So Kate Middleton is having a baby. Oh, you already knew? Unsurprising, since barely a day has passed since the announcement where the media hasn’t reported on it. Two weeks before The Duchess’ due date (apparently, we don’t actually know when her due date is), press are already camped outside the hospital where she is due to give birth. Caitlin Moran summed this up perfectly on Twitter, “she’s not going to shoot it out of the window fyi”.
As much as, I have to admit, I am looking forward to the birth (mainly to see what they name it. I have a name fetish. And I’ll probably track the inevitable explosion in popularity of said name with other new parents), I do feel sorry for that poor baby. He or she isn’t even born yet, and they’re already a household name… or kind of, they don’t have an actual name as yet. They’re a household ‘baby’. Hours after the announcement of the Duchess’ pregnancy, when ‘baby’ was barely bigger than a grape, a Twitter account had been set up with ‘live updates from the womb’. Gems include, “it’s Friday, I’m in Mum”. Hmm.
The furore which will surround the actual birth doesn’t even bear thinking about. The first heir to the throne born in 31 years is, indeed, exciting, but my word, that poor poor child. Imagine the pressure of your mere birth being the highlight of a large proportion of the world’s year. Imagine the news of your mum going into labour being reported on news channels across the whole planet. Imagine how much excitement there will be about that baby’s first picture.
This phenomenon (or, madness, depending on which way you look at it) links to a theory by Sturken and Cartwright, ‘fetal personhood’ (2001). They claim that ultrasounds, and the ability to view foetuses in the womb, leads people to regard the baby as ‘live’ before they have actually been born. They describe this image as evidence of the baby’s “personhood” (2001:p294), which traditionally wouldn’t have existed until after the birth. It is baby’s first portrait, the first evidence of it’s existence. Parents will often show family, friends, co-workers. They might put it up on the fridge, or frame it. It is evidence of their creation, of the life growing inside the woman. By extension, prospective parents will then often project personality fantasies onto the foetus. They imagine who it will look like, what characteristics it will possess. Will it be shy or confident? Agile or clumsy? Talkative or quiet? In essence, they are making up a personality for something which does not, if we’re being technical about it, exist yet. This is problematic for issues such as abortion. People often assign characteristics to the foetus that do not actually match the development stage. This then leads to the preferential treatment of the foetus over the mother, and their health and wellbeing can be treated as more important. Pro-life organisations are evidence of this, as are those that support them. The wellbeing of the mother is deemed irrelevant and unimportant, whilst the foetus is cared for.
The Duchess’ pregnancy is the ultimate example of this. Millions of people are betting on the name, weight, and exact time of birth of the baby. They don’t just imagine the personality of the foetus, they imagine whether it will be a good leader for Britain. They debate whether it will take after it’s late Grandmother, Princess Diana, or it’s Grandfather, Prince Charles. They imagine where it will go to school, to university, whether it will have siblings. They’ve essentially designed the baby’s whole life before it’s even begun to breath independently.
Although the same thing happened when Prince William himself was born, with the new technology available, somehow this time I suspect it will be worse. Just look at the Twitter accounts. And with the recent royal wedding, the Queen’s jubilee, and the general obsession with Kate Middleton and everything she does and says, royal mania is at an all-time high. There hasn’t been so much love for the royals for years. And this little baby is being thrown right into the middle of it, and will be the main focus of attention. I just hope it learns some tricks for avoiding the paparazzi early on… stay away from the window, Kate!
Sturken, Marita, and Cartwright, Lisa, Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture, 2001. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.