Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Oh, puhleeeze!! Part 2/The baby they forgot to mention

I should have known.

She may not have started the Michelle Obama pregnancy rumours, but Bonnie Fuller -- the Toronto-born celebrity editor who brought the hideous term "baby bump" into prominence on the covers of magazines like US and Star -- is gleefully fanning the flames in the Huffington Post, in a recent article titled "Michelle Obama pregnant? Why the nation needs her bundle of joy."

"...talk about harkening back to an earlier era of inspiration," Fuller chirps. "The last time there was a baby birth, Jackie and John F. Kennedy were the parents. The photos and antics of Caroline and John John cavorting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, captivated the American public in the '60s."

And what, pray tell, would be even better than one Obama bundle of joy?

"Twins!" Fuller speculates giddily. "Can you imagine the level of public hysteria — in a good way — if the Obamas were also cooking up a pair! …the Obama baby would no doubt blow Brad and Angie's twins off the top-selling covers list… And best of all, we'd finally get a break from the dreary economic news. Instead, we can look forward to the new front page headlines: Michelle: Breast or Bottle?; The Childbirth: Epidural or Natural?; First Lady Balancing Act: Can Michelle Do It All?"

Needless to say, I think I'd rather have the "dreary economic news" headlines (and frankly, isn't that what people really NEED to be focusing on right now??). I get MORE than enough of those other kinds of headlines blaring from the gossip rags already as it is, thankyouverymuch -- and NO thanks to you, Ms. Fuller, for starting THAT whole avalanche in the first place!!

"An Obama baby could be our generation's Seabiscuit," Fuller goes on to say, pointing out that Seabiscuit was an inspiring and welcome distraction from the grim reality of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Seabiscuit?!?? OK, I get the parallel she was trying to create, in terms of the effect a White House baby might have on the national morale -- but to compare a BABY to a racehorse?!??

Frankly, I find the whole thing tremendously... insulting. Here we have this incredibly accomplished woman -- an Ivy League graduate, a working mother and successful executive who actually earned more money than her husband -- a trailblazing First Lady in so many respects (not even taking the colour of her skin into consideration) who has so, so much to offer as a role model for women and girls across the United States, here in Canada and around the world -- and THIS is the best we can do when we think and write about her??

Not to mention that she is 45 years old, already has two children, has not expressed an interest in having any more, has just moved halfway across the country to accommodate her husband's new job -- which is probably the most demanding job in the free world on a good day, with a pretty nasty set of problems to deal with at the moment -- and is publicly committed to adding a puppy to the household sometime in the near future… I'd say she has her hands pretty full already at the moment, wouldn't you?

I am glad to see so many of the comments I read calling Fuller to task -- although sadly, there were a fair number who also either echoed the calls for a baby, or speculated about a possible pregnancy. The comments that irked me the most were those along the lines of Perez Hilton's "Hopefully it's a boy!" -- e.g., "Sasha & Malia would love to play with a baby brother!" (First -- how do you know?? And second -- why a baby BROTHER?)

Plus -- maybe I'm old-fashioned -- I realize that times have changed in many ways -- but it makes me cringe to hear anyone talk so flippantly about women getting "knocked up" and putting "a bun in the oven" -- let alone when that woman is the President's wife. I'm not saying we have to genuflect in front of people in positions of authority (it always irritated me to hear my American relatives make breathless excuses for supporting George W. Bush, just because he was the President)(you don't tend to see that kind of automatic deference to the prime minister in Canada), but I do think just a little respect & restraint, especially when it comes to speculating about the most private parts of people's lives, would be nice.

*** *** ***

Fuller is right when she says the Kennedys were the last parents of a baby born at the White House -- but she's also slightly misleading when, in the next sentence, she blathers on about Caroline (born in November 1957) & John Jr. John Jr. was born November 1960 (after a difficult pregnancy), just days after his father won the election -- technically, he wasn't president yet.

Unmentioned by Fuller (because it would have been such a DOWNER, dontcha know??) is the story of the Kennedy baby who WAS born -- and died -- while JFK was in the White House.

His name was Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, and he was born six weeks premature by emergency C-section after a difficult pregnancy, on August 7, 1963 (35 years to the day before my Katie was delivered). He died two days later on August 9, as his heartbroken father held his tiny hand. (Thanks to Julia S. for reminding me about Patrick in her comment on my previous post.)

While many people remember the sad story of baby Patrick, it's less well known that Jacqueline Kennedy also had a miscarriage in 1955 & a baby girl who was stillborn on August 23, 1956, when Jackie was seven months pregnant. Officially nameless (although I've read that Jackie wanted to call her "Arabella"), this baby girl is buried in Arlington Cemetery, along with her father, brother Patrick & uncle Robert, with a marker that simply reads "Daughter."

I've had a lifelong fascination with the Kennedys, from both a political and personal perspective. And after my own struggles with infertility & pregnancy loss, I gained a new empathy for Jackie after learning more about her reproductive history. Imagine being Jackie, struggling through each tenuous pregnancy and painful loss while your husband is in the national limelight (first as a high-profile Senator and then as President) -- while at the same time, your sister-in-law (Ethel, wife of Robert) effortlessly pops out 11 (!!!) kids in 18 years, one after another.

Jackie also had to deal with her losses and difficult pregnancies without much support from her husband (at least initially). He continued to cruise the Mediterranean after Jackie delivered their stillborn daughter in 1956, leaving it to his brother Robert to break the news to Jackie and arrange for the baby's burial. However, many of the books I've read do write movingly of the President's grief after Patrick's death, and of a new closeness that developed between him and Jackie in the months afterward, before they flew together to Dallas on the morning of November 22.

Back then, of course, the press was far more respectful of public figures' personal lives (a good thing in some respects, not so good in others), and there was much less openness than there is today about pregnancy and pregnancy loss. (Yes, I know, it's still far from open enough!!).

Sorry to rain on your parade, Bonnie. Unfortunately, as too many of us know, not all pregnancies -- not even those of First Ladies or Hollywood stars -- have a happily ever after ending.


  1. Thanks, I was seething for the same reason. I wrote a whole post a couple Decembers ago on Presidents who lost children -- it's a long list.

    I also hate that we've reduced a Law Grad cum mother of two to incubator we can gawk at. I guess that's what first ladies are for: us to fawn and criticize because we have absolutely nothing better to do.

    Funny, I'd think the way the media was discussing the "litter" born to lady in California and "baby watch" here with this female specimen, they'd be more into the puppy decision. Puppies don't sell papers anymore, apparently.

  2. Thank you SO much for this post. (A) I completely agree on how incredibly offensive this speculation and fascination with an Obama pregnancy is. The woman is a well accomplished person, not a baby factory. Can't we ever appreciate a woman in the public eye for anything other than her ability to procreate? And (B) I had no idea about the Kennedys. I'm so moved by learning of this additional aspect of their tragic lives.

  3. Right on, Loribeth! I absolutely agree that it's completely disrespectful to talk about anyone's reproductive life this way - First Lady or not. I wouldn't ever talk about my close friends this way, let alone someone in public life who is already doing so much to serve her country. Truly unbelievable.

    I seem to recall seeing a biography documentary on Bonnie Fuller somewhere along the line, and have a vague memory that she had children later in life, and is probably at or nearing the end of the time when having more children would be possible. Perhaps we should get Perez Hilton to start speculating on whether she has one in the oven and see how well that goes over.

  4. I have been reading "An Unfinished Life," a bio on JFK and it briefly mentions the stillbirth of their daughter, although it labeled it as a late term miscarriage and didn't identify the gender. I believe there was one sentence mentioning that and another mentioning how Jack didn't want to come home from the Meditteranean and his bimbos from it. The whole thing was shocking to read in that it was over in 2 sentences. I still have a long way to go with this book, but it makes me want to read a bio on her next since she suffered through so much on her own. And I have recently read about other "famous" people, such as Keanu Reeves, who have had stillborn children. It shocks me that it hasn't garnered more attention, although I am glad for them that were able to deal with it privately.

  5. Yeah, I have to say that it kills me that everyone is talking about Michelle Obama this way. It's bad enough she has to give up her career, but why this too?

    And Bonnie Fuller? Ack...cannot stand her, AT all.

    As for the Kennedy's, that has always been such a sad part of their lives I thought.
    Although I actually think that was in an era when pregnancy loss was discussed more. At least late pregnancy loss. Just after that, the veil dropped, and only in the last few years has more come out about it.

  6. It's shocking indeed that such an accomplished woman can be thrown back into 'just' a baby making machine. Not that, as we know here, baby making is easy or something to be minimized, but she has many other things that she actually is doing that need attention.
    She (author) obviously is pandering to the very lowest, mindless crowds who can't be bothered to read about anything remotely compelling or intelligent, like, say, your post, for example.

  7. I thought the exact same thing reading that quote.
    How dare she bring up the kennedy's yet fail to mention their children who had died.
    I've always remembered Patrick being buried with his father from the time I visited the grave as a teen. It wasn't until later when I read the same story about the stillbirth that I realised how alone Jackie had been and how much she put up with.
    I read recently though that the current surfactant treatments for preemie lungs came about directly as a result of Patrick's death.

  8. Thanks for sharing this particular link with me! Well said!