So Kate Middleton is pregnant and we seem to consider ourselves collectively entitled to speculate on everything from baby names to colour of hair; while commenting on her medical condition and whether or not she’s just being a wuss.
As someone who has suffered quite a bit myself from being up the duff, I felt a huge amount of sympathy for her. Not only have I read how debilitating hyperemesis gravidarum can be, she is having to suffer the indignity of her private and medical life being dissected and discussed by all and sundry, at a time when she probably just wants to snuggle on the sofa with a hot water bottle and a box set, without having to see or speak to anyone. While we had to hide the indignity of constipation, hives, excema and acne from work colleagues and acquaintances, she had the extra pressure of trying to keep smiling to an ensemble of school children whilst wanting to vomit discretely behind the hockey goal.
But whilst my sympathy as a fellow pregnant lady is understandable, I’ve been amazed at the vitriol spouting on my Facebook about the whole thing. Yes, you might be bored with the speculation, yes she obviously has a fairly extreme case of morning sickness, but I’ve seen comments – often from other women – questioning whether “normal people” would need to go to hospital with a “bit of vomiting” or even that she should “harden the f**k up“.
And it made me question how sympathetic we are as a society to pregnant women in general. I’ve had medical professionals act like I was a right royal pain in the arse simply for trying to get help for pretty severe skin problems, being told that pregnancy was a bit shit and that I should just deal with it. It was as if pain and suffering was a woman’s lot and a burden to be carried around stoically without so much as a whimper. It took a male GP and a male osteopath to point out that in fact I didn’t have to put up with unnecessary pain and hardship, that I was right to complain, and that something could be done about it.
This same lack of sympathy can be seen on London’s public transport. I must admit I’ve always hated the “Baby on Board” badges, assuming pre-pregnancy (totally unfairly) a slight smugness, an unwarranted self of entitlement, on behalf of the wearer. I have finally got hold of one (here) but still haven’t got round to wearing it yet as I still feel self-conscious and uncomfortable doing so. In real life I don’t like talking about myself or my pregnancy much (yes, I am aware of the irony of blogging about it all instead) and prefer to carry on life as normal – albeit a lot spottier - so screaming out that I’m with child to complete strangers on my morning commute doesn’t really appeal.
But as I’m week 25 and the bump and me are about the size of a small van, I’m finding I really do need to sit down, not because I feel that as I’m pregnant I am somehow entitled to a better commute than everyone else, but because my legs and hips and pelvis and back hurt, because I’m so out of breath I’m claustrophobic when crammed into small spaces, and standing in a crowded train means getting pushed and jostled and bumped in the bump. A nasty prang with a fold-up bike smacked against my belly was enough to make me now try actively to get a seat, and for me that means doing the least I can do to draw attention to myself, while giving me the best chance of getting a seat. My trick is to undo my coat buttons and stand duck-like with bump protruding until someone notices. To be fair, they nearly always do.
I find it embarrassing and I hate the charade of pretending not to catch people’s eyes while hoping desperately that you – YOU – will notice and stand up for me. I do find it is mostly men who stand up, while women often look away, and I don’t know if this is because women feel like men should be the ones to offer their seats, or whether they were like me with the Baby on Board badgers, begrudging another woman her imagined smugness, her sense of entitlement; or thinking that she should just suffer in silence as women have done before her, as women should.
Who knows. All I know is that since all this happened, I’ve felt a bond with my fellow women, have felt more feminist, more feminine. So I feel a new warmth and empathy towards Kate, towards my mother, all mothers, all daughters. Maggie Howell in her wonderful birth book quotes a Tanzanian saying:
“Pay attention to the pregnant woman – there is no one more important than she”
And it is this that TFL should print on those badges; this that I hope my fellow passengers on the 08:49 to Waterloo consider before they unceremoniously boot me out the way.