Has there ever been an abdomen as closely scrutinised as Kate Middleton’s? A pregnancy celebrated with greater international fervour?*
It is not, I would suggest, because Kate and William are better liked than other famous people. Nor is it because we are more invested in their “story”. Even in this past decade of obsession with celebrity babies, a more typical reaction to a famous person’s pregnancy - say, if Michelle Williams and Jason Segal announced they were expecting - might be, “Oh nice, good for them.” And then you would eat a sandwich and get on with your day.
(I know Williams and Segal aren’t one third as famous as Kate and William, but they were the first celebrity couple I like who came to mind. Nevertheless, the only contemporary example who would elicit equivalent excitement is Jennifer Aniston, and she has a very particular tabloid media narrative going on. For her, it is about the “story.”)
No, the reason we get so collective obsessed over royal pregnancies is because, on some level, we know that the whole point of royals - and women who marry royals especially - is to produce more royals. And I don’t even mean that in a particularly radical way. Each time an heir to throne gets hitched, the clock starts ticking to see when he/she will get on to producing the next heir.
It’s what made Middleton’s pregnancy a news story, rather than a snippet of inconsequential gossip in the manner that, say, a Kardashian pregnancy might be. An heir is on its way! The Windsor genes will survive another generation!
I don’t tend to think of much other than evolution in evolutionary terms, but thinking about Kate’s Royal Bump Watch got me thinking about the lower level non-Royal women experience, and how it might be rooted in the same impulse.
I doubt my extended family is unique in their tendency to “like” every social media status update that involves either a picture of a child or reports something that a child recently did. Things adults do? Not so much. And in my family’s case, at least, I don’t think it’s just because we like children, because we’re happy our family members get to have new people in their lives, or because we want to support kids in their growth and achievement. As a friend of mine put it, when I tried to tease the issue out with him over lunch a couple of years ago, “It’s a basic biological impulse.They want to see their genes succeed into the next generation.”
None of this is particularly revolutionary. In fact, it’s a bit dull and obvious, isn’t it? But that doesn’t mean that on the level of lived experience it isn’t also annoying.
When I was in Year Five, my teacher asked the class to write essays on the meaning of life, and I cheekily declared that the only meaning of life was life itself: in other words, reproduction. And on an evolutionary level, that might be true. But when it comes to what we want out of life, for ourselves, our friends and our families, I find that circle of reproduction – raise smart/nice/sporty/whatever you value children so that they can grow up to have more smart/nice/sport/whatever you value children, and so on and so forth – very limiting. And frankly, kind of depressing.
I’m getting to a point in my life where I think I might want children: not now – I have a book to finish and a book tour I’ve been planning for years – but some time in the next five years, or shortly thereafter. And if I do have children, I’m sure I will be plenty excited whenever they ace a test, run really fast, or you know, roll over. But I’d like to think that part of that excitement in watching them learn and grow will be in watching the adults they grow into, and the interesting and worthwhile things they continue to do then. And similarly, I plan to continue doing interesting things myself.
Because these days, I think the meaning of life is about more than reproduction, and about more than a princess’s pregnancy. It’s about learning and growing and taking your path; a path that may involve having babies, but will hopefully entail plenty of other things, too.
* Well, Diana’s probably, on that second point, but that doesn’t disprove the point I go on to make.
Elsewhere: The Motherhood Mystique (Daily Life)