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Royal baby's semi-charmed life


Baby's feet cradled in mother's handsIf there's one thing that will remind a woman she is, at her core, no different from the rest of humanity, it is childbirth. From the second that first 'is-it-real-or-is-it-a-phantom?' contraction set in until the exhilarating moment when her son was urged and cajoled and squeezed from her weary body, Kate Middleton would have understood implicitly that childbirth is life's great leveller.

It is the one thing that unites every mother in its inescapable embrace: we have sex, we conceive, with little effort (for most) we grow within us a cluster of cells that morphs and roils and shapes itself into a human being; like some unstoppable experiment, this invisible life-force extrudes from our core and imprints upon our bones so that our skin itches with the stretch and our backs ache with the pressure and our pelvises are so bruised and heavy we can no longer bear it.

And then, just as we feel we might erupt, nature commands us to expel this animated being from our body. Whether this squashed little stranger we have incubated is born naturally or surgically, whether it emerges black, white, rich or poor, the singular experience of childbirth condenses the mother to her most primeval: we are animals who have grown within us new life and then released that new life into the great big world.

But this is where the similarities end. For Kate, the experience would have been riven with anxieties that no other mother has had to endure: the international press camped outside her labour suite; the comments on Twitter from millions of voyeurs demanding to know why her baby was 'late'; all her days of motherhood, from the very moment her pregnancy was prematurely revealed, lived under a penetrating, fault-finding microscope.

But for all the intrusions this tiny prince and his parents will have to endure in the years that stretch ahead, there will exist, as a salve of sorts, the incalculable benefits that his social status has randomly afforded him. For it is indeed by accident, or circumstance, or both, that he has arrived in this world to the salute of guns and the intense attention of a world whose otherwise cold and suspicious heart has been reduced to goo by what it believes to be a fairytale. It is through historical precedent and fortune and chance and old-fashioned elitism that this baby will grow up in a rarefied world where his every smallest need will be swiftly met.

For the other British babies who share his birthday, there will be some small recognition in the form of a gift of a 'lucky' silver penny, worth GBP28 and issued by the Royal Mint to commemorate her birth. Silver pennies clutched in their fat baby-hands, his tiny countrymen will find that their own fortune — or lack thereof – is determined by the circumstances into which they have been born, the educational levels achieved by their parents, the religion and social conditions of their community, their allotted place in the world's rigid pecking order.

And further afield, new babies will find their own futures less secure still. As the prince struggled out into a gilt-edged world filled with applause and splendour, newborns in far-off places took their own first, desperate breaths of air, unnoticed by a wealth- and celebrity-fixated world, sweetly oblivious to the lives of deprivation and neglect that lie in wait. These babies were born into squalor and degradation, condemned from the moment of their conception to a life of hardship. Some will have already succumbed to dehydration or illness; others face a future that will never expand beyond the boundaries of a sweat shop or a rubbish dump or a brothel.

We shouldn't diminish the joy of the royal couple, nor mock the echelon into which their baby has been born. Privilege and disadvantage are, after all, largely products of fate, and this family has won a rare lottery that will ensure, if not contentment, then the consolation of limitless wealth and an assured sense of importance.

But we as an observant public should be wary of allowing our sustained and fawning attention to further entrench the idea that some people are inherently more valuable than others. We should remind ourselves that an altered history and geography might well have delivered this child into a charmless world.

Had he been born, for instance, in India — a Commonwealth country from which the British extracted great wealth, including the Koh-I-Noor diamond embedded in Queen Victoria's crown — his chances of dying in infancy would be ten times greater than in Britain, his lifetime earnings 90 per cent less; he would be 50 per cent more likely to contract HIV/AIDS, would have almost 13 years shaved off his life expectancy and would spend almost 97 per cent less money on health care.

It's this broader, ravaged world into which the new prince has been born that should contextualise for us his privilege and mediate our own response to it. There is no intrinsic honour in being wealthy or important; what matters more is that everyone — rich or poor — make good on the circumstances into which they have been born.

Catherine Marshall headshotCatherine Marshall is a journalist and travel writer.

Baby feet image from Shutterstock

Topic tags: Catherine Marshall, Kate Middleton, royal baby, Prince William



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Existing comments

The birth of a child is indeed one of life's great blessings, and the first born forms a family. Yes, this royal baby is born into great wealth and privilege, notwithstanding the entitlement many will feel about scrutinising his life. How he uses the wealth and privilege bestowed upon him will be a test of character. And, if he was born to a poor couple, in a third world country then his circumstances would also quite possibly forge character.

Pam | 23 July 2013  

The concept of monarchy sits uneasily with modern ideas of social equality. It only makes any since in the context of dedicated, fearless and explicitly Christian service to the whole community. Privilege needs to be restrained, and only seen as a quid pro quo for that service and the guarantee of the rule of law through the upholding of the (unwritten) constitution. The Pope and President all rolled into one.

Eugene | 23 July 2013  

The birth of any baby is a cause for rejoicing. The system into which this baby has been born, however, is corrupt and repugnant.The subsequent outpouring of sentiment on the part of the English is disappointing, but in the case of our community it is little short of obscene. The decent hard-working women and men of Australia do not need these absurd fairy stories.

Peter Downie | 23 July 2013  

A sane voice, telling it as it really is in the face of a media frenzy. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the sentiments here. Thank you Catherine Marshall.

Anne Kostaras | 23 July 2013  

God created all equally in his (or her) image. Only narrow minded people continue to support an institution such as a monarchy which supports inequality, racism and discrimination based on religion. A baby born into a monarchy is no better then any of the other 7 Billion people on earth!

Beat Odermatt | 23 July 2013  

Eugene, the monarchy, either in England or, especially, here, makes absolutely no sense, because there is no 'context of dedicated, fearless and explicitly Christian [OMG!] service to the whole community' which 'guarantee(s)... the rule of law through the upholding of the... constitution'. That proposition is a concoction to divert the attention of the deferential masses from the oligopoly of privilege and power which the monarchy underpins. It's nothing but bread and circuses. Instead, my sympathy goes out to the poor little bugger who, through no fault of his own, has just become the latest member of The Firm.

Ginger Meggs | 23 July 2013  

Dear Catherine, Thank you for sharing your sentiments which reminds me the death of the royal baby’s grandmother, the late Diana, who was killed in a car accident which drew far greater public grief -and media time and space- than the death of a saintly nun who lived for the poor: Mother Teresa of Calcutta. My soul has been weeping since…

Toan Nguyen | 23 July 2013  

We are all equal and loved in the eyes of God. That's if you believe in God, GM.

Annoying Orange | 24 July 2013  

I'm not sure whether I should admit this or not - probably not, but here goes! I just watched the video footage of William and Kate leaving hospital with their new son - they were exactly like other excited, proud first-time parents, with William carefully placing the baby capsule in the back of the car, and jumping behind the wheel to drive the new family home. They are a part of an institution that is privileged and wealthy, and at the same time, a normal family.

Pam | 24 July 2013  

Pam, I agree with you completely.

Bernstein | 24 July 2013  

I'm a bit with you Pam...you've outed me..... they will also have the unsettled nights , the colicky baby, and sometimes that awful crying that cant be helped. like the rest of us They too will feel the difference of one small all consuming new life.......such a joy and a painful too. Life however privileged will not be the same again

GAJ | 24 July 2013  

Mothers are the people who love us for no good reason. And those of us who are mothers know it's the most exquisite love of all. Maggie Gallagher

Monica | 24 July 2013  

Brilliant article... articulated precisely the thoughts that will have been in the minds of many.

Ambrose | 24 July 2013  

Dear Ginger. The Crown has undoubtedly served Australia extremely well for over 200 years; indeed better than in England itself, because you point out that there the institution has been in there past too close to the interests of the landed aristocracy. Contrast this with the crassness, short term populism and cynicism of our political class...or that in other countries from Russia to the USA to India etc etc. Something more abiding and values-based is needed to counteract that. Getting rid of The Crown will be the easy bit for Australia; getting something as good in its place will be pretty hard.

Eugene | 24 July 2013  

Yes totally agreee! So well articulated and so sad at the same time. I just hope that the new prince follows in the footsteps of his darling grandmother who gave so tirelessly to social causes and was equally committed to mothering and the greater good of humanity.

helenmcpake@yahoo.com.au | 25 July 2013  

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