Why the World Is So Helplessly Compelled by Meghan Markle’s Pregnancy Announcement

Meghan Markle steps out of an SUV in a navy blue coat.
THE COAT. WAS. UNBUTTONED. Gareth Fuller - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are expecting their first child, Kensington Palace announced in a tweet early Monday morning, ending a weekend of fevered speculation over the contents of Markle’s uterus after she showed up at Princess Eugenie’s wedding in an uncharacteristically loose-fitting coat.

The announcement does raise one key question: why are there so many scrunchies in that picture?? Nonetheless, this is happy news for the couple, who had announced their hopes for children in their first interview after their engagement. It had been a long three days of tabloid chatter since Eugenie’s wedding on Friday. Spectators on Twitter called the coat “suspicious,” wondering why the Duchess of Sussex would leave it on when she went indoors if not to conceal a bulging belly. The alarm bells rung by the Givenchy jacket sounded so loud in circles concerned with the tributaries of the royal family bloodline that the headline on Google News’ aggregation of the rumors simply read “Meghan Markle wears coat to Princess Eugenie wedding,” as if a coat at a royal marriage ceremony were as unambiguous a sign of pregnancy as a “Baby on Board” window cling on the royal horse and buggy.

The gossip heated up even more when Markle disembarked from a plane in Sydney over the weekend while carrying two purple binders that obscured her midsection.
“Members of the royal family are not typically seen carrying stationery on official engagements or tours,” read a breathless report from an Australian news outlet. Talk on Twitter turned to the straighter hair, darker fabrics, and more relaxed cuts of blouses and skirts Markle had favored in recent weeks—all possible signs of a royal fetus.

Monday’s confirmation of Markle’s pregnancy offered a payoff that was remarkably quick for the world of celebrity gossip, in which the same pregnancy rumors can bloom and wilt several times over without ever being rooted in truth. (See Jennifer Aniston for the ultimate example of a famous woman whose every inch of flesh is analyzed for signs of impending motherhood whenever she puts on a bikini.) Speculation over royal pregnancies makes for a particularly satisfying game for interested observers, since procreation is all but a mandatory pastime for bearers of a royal name. Rumors that Queen Elizabeth made Markle undergo fertility tests before consenting to her marriage to Prince Harry sounded sensational, but weren’t altogether unbelievable in a family whose lavish taxpayer-supported existence depends on the consistent babymaking of its members of reproductive age. In the Middleton-Markle subgenre of celebrity pregnancy gossip, the question isn’t so much “Will they or won’t they?” but “When will they?”

Every famous woman finds her body photographed, disseminated, inspected, and analyzed in the public sphere. But needless to say, female royals are treated as public property to a particularly pointed degree—in Markle’s case, the width of her face and her decision to travel to Fiji and Tonga, where there have been outbreaks of the fetus-endangering Zika virus, have been dissected for clues as to her stage of pregnancy and fitness for motherhood. British subjects feel a sense of ownership over members of the royal family, far more than Americans do over, say, Jennifer Aniston. When a beloved American movie star fails to give birth or turns out to be a bad parent, fans are merely disappointed. If the wife of a prince did so, it would be a betrayal of the public trust.

That’s why the prospect of pregnancy and the ticking of 37-year-old Markle’s biological clock have become subjects of such unabashed public fervor since her May 2018 wedding to Prince Harry. Though it has no lawmaking power in the British government, the royal family is funded by the public and wields significant social and cultural power around the world. Waiting for Markle’s inevitable pregnancy was not unlike awaiting the results of a history-making election or the casting of a generations-long TV series; her reproductive capacity was of as much public interest as a presidential candidate’s medical records. At the same time, the absolute certainty with which we have been conditioned to expect a recently married royal couple to reproduce gives the whole affair a satisfying predictability, like watching a rom-com with a plot resolution we could see coming from a mile away.

That doesn’t make it any less bizarre to witness the detailed analysis tabloid media has devoted to the topic of Markle’s uterus. After Kensington released the good news, the Sun ran an entire piece guessing at possible dates when Markle and Prince Harry could have had sex to land themselves a Spring 2019 baby. The paper narrowed it down to either their mini-moon in Ireland or their night at Harry’s friend’s wedding, which coincided with Markle’s birthday. When your kid’s conception is a royal milestone and your stabs at babymaking are events of international import, no one wants to imagine it could have been unceremonious weeknight sex at home.