When Will We Learn To Stop Speculating About Women’s Potential Pregnancies?

Last month, 'Meghan Markle Pregnant' was trending as people speculated about the possibility of another royal baby. But the truth was sadder, and it was none of our business, writes Nell Frizzell.

Meghan Markle Miscarriage

by Nell Frizzell |

Here’s a slogan that won’t fit on many badges: Speculating over what is happening inside a person’s body is another way of taking ownership of that body.

And yet, it’s true. To gossip about somebody’s fertility, body shape, change in habits or physical appearance may be habitual, but it is also a subtle act of conquest. It turns the personal public, without the person in question ever giving their consent. Which is why the endless conjecture about whether a person is, or may be, or wants to be pregnant is such an unpleasant, if ubiquitous, pastime. Whether that person is a prominent public figure, a celebrity, a trans parent, older, younger, someone on the periphery of your social circle or any other combination of factors likely to get chins wagging, the precedent remains: you do not have consent to discuss the contents of another person’s uterus unless they have given you that consent. Do I understand why we do it? Of course. Am I guilty of the charge? Certainly. Have I learned to curb my tongue? Hopefully.

The news this week - and the fact that it is news rather proves the point - that Meghan Markle had a miscarriage in July is something that will bring a pang of recognition, reignited grief, sadness and possible trauma for thousands of people all over the world. Personally, I cannot speak from direct experience about what it is to knowingly lose a pregnancy, the products of conception or a baby. I may have done so - according to the NHS, among people who know they’re pregnant, it is estimated that about one in eight pregnancies will end in miscarriage, while many more miscarriages will happen before a person is even aware that they have become pregnant. However, as someone who has been pregnant and has interviewed many women about their experiences of pregnancy and miscarriage, I can say that having your body speculated about by strangers in that way is very likely to induce discomfort and even anxiety.

A strange, wolfish privacy overtook me almost like a fever, the moment I discovered I was pregnant. I refused to wear a Baby on Board badge, despite vomiting every single time I took a number 253 bus (I always managed to get off first - but thank you for your concern) because the fear of someone I vaguely knew spotting me and knowing something so intimate, something that I might not yet have even told my mother or sister, was unfathomable to me. I was already so on edge about losing the pregnancy that I couldn’t bear the added weight of other people’s interest and expectation. So I said nothing, carried on as normal, sighed and vomited and hoped my way through the first twelve weeks until I could see that strange, grey, animated skeleton leaping about on the screen at my first scan. Because I knew how easily my pregnancy could be lost - through no fault of action or decision of my own. I knew how often those scans revealed no heartbeat, how much blood was shed, how ‘common’ it was for a pregnancy not to proceed to full term. It was never about shame. It should go without saying but let’s just say it in case: there is nothing shameful about losing a pregnancy. I wasn’t keeping quiet out of fear of failure; rather because I could not bear to carry anybody else’s additional hope.

There has been an almost constant blow dry of public conversation about Princess Diana since the new season of The Crown aired on Netflix this month. The clothes, the marriage, the interviews, the rumours. I would happily sacrifice every mention of a black sheep jumper or sleeveless gown, if it meant that we had learned something from our past obsession with that royal woman’s body, appearance, virginity, fertility and sexuality. And yet, if the #MeghanMarklePregnant hashtags of last summer were anything to go by, we sadly have not.

Of course, there is something to be gained from thinking about why we like to publicly speculate about somebody’s private fertility. Why are we so drawn to discuss the possibility of somebody else’s pregnancy? Why do we hypothesise about other people’s bodies? Because, of course, it is human nature to explore the self through its reflection in others. We talk about other people’s weight and body language and sex life because we are desperate to understand our own. We are constantly comparing ourselves, equating ourselves, contrasting ourselves to others, because so much of who we are remains a mystery. And for thousands of people, fertility is the greatest mystery of all. So few of us know when and whether we will be able to get pregnant; we cannot peer inside and count our eggs, we cannot dictate when healthy sperm will enter our lives; we cannot trace our fallopian tubes or question our cervix. So, instead, we chew over other people’s fertility in the hope it will give us some answer or conclusion or insight into our own. Often we discuss famous people, or rich people, or people who look differently or live differently to us because their feelings seem remote enough for it not to matter. It’s projection and distraction and has been happening for thousands of years. But that doesn’t make it kind, or fair or welcome.

We all have a right to privacy. Right down to our organs.

The Panic Years by Nell Frizzell is published by Bantam Press on 11 Feb 2021 and available to pre-order now.

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