This morning, Diablo Cody tweeted this about Kate Middleton: “Thank God a woman is acting 'bubbly' and happy again!” Her sarcasm was directed at a People magazine headline about the princess, who is (thank god!) back to her effervescent self after suffering from Hyperemesis, a severe form of morning sickness. There’s a splashy new cover story to go with it -- Kate and her dimples. Her big cheeky smile. I’m more than fine, the cover suggests. I’m the happiest pregnant woman ever!
That narrative is the ideal of motherhood. It’s the ideal of femininity. A pregnant woman should always smile. Anything other than the “glow” deviates from our cultural expectation: that pregnancy and motherhood are filled with eternal joy.
I am aware that Kate “signed up for this,” that she’s, I’m sure, delighted to be the face of young royalty -- but she has an active toddler, George, who seems like a terror in tiny overalls. And she’s been vomiting in a royal toilet for three months.
The real headline should be: “Kate Middleton -- still exhausted.”
Except the headlines are relentless in getting that “perfect pregnancy!” narrative back on track. It’s either “Kate Middleton Has That Pregnancy Glow!” or Kate Middleton Wiped the Floor With Everyone Else’s Pregnancy Gown” or “Kate Shines in Baby Blue!” The motherhood ideal is very similar to the feminine ideal: Pregnancy should look easy. You should fit into those pregnancy jeans, work that MILF vibe and glow until you explode into a human fireball.
Here’s the reality: We treat pregnant women the way we treat women over 40. (The public stoning of Renee Zellweger yesterday confirms my conflicted feelings in the piece on aging and botox I wrote this week: don’t wear your wrinkles like a warrior, don’t correct them either.) We treat pregnant women the way we treat post-pregnancy women. You should have a bikini body a few months after giving birth, otherwise risk being shamed like Jessica Simpson, who had 109 headlines written about her post-baby weight gain in 2012.
Like Kate Middleton, I had hyperemesis as well, and when I wasn’t legitimately contemplating an abortion, I was attached to a machine pumping anti-nausea meds into my veins. Yes, it’s possible to have a “perfect” pregnancy, I suppose. There are plenty of women who love being pregnant, which, awesome! But pregnancy is also often draining and defeating. As my friend said, it can make you feel “like a beached whale with no control over your body.”
All these “She’s so bubbly!” pregnancy headlines are why it was so refreshing when Middleton showed off her post-baby belly when she left the hospital after her first pregnancy. She wanted us to see: This is what it really looks like.