mocking hyperconservative families like the Duggars and Bateses (with 19 children each) described them as crazy and baby-frenzied and referred to Kelly Bates’s uterus as “sad” and “beaten and exhausted”, topping it off with this flippant remark: “The uterus declined comment, instead lighting up a cigarette and staring unseeingly out the window.” There are many things to discuss when we talk about Quiverfull families: their religion, their politics, the extent to which women raised in such families have real “choice” – but, come on. If we obsess over and sarcastically bemuse on the state of an individual woman’s uterus because we disagree with her reproductive choices, what platform to we stand on when politicians do the same?
This practice of scrutinizing, speculating, and judging women based on their pregnancy status isn’t new, and it’s just as reductionist as it was 400 years ago. Are women more than their reproductive capability, or aren’t they? If we want politicians to stop being preoccupied with the state of women’s reproductive systems, perhaps we should consider the other ways our culture – and sometimes our allies – share this preoccupation.
So, this is my preemptive call: as their anniversary rapidly approaches, let’s not all debate what is wrong with Kate, or William, or their marriage, simply because they haven’t announced a new addition to the line of succession. Let’s not wonder if her weight is to blame, or if he travels too much, or when they’ll begin infertility treatments. Because, while we can assume they’re trying to start a family, we don’t know. And our scrutiny and unsolicited advice aren’t relevant to their reproductive lives and choices.