A month before Kate, duchess of Cambridge gave birth to a baby boy, her new über-mom status was being cemented in a heated debate over her mammary glands—specifically, how they should be deployed. Writing in the Telegraph, television presenter Beverley Turner implored the duchess to be a role model and breastfeed her baby in public. Citing statistics that the number of women breastfeeding in the U.K. had declined for the first time in almost a decade, Turner made the plea: “What we really need is the duchess of Cambridge to get her royal orbs out to feed our future monarch. And to be applauded—not seethed at—for doing so.” Breastfeeding advocates latched onto the cause, while others countered that the decision whether or not to suckle her babe on Buckingham Palace’s balcony was the duchess’s alone to make.
The dust-up offers a preview of the over-the-top scrutiny Kate will receive—and influence she’ll wield—as mother to the world’s most famous baby. The public got a taste when she was hospitalized for Hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe form of morning sickness. News of her condition sparked more awareness of the little-discussed affliction than any national campaign could have.
The pressures on the duchess are incredible, says Judy Wade, a veteran British royal correspondent and author. People will expect picture-perfect motherhood, Wade notes: “She is expected to walk out of the hospital after the birth looking wonderful—hair freshly coiffed, wonderful dress, no sign of tiredness.” The perception that the duchess’s uterine contents were public property was evident during her pregnancy, as commentators weighed in on her wearing high heels and her baby-weight gain. A Daily Mail columnist summed up criticism of the duchess’s size this way: “There is only a gentle swelling of the royal stomach, as opposed to the bulbous basketball-shaped bump you’d expect at the end of the second trimester.”
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So it isn’t surprising that the optics surrounding the pregnancy were controlled to set the stage for motherhood—establishing a balance between privacy and the public’s right to know. Benign details about the duchess’s routine were leaked: her once-a-week yoga sessions, her stopping regular spray tans in her first trimester, her switching to Starbucks decaf. Buckingham Palace also made it clear Prince William’s wife was a modern working woman when it announced that attending the Trooping the Colour ceremony in mid-June was her last formal public appearance before “maternity leave”—as if procreation and child-raising weren’t part of the job description she’d agreed to upon marriage.
Updates on the royal gestation were carefully meted out—the first clear view of her pregnant belly was afforded at roughly the four-month mark, when she appeared without a coat in late February. Throughout, Kate’s clothing telegraphed practical frugality, says Susan Kelley, founder of the popular blog WhatKateWore.com. Like many non-royals, Kate didn’t buy a new maternity wardrobe, instead choosing off-the-rack clothing and having older items altered. Pregnancy and childbirth have amped interest in the duchess to an “almost insane frenzy,” says Kelley, who reports hearing from women who are not pregnant or planning to be, who’ve bought items the duchess wore while expecting.
Once limited to dresses and shoes, Kate’s influence has already shifted into the maternal sphere, much to the delight of baby-goods manufacturers. Good Morning America devoted a segment to her shopping for nursery furnishings in “a neutral and timeless colour palette” while “being price-conscious of her final selections.” These were reported to include a $450 reed “Moses basket” and a “special-edition” high-end stroller in “jewel blue accented with black-and-white stripes” deemed a “crowd-pleasing unisex design that’s both fashionable and functional.” Kelley expects royal baby clothing and accoutrements to be “covered ad infinitum.” She refuses to. “I don’t think it’s appropriate,” she says. “I understand it’s a future monarch, but let the child be a child.”
Such restraint will be the exception. In a tabloid culture obsessed with celebrity “baby bumps” and paparazzi stalking of famous children, the duchess is the motherlode. Yet, paradoxically for those eager to ape her style, Kate is expected to reject all trappings of showy, indulgent celebrity parenting. She won’t retain a full-time nanny, at least at the beginning. There will be no Versailles-inspired nursery like the one Jennifer Lopez showed off in People. Or photographs of the latest royal wearing a crown like the one Beyoncé recently posted of her daughter on her Tumblr account.
“Privacy is Catherine’s middle name,” says Wade. British journalist Penny Junor agrees: “People will no doubt watch everything she’s doing and will wait for every morsel of detail that is thrown out there. But she won’t want the world to know. My guess is she will breastfeed, but I’d be very surprised if she discussed it too far and wide unless she thought there was a very good reason.”
Kate is expected to take cues from William’s mother in expressing affection demonstratively and travelling with her children. But she’s expected to shield them from the press, unlike Diana, who was known to alert photographers when she took her sons to McDonald’s or theme parks. Junor, author of Born to be King, a biography of Prince William, notes that William saw how his parents let the press into their lives and what damage that did. Already, media frenzy over Kate’s pregnancy has had tragic results: The hospital nurse who revealed details of her condition to prank-calling Australian radio jocks committed suicide soon after.
The new parents must find a middle ground when it comes to deciding what to share, Junor says. “There’s legitimate public interest. And the royals need our interest, because if we cease to be interested, then the monarchy becomes irrelevant.” Wade believes the baby will be seen selectively in the first years. “And they will do it reluctantly,” she says, “because if they don’t, the paparazzi will be out in force, scouring Kensington Gardens for Kate pushing a pram.”
Junor believes making the baby a familiar entity could quell curiosity: “If they were to bite the bullet and let this child be seen, they might find the scarcity value would be lost.” The relaxed parenting style of European royalty offers a model, particularly the example of Princess Estelle of Sweden, a darling of the royal baby circuit. The 16-month-old, second in line to the throne, is frequently photographed with her parents in a controlled public setting.
But the new heir to the British throne will receive unprecedented attention, being the first future monarch born in the Internet age. That will heighten the challenge of providing the sort of normal childhood the royal couple allegedly want for their child: being able to walk down the street, play in the park or vacation with friends. Social media also offers an alternative way to get images out, says Kelley. “It would let them control the message, which they like to do.”
And clearly, part of that message will be to present the new über-mom as Every-mom, a modern woman who wants her son to have the happy, stable, informal upbringing that she experienced and her husband was denied. That makes her a unique new hybrid, primed for the times: a maternal role model taking her cues from the subjects her child will one day rule.