Saturday, October 8, 2011

How to be a celebrity mum

By Jennifer O’Connell

There is something special about the way celebrities have babies.

I’m not referring to the fact that, in the world of celebrity, ‘having a baby’ can mean anything from ‘raiding an orphanage in a developing country’, to ‘borrowing someone else’s womb’. Or even ‘elective C-section at 36 weeks, followed by tummy tuck and breast uplift’.

No, what’s really intriguing is how, despite the fact that it’s only happened, oh, 106 billion times before, every celebrity appears convinced that they are the first to have a baby. The actual first. The original Madonna, the mother of Adam and Lucy of Hadar rolled into one.

For most mothers-to-be, the blue line in the positive window on a pregnancy test signals a time of unfettered joy, trepidation – followed by nine long months of snivelling at news bulletins, watching your ankles swell to the width of the Aviva stadium and mainlining scones topped with gherkins and melted cheese (although that may just have been me).

But for celebrities it means something else entirely.




For them, pregnancy is an invitation to start holding forth like a cross between the Dalai Lama, Zita West and Moses on Mount Sinai on all matters reproductive.

“You simply can’t imagine how wonderful it feels,” they will gush.

“Gosh, I could be pregnant all the time,” coos Kate Hudson.

“I love doing his little laundry. I love ironing his romper suits. I didn’t even know I had an iron!” marvels Liz Hurley.

"When you're having dinner [and] you're dying laughing because your three-year-old made a fart joke, that's real happiness,” muses Gwyneth Paltrow.

"I love the smell of diapers; I even like when they're wet and you smell them all warm like a baked good,” witters Sarah Jessica Parker.

And so, tediously, on.

Beyoncé is the latest celebrity to join the hordes of the happy nappy-sniffers, having announced her pregnancy at the VMA awards last month.



In many respects, hers has been quite the old-fashioned affair. She is married to the father of her child, and – as far as we know – the conception happened in the conventional way. But what she lost out on in terms of space-age style reproductive techniques and foreign travel opportunities, she has made up for in the sheer, mind-numbing banality of her pronouncements on the subject.

Ever since her pregnancy was announced at the recent VMA awards, fans have been treated to one deeply unfascinating insight after another. We have learned that she hates the smell of onions and her husband’s aftershave; that pregnancy makes her empowered; that she’s having a boy. Or possibly a girl.

The latest such revelations concern her thoughts on maternity leave. In a nutshell, she won’t be taking any, because she doesn’t believe pregnancy is an illness.

“It is important that I don't look at this as like an illness. I am not sick. I am the same woman and I have the same passions.”

Sweetly, Beyoncé seems to have forgotten that, at the end of all this wonder and feeling empowered, there will, with luck, be a baby to care for - and that caring for the baby is generally regarded as the purpose of maternity leave.

Perhaps she’s planning to delegate the little one out, while she pursues her plan for world domination and a flat stomach.

Because Beyoncé appears determined to ensure that having a baby will be simply be a footnote on her glittering cv. She says: "I am starting my company, my label. I want to create a boyband. I want to continue to produce and do documentaries and music videos." I say: ha!

But she’s not alone: the French Justice minister Rachida Dati returned to work in 2009, five days after giving birth to a child by C-section. Five weeks later, she lost her job, when the prime minister Nicolas Sarkozy dispatched her to Europe.

But amusing though the vanity and delusions of celebrity mothers-to-be undoubtedly are, there are some dangerous myths being circulated in the pages of showbiz magazines which need to be addressed.

Firstly, dirty nappies never smell good. Secondly, being pregnant and having small babies is wonderful and life-affirming - but it’s also tiring, frequently nauseating and almost always boring for everyone not directly involved (and often for those who are.)

And third, unless you opt for the ‘push-nip-tuck’ package at your local hospital, or are in fact Heidi Klum, shrinking back to your pre-pregnancy shape within weeks of giving birth is usually a sign that you’re suffering from such crippling postnatal depression that you can’t eat. It’s not a thing to be aimed for.

Surveys conducted in Britain have found that it takes, on average, 22 months for your body to return to its pre-pregnancy state.* (*Surveys conducted in my house have established that it’s more like five years and counting.)

Ninety seven per cent of women are not happy with the body they are left with after giving birth, while the other three per cent can be founding grinning smugly from the pages of Hello! and Okay magazines.

Three quarters of women surveyed went so far as to say they were “shocked” by the changes to their body. Six in ten said their sex life had suffered.

And then there’s all the other shocks celebrities don’t talk about (probably because, with a team of nannies and personal assistants, they know nothing about them).

There’s the crushing loss of identity suffered by many new mothers; the relentless nature of caring for a newborn; the toll sleep deprivation takes on your relationship, your looks, your ability to do simple arithmetic. Your ability to laugh.

Forget founding record labels, making documentaries and managing boybands, most days in that twilight zone of early motherhood, simply finding your car keys or managing to wash your hair would rank as a major accomplishment.

Having said all that, being pregnant and having babies are the most amazing things ever. You simply couldn’t imagine how wonderful it all is. And don’t get me started on the smell of their nappies first thing in the morning…

This column first appeared in the Irish Independent Weekend magazine on October 8, 2011

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