With not long to wait for the royal baby, how about some advice for Kate and William? Here’s a word of wisdom for each month of gestation for them and all the other expectant couples
Having a baby is a big event in anyone’s life. It’s a big event in any woman’s body. But having a regal infant is a whole other thing. The fascination is off the chart, the speculation deranged. Even those of us who disavowed all interest have been sucked unwittingly into the all-encompassing maelstrom of bizarre information and peculiar protocol.
The mere expression “the royal baby” has 367 million Google hits before the child has even been born or named. Time magazine has already christened the baby “The Most Anticipated Child of All Time”. As babymania overwhelms the nation, here’s a handy guide to everything that new parents, Kate and William included, need to know. (With apologies to republicans everywhere. You would be well advised to leave the country – or indeed the globe – for the next three months.)
1Don’t get hung up on the birth, think about the days after the birth
First-time parents have all kinds of ideas about what the birth is going to be like. Fate laughs in their birthplan-writing faces. In spite of this, Kate Middleton has expressed an interest in a hypnobirth. (Nothing wrong with that. Just don’t set your heart on it.) Sales of one hypnobirthing Effective Birth Preparation CD have increased by 200% in the past two months because of the “Kate Middleton Effect”. There are hundreds of international online forms speculating about “how royal babies are born” – “Caesarean? Or by the natural part?” asks one. Statistically, “the natural part” wins (except for Princess Eugenie, who was born by C-section).
2 Do have the baby where you want to have it
Most first babies are born in hospital. Fewer than 2% are born at home. This is unusual for the royals: until William and Harry’s generation, they were born “at home” (ie, in a palace). The royal baby will be born in the newly refurbished Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, where William and Harry were born. Difference from normal hospital? There’s a menu where you can order champagne. They will probably do this. They will probably not avail themselves of the facility to order from “a choice of newspapers”.
3Don’t let other people come to the birth
Reports claim that Kate has requested the presence of her mother and her sister at the birth. This is a terrible idea. But at least it is better than having the home secretary there, a former royal tradition. (Peculiar protocol ahoy.) This last happened in 1936 for the birth of the Queen’s cousin, Princess Alexandra. The home secretary, Sir William Joynson-Hicks, was present at the Queen’s birth in 1926 and apparently reported the news to the mayor of London. No one knows if Kate has Theresa May on speed-dial. But May has no doubt put Boris on standby just in case. Other birthing companions in olden times? The archbishop of Canterbury and the bishop of London. Suddenly, Pippa doesn’t seem like such a crazy option.
Among the oiks and royals alike, meanwhile, the involvement of the father is now taken for granted. Prince William will be there. (Prince Philip was playing squash during Charles’s birth.) According to the Royal College of Midwives, 86% of fathers attend the birth. An estimated 2,500 couples a year pay between £500 and £1,000 for a doula or birth advocate to attend the birth too.
4Don’t choose a stupid name
The bookies are already gearing up for this one. Anne and Frances 12/1. Diana 16/1. Kate 25/1. Peaches 500/1. John, Robert and Charles frontrunners for a boy’s name. Brooklyn 1,000/1. How do they know these things? How do they calculate these odds? Does anyone actually bet? And what a shame North is already taken. (Name of child of Kanye/Kardashian union.)
Among mortals the top five names? Ava, Freya, Ella, Imogen, Grace. Noah, Oscar, Oliver, Isaac, Jacob. Truly, we are all middle-class now. Confusingly, the royal baby does not have to have a surname. But if they do want to give it one, they can call it Mountbatten-Windsor, Wales or Cambridge. Talk about spoiled.
5Do announce the birth by email
Traditionally, this has become the civilian father’s first task on the morning when he returns home alone having been dispatched from the hospital because “visiting hours haven’t started yet”. Meanwhile, the mother lies in bed and finds herself unable to physically move. There will be no hospital staff available even to hand her the baby, whom she is supposedly to know how to breastfeed with no guidance, assistance or first-hand experience. The lonely civilian father downloads some pictures from his phone and sends an email to a list of people compiled by the mother while tired and emotional. He adds some amusing detail about his involvement and his choice of celebratory drink.
Prince William will not need to do this. The news of the birth will be displayed on an “ornate easel” in the front courtyard of Buckingham Palace. It turns out getting the piece of paper onto the easel is quite a business. Once the relatives have been told, a palace aide travels from the hospital to the palace with a foolscap-sized note, bearing the Buckingham Palace letterhead and signed by medical staff. Only when this is affixed to the easel will the public know for the first time if the baby is a boy or a girl. Then an announcement will be posted on Facebook and Twitter. Presumably not personally by Prince William, although it would be nice to think that he might give it a go.
6Do buy a Baby Bjorn carrier and some kind of pram
Kate is said to have told a group of army wives in Aldershot that she had bought a pale blue Bugaboo, estimated cost £1,200. (Yes, I know. I am sorry that I know this.) She has also bought a white wicker Moses basket. Parents spend an average of £1,786 on a new baby, with the wealthiest 6% shelling out more than £10,000.
7Do plan your parental leave
Prince William is taking two weeks of paid paternity leave offered by the Ministry of Defence. Nine out of 10 fathers now take this fortnight off. Additional paternity leave is available to fathers up to 26 weeks, but a recent TUC study suggested that only 1% of fathers take this time off at the statutory rate of £136 a week. There are plans to bring in shared parental leave in 2015. This is not the time to say anything rude and/or feminist about Kate not taking any maternity leave because she does not have a job. Or is it? (She is officially on maternity leave from her royal duties.)
8Do go to the cinema now
Kate and William have just spent his 31st birthday “quietly at home”. Error! A recent study by Silentnight beds found that new parents miss six months of sleep in the first two years of a baby’s life. There will be plenty of opportunities to spend time quietly at home in years to come.
9Do expect to be stressed but try not to be stressed
Becoming a first-time parent can only happen to you once. Nothing is quite like it, not even subsequent births. Both in a good way and a bad way. Babies seem like alien creatures, with their nocturnal wakings and endless sucking. It’s what they do. As a midwife said to me when I complained that the child kept pursing its lips and chomping away and wasn’t this weird and didn’t we need to call a doctor: “He is just being a baby.” Ultimately, that is what the royal baby will be doing too. Just being a baby. The most anticipated one ever, that’s all.
I Laughed, I Cried: How One Woman Took On Stand-Up and (Almost) Ruined Her Life by Viv Groskop is out now (Orion, £11.99)