Wednesday 25 April 2018

Kate Middleton's womb is public property – and that's wrong

Gone are the days when, as with Anne Boleyn, a woman’s failure to produce the right sort of heir could become her death warrant. Still, as long as power is transmitted down the bloodline, a royal woman’s womb is public property, says Glosswitch in Independent. Read on: 

Early this morning, the Duchess of Cambridge was admitted to hospital in the early stages of labour (she has of course now given birth to a boy). Along with my fellow commoners I can only guess what “early stages” means.

Had the waters broken? How many inches dilated? How far down the birth canal are we at this point in time? And why, given how intimate, unpredictable and frightening any labour can be, do I think I have the right to know?

Of course, I know the answer to this already. We’re all invested in this baby, whether we like it or not. From the most devoted royal watcher to the most ardent republican, each of us has a take on what this baby means.

For some it’s a cause for celebration. For others, a third child to the second in line to the throne, at a time when child tax credits have been withdrawn for third children of low-income families, can only symbolise the gross inequality pervading Britain in 2018.

As for me, I feel sorry for Kate. For all her privilege, I cannot imagine what it must be like to have the entire country focused on your performance in childbirth (and I write this as someone who’s given birth in a car park, next to a Portakabin. I know all about going public with this sort of thing, but there have to be limits).

We are told that “as with her older children, the duchess is hoping for a natural birth”. I am not sure why we need to know this, other than for reassurance that even the poshest of women should not consider themselves “too posh to push”. Given what we know about both vaginal and caesarean births – that neither are all aromatherapy and whale music, that there is pain, fear and indignity – it seems cruel to place this pressure on another human being. What’s more, does “natural” include having an epidural? What about gas and air? How much agony will this woman have to endure? The public must know!

In addition to the pain, there is also the risk. When I rang the hospital in labour with my third child, I was told (unhelpfully, in my view) that “third ones are notoriously difficult”. Looking back, I suppose it may have been to stop me getting ideas above my station and deciding I was now an expert at this labour business. Giving birth safely once or twice provides no guarantee that a third time will go to plan.

While wealthy white women and their children are least likely to be put at risk, we shouldn’t be casual about what labour means. It’s an extreme, traumatic event and while for most of us it leads to a happy ending, we should not be creating scenarios in which a tragic ending could be read as a failure. Headlines such as “Royal baby to celebrate birthday on Saint George’s Day” and “This is how long the Duchess of Cambridge will likely be in labour for – and it’s shorter than you think”, which appeared before the baby has even arrived, were presumptuous. What if the nation’s best-loved vessel failed to deliver the goods? What if in doing so she suffered harm?

You may be thinking “so what if she does? She has luxury medical care the rest of us are denied.” I’d argue that we cannot separate the Duchess of Cambridge’s privilege from the misogyny lurking behind royal labour watch. Under our system of hereditary monarchy, her children are considered more important and valuable than yours or mine. They’re also more important and valuable than she is. Kate Middleton does not have royal blood. In this case it’s her husband’s contribution that matters.

Gone are the days when, as with Anne Boleyn, a woman’s failure to produce the right sort of heir could become her death warrant (or, as with Anne’s successor, the delivery of such an heir stood a high chance of killing her anyway). Still, as long as power is transmitted down the bloodline, a royal woman’s womb is public property. What this shows is not just the sheer irrationality and mystic thinking behind our idea of royalty, but the way in which, as a principle, it can override the humanity of a royal family’s own members. Female bodies have been used up and spat out in pursuit of eternal rule.

Like any birth, I’m glad this one went well – or so we’ve been told. How soon will they tell us? Do we need to wait for the placenta to be out as well?). I also hope that someday we can progress to a more respectful, even awestruck understanding of what giving birth means for each and every woman. Whatever the outcome, however well known the woman, it’s a highly personal experience, and one that should never be taken for granted.

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