If the Duchess of Cambridge wanted to live like common people, she should have given birth like common people do. Here’s my guide
Conception: Do not have sex with a member of the royal family. Whatever they promise, your prince has not come.
Pregnancy: You will be bombarded with advice when you start feeling dreadful and only want to eat Haribos. Ignore it. You will decide not to tell anyone, except your 10 new best friends, that you’re pregnant until after the 12-week scan. Ordering mineral water will confirm everyone’s worst fears: that you could be responsible for another human being. In the sociological experiment that is my so-called life, I had a baby each decade, for three decades, starting in the 80s, so I can confirm that pregnancy advice is as changeable as hemlines. Amazingly, I preferred the advice of a French midwife who took our ante-natal class one week. When asked about alcohol she said: “Oh no. Only the wine with dinner and the cognac after.” She was certainly more appealing than the usual midwife, who had knitted a uterus. She apologised for the fact that it was navy blue as she had run out of pink wool. The plain knit was the uterus and the ribbed sock bit was the cervix. She then proceeded to push a tennis ball through it. That, she said, was “birth”.
Natural childbirth: For some unknown reason (fashion?), I had one of these, even though I took recreational drugs. It was the wrong way round, but I was young. A neighbour had told me: “Three spliffs and it will slip out of you like a wet pig.” Not true. At all.
Doctors: Doctors often know way less than midwives and some treat you as an aberration. One junior doctor calculated my due date without looking at me. “But that will mean I have been pregnant for nearly two years,” I said, bewildered. This startled him, as did the consultant who came in bellowing: “Is she one of those awful natural childbirth women? Take her pulse!” No pulse could be found. “She has a pulse, man! She is not dead, is she?” They suggested I be induced as I was overdue (very common), but I refused, preferring instead the traditional method of a vindaloo, a bit of the other and a tin of Andrews Liver Salts. Nothing. A week later, I met a more sympathetic doctor who asked if he could stimulate my cervix. I imagined this would involve some sort of machine. It didn’t.
Drugs: You already know what sort of person you are and whether or not you like feeling out of it or not. Giving birth is as animalistic and as out of control as it gets, so understand that gas and air give you something to do; pethidine, like all opiates, will gloopily distract you from the pain, but only an epidural will stop it.
Birth plans: Have one. Water. Whalesong. Whatever. Know it’s going to get ripped to shreds and Raw Power by the Stooges is more appropriate.
Siblings: The psychologist Adam Phillips has it just right. Imagine explaining to your spouse: “I love you so much, darling, that I am going to get another girlfriend/boyfriend just like you, whom you must love too.” That’s what we ask our children to do. My eldest seemed incredibly well-adjusted when her little sister was born, until, at one parents’ evening, I found her entire school project was called “Babies are Annoying”.
Men: Having been with a couple of friends giving birth, I feel sorry for men. If you don’t want to go down “the business end”, then don’t. Your role is to act as an advocate for your partner. Take your cues from the midwives and know that, at some point, your loved one may wish you dead. Do not say, as my child’s father did when asked if he could see the baby’s head crowning: “I am not sure it is a head. It’s more like a dog’s knee.” Do not suddenly plonk a wet flannel on your beloved’s brow in the middle of a contraction and do not, if you ever want it again, mention sex.
Stuff: 99% of the stuff you can buy for babies is overpriced and useless. The more stuff you have, the more stuck you are. Travel light and you and your baby will be far more sociable. Such advice is commonly ignored.
Caesareans: To the person who told me it was like going to the hairdressers – are you mad? But thanks to the friend who said don’t look up at the ceiling lights as you can see the reflection of what they are doing to you. Having had two “normal” births and one C-section, I don’t know why anyone thinks they are the easier option. You take a lot longer to recover. But whatever a woman decides, it should be her own guilt-free choice. Etc.
Feelings: You may be overwhelmed by unconditional love, or it may build slowly. It is OK not to be happy. The moment I gave birth, I knew it was no longer all about my generation, but having a baby didn’t make me any more interested in other people’s babies than before I had my own, ie not very much.
Being child-free: Children are wonderful, of course, but many people have fabulous and fulfilling lives without them. Accepting each other’s choices would give us all more freedom, surely?
Paparazzi: The one advantage of being a commoner is that you don’t have to deal with them and, anyway, you are so busy papping your offspring on an hourly basis that you forget to feed them.
Top tip: If you need stitches, insist on the most experienced person there. You don’t want medical students practising their needle work on that part of your anatomy, do you? That’s what the drunks in A&E are for.