A Royal pregnancy: grace under pressure

Kate and William have toured Canada and served as cheerleaders-in-chief at the Summer Olympics. Together they will face a hyper-scrutinized pregnancy.

Brilliant timing: The birth of an heir would cap a ‘terrific year’ for the royal family

The statement Monday from St. James’s Palace had all the hallmarks of a rush job: “Their royal highnesses the duke and duchess of Cambridge are very pleased to announce that the duchess of Cambridge is expecting a baby,” began the terse statement. After a nod to the happy relatives, it concluded with the meat of the matter: “The duchess was admitted this afternoon to King Edward VII Hospital in central London with Hyperemesis gravidarum. As the pregnancy is in its very early stages, her royal highness is expected to stay in hospital for several days and will require a period of rest thereafter.”

As any parent will tell you, children have minds of their own, and so it was the potential future king or queen of Britain, Canada and 14 other realms who set the agenda in a most unpleasant way. Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), as most everyone now knows, is a severe form of nausea and vomiting, an amped-up morning sickness that must have made Kate’s weekend visit to her parents’ home in Bucklebury, Berkshire, a hellish experience. Protocol should have dictated that William’s granny, Queen Elizabeth II, would have been the first to know her third great-grandchild and heir was on the way. But even if the couple hadn’t chosen that weekend to share the news of the pregnancy, Kate’s parents, Carole and Michael Middleton, would have surmised it soon enough as their usually unflappable 30-year-old daughter made repeated dashes for the nearest bathroom. By Monday, her nausea was severe enough that a worried William was on the phone to doctors. That afternoon, he drove her into the city to King Edward VII, “London’s foremost private hospital.” He stayed with her until about 8:20 p.m. Monday, returning to the hospital Tuesday morning.

With police guards at the door and in the street and William pacing the floor, news of Kate’s hospitalization was certain to leak out, and with that an unholy mix of rumour and speculation. While most modern couples prefer to keep things secret until the second trimester, the couple had little choice but to release the news while the pregnancy was, as the palace noted, in its “very early stages.” Speculation puts the pregnancy at less than 12 weeks, meaning conception took place after their carefree, clothes-free visit to Provence and the château owned by William’s cousin, Viscount Linley.

The Daily Mail, citing sources, said the couple hadn’t planned on sharing the good news until the royal family was gathered for Christmas at Sandringham. Instead, Queen Elizabeth II and William’s father, Prince Charles, learned of the pregnancy Monday along with the rest of the royals, barely an hour before a public announcement was released at 4 p.m. London time. William’s brother, Harry, an Apache attack helicopter pilot serving in Afghanistan, received the news via email, the BBC said. A child of any gender from William and Kate (once modernized succession laws are expedited) will bump Harry down a notch from his current rank of third in the line of succession, after his father and William. British Prime Minister David Cameron was in a meeting when an aide slipped him a note with the news in advance of the public announcement. “I found it quite difficult to keep it to myself,” he said later. “It’s absolutely wonderful news, and I’m delighted for them. I’m sure they’ll make absolutely brilliant parents.”

The announcement was released by St. James’s Palace and tweeted by Clarence House, causing the couple’s website there to crash under the immense traffic load. Certainly this is the first royal pregnancy announcement delivered on Twitter, which is symbolic of the careful balance William and Kate will have to strike between hidebound royal tradition and modern-day reality. The Twitter hashtag #royalbaby went instantly viral, and within an hour an inevitable spoof account, @RoyalFoetus (“Live-tweeting from inside the royal womb”), was born. Sample tweets: “Hello world. All shall kneel before me,” and “My spoon is currently umbilical. Silver awaits on exit.”

Concern over the state of Kate’s health has sucked some joy out of the announcement, though there is little doubt that Kate, said to be on an intravenous drip, is receiving care several notches above National Health Service standards. After all, the royal patron of King Edward VII is the Queen herself. The BBC says Kate is being cared for by a team including gynecologist Marcus Setchell, who delivered the two children of Sophie, countess of Wessex and wife of the Queen’s youngest son, Prince Edward. Hyperemesis gravidarum, which translates loosely, and rather bluntly, from the Latin as “excessive vomiting of pregnant women,” strikes less than one per cent of women in the first trimester, according to some experts. If treated promptly, it usually poses no harm to the baby, though it can leave the mother exhausted, dehydrated, unable to face food and profoundly miserable. The usual treatment involves intravenous replacement of fluids and nutrients and anti-nausea medication to prevent major weight loss.

William spent six hours at the hospital with his wife Tuesday as she prepared for a third day hooked up to an intravenous drip. The couple issued a statement released by St. James’s Palace: “Kate and the duke are immensely grateful for the good wishes they have received.” A spokesman said Kate is “continuing to feel better” although she remains exhausted. There were no indications when she might be released.

It wasn’t long before women were trotting out horror stories about their experiences with HG. “Any movement, any sound, any smell just makes you vomit,” Caitlin Dean told the Daily Mail in a Technicolour recitation of her experience. “I vomited 20 to 30 times a day for the first few months. In the latter part it was just once or twice a day, but it’s still unpleasant.” Caroline Jones, a 35-year-old north London mother, told the Daily Mirror about her hospitalization and near five-month battle with HG before the healthy birth of her daughter Mia two years ago. “Forget morning sickness, this was any time of day sickness,” she said. “During the day I could eat nothing, as the mere thought of food made me gag.” Acupuncture offered her the best temporary relief, she said.

Maria Shriver, estranged wife of Arnold Schwarzenegger and a mother of four, tweeted in solidarity with the duchess. “Wonderful news for Prince William and Kate. Kate has Hyperemesis. Had that with my last child. Not fun at all. Hang in there Kate.”

William’s mother, Diana—who was pregnant just four months after marrying Charles in 1981—suffered from months of morning sickness. That, and self-consciousness, curtailed her public appearances. “The whole world is watching my stomach,” Diana complained. A similar fate awaits Kate as she shoves her form-fitting clothes to the back of the closet and braces for a long, and no doubt stylish, gestation, lived out far longer in the public eye than she would have wished.

Remarkably, the duchess was in fine public form only last Friday. She combined her trip to see her parents with a visit to St. Andrew’s, her former prep school in Berkshire. There, she lunched on Scottish beef and “bird seed,” a dessert that combines pancakes and Rice Krispies. After lunch, she took some practice shots on the field hockey grounds. She also gave a formal speech to the gathered students, part of her increasing independent responsibilities as a royal. School officials admitted Monday they had no clue the duchess was pregnant. In retrospect, after that school lunch the day could have ended disastrously. No surprise, then, that the palace has prescribed “a period of rest” for Kate once she leaves the hospital. The prospect of a public loss of lunch is one ruinous photo opportunity senior royals will avoid at all costs.

The British press, after speculating about a royal pregnancy virtually from April 29, 2011, the day the couple married, found itself scooped by a press release, no doubt hampered by their recent inability to hack royal cellphones. Reporters and editors reacted with the level of restraint for which they are noted—which is to say little or none at all. Royal correspondents instantly assumed the role of all-knowing meddlesome mothers-in-law. Ah-ha! This is why she toasted with water during the couple’s recent Diamond Jubilee visit to Singapore. Why William accepted with a smile when a woman handed him a handmade baby onesie decorated with a helicopter and the phrase: “Daddy’s little co-pilot.” And why Kate suddenly changed her hairstyle to feathered layers and long bangs—clearly a diversionary tactic to draw attention from below the waist. Fiendishly clever! Piers Morgan, the former British tabloid editor turned CNN television host, fired a tweet across the bow of his former colleagues: “Congratulations to every magazine editor for calling Kate’s pregnancy—especially those who did covers on it 11 months ago.”

The Daily Mail advised her on the healthy stuff she should be eating, assuming she can keep it down, and what to avoid: “Pâté, liver, shark, marlin, raw shellfish, mould-ripened soft cheese, partially cooked eggs and meat.” As if. Mercifully, Scottish beef and bird seed aren’t on the forbidden list.

The prospect of an heir—or heirs, as some punters would have it—being delivered in the summer of 2013 is brilliant timing, extending a royal run of good news that began with William and Kate’s engagement in November 2010 and continued with their wedding in 2011, then this year’s successful Olympic Games and the Diamond Jubilee marking the Queen’s 60-year reign. Children were always in the plan—the overarching duty of a royal wife being production of an heir. But as William made clear in their first post-engagement interview, it would happen on their timetable. “We’ll get over the marriage thing first and then we’ll look at the kids. But obviously we want a family so we’ll have to start thinking about that.”

Unlike Diana—engaged at 19, virgin bride at 20 and mother to William before her 21st birthday—the couple bided their time, giving Kate a chance to settle into an increasing level of royal duties, though in some respects her apprenticeship started not long after the two first set eyes on each other in 2001 as students at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

They may well have decided to delay parenthood to allow William to focus on his career as an RAF search and rescue helicopter pilot in Wales, and to leave themselves free for some post-marriage familiarization tours: their wildly successful cross-Canada summer tour in 2011, their ubiquitous presence as cheerleaders-in-chief at the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games, and a host of domestic and foreign Diamond Jubilee travels.

Kate is increasingly comfortable in the presence of the Queen. The two were often seen chatting amiably at Diamond Jubilee events. It’s doubtful that Kate being caught out by a paparazzo who peddled topless (and some bottomless) photos of her private vacation time with William in September harmed the relationship. No scandal was involved and the palace’s full-on legal attack against the French magazine in question signalled the Queen’s and William’s desire to protect Kate’s privacy and the monarchy’s brand.

Ingrid Seward, editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine, said the pregnancy marks a “new beginning” for the Firm. “It’s very important for the monarchy. This is the way forward. This is the first child who will be an heir to the throne whatever sex they are,” she told an interviewer. Pregnancies frequently turn women, royal or not, into semi-public property, and, like others in the British press, Seward isn’t above speculating on the couple’s most intimate intentions. “It’s the culmination of a terrific year,” she said, “and what Kate really wanted—to get pregnant in a Jubilee year.” Well, perhaps.

How the couple will raise wee Charles or Philip and/or Victoria, Elizabeth, Diana or whatever the little co-pilot is called, is also a topic of discussion. It’s likely the couple’s bare-bones staff will be expanded to include a nanny. The demands of royal life, quite apart from tradition, would almost dictate as much.

For William and Harry, who grew up in the tumult of their parents’ fractious, deteriorating relationship, nannies were a source of stability and love, as well as loss. Barbara Barnes was the children’s beloved nanny during their earliest years. William would frequently climb into bed with her as a toddler before they’d get up for breakfast. But Diana, increasingly insecure and threatened by William’s bond with his “Baba,” dismissed her on a flimsy pretext when he was just 4, said Penny Junor, a veteran royal watcher and author of Prince William: Born to be King, which was published earlier this year. Afterwards William became less outgoing and trusting, Junor said in an interview with Maclean’s. “The only explanation is that she was so tied up with her own feelings that she couldn’t look beyond them to see what this would do to her sons.” Notably, Barnes was one of the first names William added to his wedding-guest list, 24 years after her departure.

Later, Diana tried to undermine Tiggy Legge-Bourke, a fun-loving aristocrat who served as a minder and companion for the boys under Charles’s watch as they approached adolescence. Junor said Diana started unfounded rumours that Charles was sleeping with Legge-Bourke but failed to have her removed. Diana’s own childhood was difficult, scarred by frequent violent arguments between her parents. Her mother lost custody of the children after she fled the marriage for another man when Diana was 6.

While Diana’s childhood was played out behind estate walls, William and Harry, to their horror, saw their parents’ arguments, infidelities and custody issues laid bare in the press and in television documentaries as they waged an all-too-public campaign for hearts and minds. “People are so aware of what happened to Charles and Diana and what a difficult time William had that they are incredibly protective of him,” Junor said.

For all the strife, there is no doubt that both parents loved their sons deeply. Diana, for all her emotional instability, gave her sons a gift that Charles certainly never had: the chance to mingle with other children in daycares and junior schools, to visit fairs and water parks and to learn from people with mental, physical or financial challenges who were at the core of Diana’s charitable endeavours.

Diana’s death in a Paris car crash in August 1997 was, of course, the ultimate abandonment. It marked William, then 15, and Harry, 12, in ways we cannot possibly know. “They weren’t allowed to keep the grief to themselves,” said Junor, “they had to share it with the whole world.” That years later the boys’ phones would be hacked by the media, and that revealing long-lens photos of William’s intimate holiday with Kate in France this year would be splashed across magazines and the Internet, only confirms the price he pays as a public royal.

How will William raise his family? With as much privacy as humanly possible, something both he and Kate must ponder with alarm as hundreds of members of the media and public mass outside King Edward VII Hospital. Expect protocols that limit media access to any young heirs at events like christenings and birthdays. Such restrictions worked reasonably well when William and Harry were young, at least until their parents’ own media campaigns thrust them into the spotlight.

It’s little wonder that William has grown close to the Middleton family, who by all outward appearances gave their three children the kind of serene upper-middle-class upbringing that he could only dream of. Together in semi-rural Bucklebury, they have had fun nights at the local pub and home-cooked dinners full of wine and laughter. No butlers, no protocol, no staged leaks to the press. It’s entirely fitting that circumstances resulted in the Middletons being the first to learn of Kate’s pregnancy, no matter how wretchedly the news was announced. “I hope we’ll be able to have a happy family ourselves,” she said in an interview as she spoke of her family. “They’ve been great over the years, helping me with difficult times. We see a lot of each other, and they’re very close to me.” Kate’s parents are “over the moon” at the prospect of a grandchild, reports John Haley, landlord of the Old Boot Inn, the local pub in Stanford Dingley.

Kate will be a 31-year-old mother if the pregnancy goes smoothly, old for the production of a royal heir but hardly out of step with the times. With that also comes a level of maturity, comfort and fun, as Canadians saw during their tour here: playful asides, gentle caresses, comfortable silences.

The couple had the luxury of time to grow together this past decade, something Charles and Diana certainly lacked before William’s arrival. William already has his co-pilot, his recent gift of a baby onesie notwithstanding. They’ve faced much together already; there can be few surprises between them.

They will also face a difficult, hyper-scrutinized pregnancy, regardless of how long the morning sickness lasts. And after that, if all goes well, the challenges of any parents, coupled with the expectations of a country and a Commonwealth. “Our promise to Canada is that we shall return,” William said as their Canadian tour neared a close in Calgary. And if it’s with baby in tow, so much the better.

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