Kate is pregnant. And even for previously undiscovered tribes in the remotest parts of the Amazon rainforest that is probably not news.
The raw power of social media was displayed in all its glory. The news overtook every other possible story and flooded Twitter within seconds. Polls popped up on news sites to predict the baby’s name, a fake Twitter handle registered, and then the republicans followed sensing an opportunity to try and slap down the hysteria erupting because one lady is pregnant – King Canute had more success. Even the meteoric surge of followers for the Pope’s Twitter account was eclipsed in an environment that does not even wait for pages to be printed to discard them as yesterday’s news.
I’m not a father, so I can’t quite grasp the excitement others can probably empathise with a little more closely. I also do not know the fear prompted by the precariousness of life, underlined in this case by the Duchess of Cambridge’s admission to hospital prompting the swift announcement. I do however have two amazing nieces, and I was a lot more excited about their births than the announcement this afternoon.
The prime minister tweeted his congratulations, Ed Miliband followed, and so did the Archbishop of Canterbury. Maybe this would have been a good time for @pontifex to rush out a quick first message. Everyone seemed to want to get in on the act. The news channels cut their scheduled broadcasts, filled around the 109-word official statement and rushed obstetricians to the studio to give their considered opinion on the duchess’s medical state.
There was something about this that made it more than just one woman’s pregnancy. It was almost as though the whole country was pregnant, that we all in some ridiculously media-fuelled way joined with her in celebrating this forthcoming birth. It happens in moments of collective consciousness, when we share emotions that in all rational consideration we should not hold. We experience joy for someone we do not know, it becomes a corporate emotion.
Last weekend saw the beginning of Advent, the inauguration of a period of hope and expectation. And yes, I am segueing from yesterday’s royal pregnancy announcement to a royal birth 2,000 years before. Don’t judge me. That announcement wasn’t heralded by their equivalent of the Twitterati, there was no flood of retweets and it wasn’t the culmination of endless speculation over whether her coat was covering something, why she was sticking to water, or avoiding certain foods.
Mary was not special.
She was one of us. She was a poor, vulnerable and uneducated girl from the fag-end of a country itself on the outpost of the Roman Empire. Joan Osborne sang “what if God was one of us”, and she was pretty close to the truth. God chose Mary because she was willing and available, and despite the fear and trepidation as to the absurdity of the situation she looked to God and sang the Magnificat: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” It goes on: “He filled the hungry with good things, He sent the rich away empty.”
One final hurried thought at a time of global obsession with one woman’s womb. Today 800 women will die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. And 99 per cent of those will be in developing countries. What if that swamped Twitter for just one afternoon of the 365 days a year it occurs?