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The Circle of Life

LONDON, Sept. 7—Madeline Eleanor Beynon was born at 9:10 p.m. Saturday, just hours after Diana was buried. The 8-pound 7-ounce baby was an insistent, noisy reminder of life in a country consumed with loss. "She screamed her head off for the next three hours," said her mother.

Madeline was one of 11 babies born Sept. 6 at Queen Charlotte's Hospital, named after a monarch who died in childbirth. It's the oldest and most famous maternity hospital in London, and on Saturday nine girls -- none named Diana -- and two boys began their lives here.

"I didn't want her to be born yesterday," said Deborah Allen, Madeline's mother. But when she went into labor while watching Diana's funeral, Allen knew it was beyond her control. "Then I stopped worrying. There's no point being superstitious about it. It's two sides of the same coin: life and death."

The baby was due seven days before, the day of Diana's fatal car crash. Allen, 37, waited for her second child to arrive as she watched this remarkable week unfold. Like most of Britain, she was shocked, then surprised and almost embarrassed by the unprecedented outpouring of grief.

Even those who were lukewarm about Diana admired one thing about her: She adored her sons. Motherhood was the only thing she did without doubts or insecurity. She will always be remembered as a mother who poured out love, a woman who rushed past dignitaries to smother her boys with hugs and kisses. It was the only part of her life where duty and desire blended effortlessly.

The parents of England know that the real tragedy is not that the nation has lost a princess, but that William and Harry lost their mother.

"The first thing I felt was, `Those poor kids. They've got a pretty difficult life in front of them, and they don't need this,' " said Allen. "I felt desperately, desperately sorry for them."

Allen is not an overly sentimental woman. She juggles a career in advertising with a husband and 3-year-old son, Joshua, who is blond and blue-eyed like his mother. She didn't cry until she watched the funeral procession Saturday -- she choked up, like almost everyone who saw it, when she spotted the card placed on Diana's coffin that said simply "Mummy."

She told friends, only half-teasing, that it would be just her luck to go into labor during Diana's funeral procession. And that's exactly what happened. She watched the rest of the funeral standing, swaying back and forth between contractions.

"Ironically, the funeral was very involving," said Allen. "It kept my mind off my body."

She cried during Earl Spencer's tribute to his sister and worried that it would be bad luck for her child to be born on this day. And then her thoughts turned practical: What if the hospital were short-staffed, the nurses distracted?

There were no televisions in the labor room, just a very chatty midwife. They talked about Diana and the service. And Allen wondered if this baby, her last, would be the hoped-for girl.

And then, a few minutes after 9 p.m., Madeline arrived -- red-faced and yowling -- into the world. "I thought, `It's all over, it's a girl, and she's all right,' " said Allen. "It was such a relief."

Her joy blocked out the rest of the day. She didn't think about the funeral again until she asked her husband to bring newspapers to the hospital this morning.

"I still don't quite understand what's happening to the country this week," Allen said. She doesn't have time to worry about it: There are too many other things to think about, primarily whether her new daughter will allow her to get any sleep.

Madeline let out a cry. Her mother stood next to the bassinet and let the tiny hand curl around her finger. With a sigh, the baby was content.

Many years from now, Madeline will be told that she was born on one of the saddest days in British history. But for this little girl, Sept. 6 will be her birthday, a day of presents and celebration, and perhaps she will never fully understand how England stood still for a dead princess.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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