This new labour should now take place in private

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The Independent Online

hile I'm staunchly pro choice, I'm also glad the debates on the right to life of the unborn child remain controversial. I hope, though, that the right of the unborn child to a private life will not prove problematic. For, while the news that Cherie Blair is pregnant has been greeted with great excitement and goodwill, how unlikely a harbinger of happiness is the British tabloid press. And the statement that nestled alongside the Blairs' expressions of joy - that they were sorry they had been deprived of sharing the news first with close friends - is poignant. Part of the joy of pregnancy is sharing your news with your family, then gradually telling others. Even the little subterfuges, in which we allow ourselves to be caught out by observant friends, are a particular kind of pleasure; a pleasure that Mrs Blair will now not have.

Thank heavens that the medical practice which has dealt with Mrs Blair's medical needs thus far has remained discreet. Although I haven't heard such accusations levelled at the NHS, whose services Mrs Blair is using, receptionists at some private clinics have been known to tip off the media. And we can be thankful too that this leak has occurred after the first trimester.

The source of the Mirror's briefly "exclusive" revelation was allegedly a seamstress who put two and two together when asked by an effervescent Mrs Blair to let out some of her clothes around the waist. Perhaps the Prime Minister's wife wanted her usual outfits to be subtly altered to buy herself a little more time from the unforgiving eye of the media's fatuous fashion police - the very fashionistas whose good opinion she has also given every indication of craving. If so, her harmless ruse has backfired spectacularly.

How odd it must be for the entire world to know you have a foetus growing inside you; and that you will go into new labour next May just in time for the anniversary of the general election. How weird to realise that strangers are speculating over when you must have conceived your baby and watching video clips of you and your husband on the summer holiday when you must have "done it" - as if the Blairs were parents to the country, and that we, their children, can't bear to think of them in flagrante delicto.

How very public, in a few short hours, those very private and intimate things have become. This child of Tony and Cherie will be the first child of a premier to be born in the full glare of the media, and Cherie will be the first premier's wife to have to cope with close public scrutiny of her pregnancy. ill we be able to do the decent thing and leave her to it? Or will we spend the next six months scrutinising her body, speculating on her tiredness, assessing her glow and discussing her home-work-balance decisions?

And if we do, can there really be any harm in it? For is this not a happy event? Even the most hardened cynics must surely take their hats off to Cherie Booth QC and newly appointed part-time judge; a woman who already has it all, but who nevertheless is looking forward to squeezing in a great deal more. As yet Mrs Blair is managing it all with unforced equanimity and every indication of a huge generosity of spirit. But what a task it may prove to keep it up.

Many women complain that their body becomes public property during pregnancy, and how shocked they are to find that people assume the right to touch them without asking. Could millions of people now be given the opportunity to run their hands, at least by media proxy, over Mrs Blair's swelling tummy? I very much hope that she will give those hands a firm smack.

Because, in many ways, it is this kind of benign and celebratory intrusion which is the most insidious. Mrs Blair may feel compelled to share her own thoughts and feelings with a public that is wishing her so well. But I hope that she does gently insist on her right to privacy in this matter, and that her request is granted, for several reasons.

First, the Blairs understood from the outset that it was best to protect their children from the media with some ferocity. If they now play along with the media's idea that this is "the nation's baby", it will be impossible for them to recapture the high ground. If the public is told that the Blair babe is kicking, will it not then expect to be told when the Blair baby is crawling, then walking, then talking? The Blairs must begin as they mean to go on - and letting Alastair Campbell issue statements on how the child was conceived in France, not Italy, was not the best of starts..

Second, and more importantly, the Blairs now have a real chance to demonstrate a living, breathing and growing clarification of the demarcations between public and private life. For, while the development of the "First Foetus" is certainly going to be of great interest to the public, there is no way at all that this can be considered to be "in the public interest". The closest experiences we have seen to Mrs Blair's imminent fourth child were the late Diana, Princess of ales's two pregnancies.

There was some argument for public interest in these cases, since the children Diana was carrying were viewed - in some corners - as having an automatic relationship with the public, as a matter of tradition. However, while Mrs Blair is not like the vulnerable and unstable woman the princess proved to be, surely we must now accept that the intense and intrusive speculation which surrounded Diana's pregnancies must have contributed negatively to her already compromised sense of self. No doubt Mrs Blair will be able to handle whatever pressures her pregnancy provokes, and yet I very much hope that the media will leave her to get on with it quietly. I for one will not be stroking this undeniably fascinating bump.