Sarah Sands: Carla closes the clinic door and keeps her mystery


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At the start of the film We Need to Talk About Kevin, that Via Dolorosa for mothers, Tilda Swinton as Eva endures a violent and sweat-soaked labour and, once her nemesis is born, she gazes blankly ahead, while her husband rocks the baby.

So unlike Carla Bruni's childbirth in Paris last week. The first lady was still parading her chic bump in haute couture days before Giulia arrived. The look was naughty Gigi. She sought her husband's manly protection to get her to the hospital, or clinic, as it is described, which sounds somehow sexier. But then she shooed him away to save the eurozone, or whatever it is he does at the office. Carla was prepared to sacrifice her husband for the sake of her adopted country. More to the point, perhaps she did not want him to see her panting in a non-Jane Birkin manner.

The case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the New York chambermaid was cited as an illustration of the divide between French principles of pleasure and privacy and America's right-based culture. Surely, Carla Bruni's childbirth is a better one.

First, she complains poutily about cigarette and booze deprivation. Can you imagine Michelle Obama saying this? Come to think of it, Mrs Obama's homilies about exercising hard, bringing up the kids, putting education first, would produce a little cat's yawn from Mrs Sarkozy.

Parisian mammas are not going to be digging for vegetables or high-fiving children. Carla, particularly, picks her photo opportunities carefully. Even Woody Allen could not stop her flirting with the camera in her cameo role as a guide in Midnight in Paris. Her ban on cameras at the clinic and her haughty refusal to display her daughter Giulia, could be attributed to a French reverence for personal privacy. Or Carla would not be seen dead before her figure was restored and her hair girlishly glossy again. Samantha Cameron, with her savvy retail marketing background, requested a decent interval before appearing in front of the press with Florence.

Carla may well wish to wait until Giulia is old enough to sit beside her mother at the Paris fashion shows. In the meantime, truckloads of flowers and baby Dior must be heading for the Elysée Palace. She won't thank me for raising this, but France's first lady is almost the same age as Cherie Blair at the time she gave birth to Leo, while Tony Blair was in office. Blair, despite the cares of state, was fully supportive, sticking by his wife's bedside for six hours and giving a knowledgeable account of it to the press: "It was an ordinary, natural birth, though it was quite a long labour, so Cherie is quite tired now."

Carla would certainly regard this as too much information. Who wants to be described as being knackered after an "ordinary" birth? She prefers a veil of mystery over the logistics. Childbirth is an ugly business. You would not coo and squeal watching an appendectomy, so why witness something which will forever cloud your view of the female organs?

The Carla philosophy of childbirth may be unfeminist and anti-progressive, but I dare say men will regard it with secret envy and some women with a nodding sense of reality. Do men really need to be at the birth? My generation demanded it, but these days, many women ask their mothers and girlfriends instead. Maybe it is a female experience after all. Which has the nicer ring to it – hospital maternity ward or Temple of Diana?

Sarah Sands is deputy editor of the 'London Evening Standard'

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