The XX Factor

Royal-Baby Mania and a Suicide in Britain

Betting on the baby name is only one manifestation of Britain’s baby-mania.

Photo by LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images

I’m a confessed enthusiast of all things Royal Family and frivolous, but even as a gal who’s enjoys a good old-fashioned spectacle, I was horrified to read today of the suicide of a hospital receptionist who was tricked into putting through a prank call to the Duchess of Cambridge’s nurses when she was hospitalized for morning sickness. It’s almost impossible to trace suicide to a single event. But the incident, and the pressure on Jacintha Saldanha after she sucuumbed to a common hoax, still reveals how contradictory the public impulses around Kate Middleton’s pregnancy is. People are desperate for any information they can get about the condition that causes her morning sickness, the possibility of royal twins, and her due date, and yet they expect her to be treated with deference and dignity. When it comes to this celebrity pregnancy, our baby mania runs the risk of getting a little too literal.

In the United States, celebrities have largely managed to regulate the market for information about their pregnancies by giving some of it out themselves, and by striking deals with tabloids for exclusive photo shoots of their newborns. Magazines that step over what’s perceived to be the line in covering a celebrity pregnancy before the woman in question gives birth may be giving up their shot at bidding for those exclusives, which are potentially worth more than any invasive semi-scoops that precede them. But however much we consider the latest Jolie-Pitt spawn Hollywood royalty, there’s a fundamental difference between the attention paid to those kinds of families and to the British royal family. And because of that family’s sense of propriety and their role in society, it’s harder for Kate Middleton to offer up some of the intimate details of her life that would dissuade paparazzi from trying to capture topless shots of her on vacation, or now, baby bump pictures.

Maybe she isn’t alone. This season on ABC’s political drama Scandal, one of the major storylines has been the pregnancy of first lady Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young). The American public gets whipped into a frenzy over “America’s Baby”—Mellie even uses the announcement of the sex of their child to push the administration to intervene in a conflict in Sudan. And in the last episode, when President Grant (Tony Goldwyn) and members of his administration are shot, rumors spread that America’s Baby is in danger. As news anchors try to lock down the all-important celebrity fetus gossip, the scheming and arch-conservative Vice President Sally Langston (Kate Burton) starts recruiting members of the Cabinet to transfer power to her. In this alternate universe, our baby mania doesn’t just warp our sense of proportion or privacy laws, it subverts our democracy.

Kate’s pregnancy isn’t likely to do that: The only tradition it really challenges is male-preference primogeniture, because if she has a girl, that child could be Queen of England even if brothers follow her into the world. But this is a good moment to remember Jacintha Saldanha, and, as fun as it is to go a little crazy over the prospect of adorable children, our own sense of proportion.