Morning Sickness, Cryptic Smiles: How the Press Covers Royal Pregnancies

The news media's response to Kate Middleton's pregnancy is eerily similar to its coverage of Diana's.

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The Sun; The Independent

Since the moment Prince William and Kate Middleton kissed (twice) on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in front of approximately 2 billion people, the world has awaited the announcement of a royal heir. This week, the people got their wish. Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, was admitted to the hospital Monday morning for a condition known as hyperemesis gravidarum, which can prevent pregnant women from keeping down food or water, prompting the royal family to announce the pregnancy—possibly before they were comfortable doing so, knowing full well the enormity of the media circus to follow.

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The Huffington Post UK, the Sun, and the Metro all went with the headline "Kate Expectations," while the Guardian splashed an enormous picture of Kate, under the headline: "We've Got Something To Tell You: Queen - And World - Find Out Kate Is Pregnant." Americans reacted to the announcement with similar delight, with President Obama issuing a congratulatory statement, and Maria Shriver and the Kardashians tweeting their best wishes. CNN's Piers Morgan, a Brit, said: "Congratulations to every magazine editor for calling Kate Middleton's pregnancy—especially those who did covers on it 11 months ago."

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We see this excitement with pregnant celebrities all the time. Couples from Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes to Jay-Z and Beyonce were bombarded with questions about their impending births. Terms such as "preggers" or "baby bump" are staples of entertainment magazines and websites—whatever the cost to the privacy of the pregnant individual in question. And yet, the frenzy surrounding the royal baby (or #RoyalBaby) goes beyond well-meaning nosiness.

As with Princess Diana's pregnancy, Kate Middleton's upcoming childbirth is a reminder that despite the royal couple's outward displays of modernity, they are still bound by tradition. And the royal obligations rest squarely on the shoulders of Kate Middleton, as they did with Diana before her.

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In 1981, three months after saying "I do" in front of 750 million people, Prince Charles and Princess Diana of Wales revealed that they were expecting their first child via a paper announcement attached to the gates of Buckingham Palace. Of course, the mechanisms available to the press were much less sophisticated than they are today, but the focus was the same. The press announced the birth with the same sort of quasi-clever headlines that greeted Kate's news. "Princess now a lady in waiting," the Christian Science Monitor declared. "Delighted Diana Expects Baby in June," said the New York Times. As with Kate, the press reported vigorously on Diana's morning sickness, with headlines like, "She's got the 'new baby blues'" and "I'm feeling Di-Abolical." There was also a fascination with Diana's smile and what it indicated, a fascination that's continued with Kate. "Di's smile is back," the Sun reported after her morning sickness subsided. A similar headline ran on the Daily Mail yesterday regarding Kate: "A smile that says Kate's feeling better."

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With Diana, there was also tremendous speculation in the press about the sex of the child—not least because a boy would be in direct succession to the throne. (In October 2011, the British Commonwealth countries got rid of the rules that gave males legal preference over females in order of royal succession.) Biographies suggest that the princess felt enormous pressure carrying the potential heir, and she is believed to have complained that "the whole world is watching my stomach."

Kate Middleton's romance is slightly more accessible than Diana's. While Diana was from a noble family and married Charles after a very short courtship, Kate was Prince William's girlfriend of 10 years and a "commoner" by birth. Nevertheless, as antiquated as it might sound, Kate's main purpose as a royal, apart from attending functions and meeting with dignitaries, is still to produce an heir to the throne, just as it was Diana's. Maybe that's why, three decades after Diana's pregnancy, the response to Kate's good news is so similar.

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Alessandra Ram is a former writer and producer for The Atlantic Video Channel. Her work has also appeared in Foreign Policy.

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