Meghan avoids age-old royal birth custom

By Laura Elston, Press Association Court Reporter

The Duchess of Sussex now has just over a month until her expected due date.

Parents-to-be Meghan and the Duke of Sussex will be excitedly gearing up for the big day.

The American former actress revealed that her baby is set to arrive in late April or early May.

Harry and Meghan receive baby gifts at Canada House (Chris Jackson/PA)

The duchess told a well-wisher on a trip to Birkenhead: “End of April, early May.

“One of my friends was saying she was five weeks early, so you can never really gauge … when it’s ready.

“We’re ready. We’re so excited.”

Meghan, like the Duchess of Cambridge, will thankfully be spared the humiliating age-old royal custom of having a government minister present when she gives birth.

In 1688, James II and Mary of Modena produced a son and heir – James Francis Edward – after 15 years of marriage.

Mary of Modena was forced to deliver in front of an audience of dozens of witnesses including the Archbishop of Canterbury, ministers of state, ambassadors and key family members.

But it was still rumoured that the baby was actually a changeling who had been smuggled in a warming pan to ensure the restoration of Roman Catholicism.

According to tradition, several Privy Counsellors and Ladies in Waiting used to be in attendance in an adjoining room.

In 1894, Queen Victoria declared that for the birth of her great grandchild, the future Edward VIII, only one Cabinet minister would be needed, with only the Home Secretary attending from then on.

Queen Victoria reduced the numbers at a royal birth to just one Cabinet minister (PA)

When Princess Elizabeth, now the Queen, was born in 1926, the Home Secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks was summoned.

The birth of the Queen’s cousin, Princess Alexandra, in 1936 was the last occasion on which the Home Secretary was present.

King George VI declared that a minister was needed only for those in the direct line of succession, but by the time Prince Charles, now the Prince of Wales, was born in 1948, the practice had been abandoned.

The Queen had all four of her children at home at Buckingham Palace or Clarence House, and her midwife Helen Maude Rowe was invited to Charles’s christening.

Prince Charles in the arms of Princess Elizabeth’s midwife Helen Maude Rowe (PA)

Princess Elizabeth was also born at home – by Caesarean section in her maternal grandparents’ London house, 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair.

According to royal author Sarah Bradford, it was a “difficult birth” and “Elizabeth was a breech baby, her mother tiny and small boned”.

Meghan could choose to return the royal tradition of home births, with top royal doctors on hand supported by a medical team in case of emergencies, and the latest birthing equipment.

Will Meghan opt for a home birth (Yui Mok/PA)

It would offer the duchess the privacy and comfort of her own home – with Harry and Meghan due to move to the refurbished Frogmore Cottage on the Windsor Estate ahead of the birth.

The Duchess of Cambridge had three successful deliveries at the exclusive Lindo Wing at St Mary’s Hospital in London so Meghan may opt to give birth there.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their newborn son Prince Louis outside the Lindo Wing (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The Lindo has the added benefit of being based in an NHS hospital with a premature baby ward – the Winnicott Baby Unit – if complications arise.

A 24-hour normal delivery room package costs £6,275 for a deluxe room – not including consultant’s fees – and a suite costs more.

Kate had a team of 23 medical experts on standby during her delivery in case of an emergency, including replacement anaesthetists and paediatricians from Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs St Mary’s Hospital.

Harry was born at the Lindo in 1984, as was Prince William in 1982, and the Princess Royal’s children, Peter and Zara Phillips.

Other private options include the Portland Hospital where both Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie were born.

The Duke and Duchess of York with Princess Beatrice at the Portland (PA)

It is the only private hospital in the UK dedicated to the healthcare of women and children.

A consultant-led normal delivery, including a 24-hour stay following the birth, costs £6,100, but does not include the consultant’s fees. Extra nights in the “beautiful premier suite” cost £2,250.

Meghan and Harry might even decide to give a thumbs up to the NHS.

Options closest to Windsor include the Mulberry Birth Centre at Frimley Park Hospital in Camberley, Surrey, which is 15 miles from Frogmore Cottage, or the Juniper Birth Centre at Wexham Park Hospital – which both offer a home-from-home environment for lower-risk births.

Frimley Park Hospital in Frimley, Surrey (Steve Parsons/PA)

But this could raise security issues and would also mean that Meghan would be subject to a first-come, first-served basis – so could miss out on using the birthing centres if they are already full when she goes into labour.

The Mulberry Birth Centre at Frimley Park has five birth rooms, with en-suite facilities and one which includes a birthing pool with mood lighting.

Frimley Park was the hospital that helped save the life of the Countess of Wessex following complications during the premature birth of her daughter, Lady Louise Mountbatten-Windsor.

Louise was the Queen’s first grandchild to be born in an NHS hospital.

Sophie’s son, Viscount Severn, was also born there in 2007.

Wherever Meghan choses, she is likely to be attended to by Guy Thorpe-Beeston, surgeon-gynaecologist to the royal household, and Alan Farthing, the Queen’s surgeon-gynaecologist, who cared for Kate during her deliveries.