The princess is pregnant! While the news is tinged with some anxiety, given that poor Kate has this form of extreme morning sickness, we'll all keep that stiff British upper lip and hope for the best.

Pregnancy is the great female leveler. It's an experience only half of humankind can know firsthand. Modern science and social leaps aside, it's women's work. For princesses and for paupers.

Among those of us who have birthed babies, there's a sisterhood that's wide and vast and deep and humbling - and somehow still impossible to explain.

It was 50 years ago that I first got the news Kate did. Fifty years is a long time, yet I remember every detail of that day with astonishing clarity.

And while Kate may be a princess married to the future heir to the British throne, and I was a mere trembling 22-year-old in a suburban New Jersey doctor's office, I would imagine that our reactions to that news were about the same.

"Oh, my God!"

In her case, the whole world has been watching for that baby bump. In mine, only my parents with the wild "We want to be grandparents!" yearning were on the case.

But when the standard blood test - no pregnancy kits back then - determined that my nausea and exhaustion were not the flu, I floated out of that office and back to my very used 1952 Chevy that was dangerously low on gas.

Now I had somebody to protect!

So I drove to the nearest gas station in Willingboro, jumped out of the car, hugged the poor, hapless guy at the pump, and told him, "I'm pregnant!"

Then I asked for $2 worth of gas, which could go a long way back in 1962.

Yes, I remember everything about that morning: the way the gas station guy had grease on his hands, the way the early summer sky looked, the sound of my heart pounding. Everything was racing at warp speed, all flashing and neon and blinding.

I was going to have a baby!

At home, I picked up the wall phone in our little Cape Cod kitchen, called my husband's law office, and crazily blurted out the news to the receptionist. Never one for excesses, she murmured, "How nice."

And in that moment I learned that pregnancy is momentous - but only within a limited sphere.

My husband was overjoyed - and panicked. We'd been married less than a year, he was earning a pittance, and I would have to give up my teaching job that fall because - get this - pregnant teachers couldn't appear in classrooms after they showed. That might scandalize the darling eighth graders.

But nothing could spoil my over-the-moon joy. I earnestly believed that this pregnancy - mine - was historic and unique and special. That the whole universe should be singing. That there should be dancing in the streets.

I loved being pregnant. I loved it three times.

I loved my expanding belly. When I felt faint flutters, then stronger flutters, then outright kicks, I wanted to cheer.

Of course, there were no websites or Internet advisories back then about childbirth. There were just tales from older relatives who clucked sympathetically, patted our heads, and promised that we'd get through it.

I was terrified. I suspect that Kate will fare better.

And still, royal perks aside, there will probably come that moment when an exhausted Kate hears that cry ring out and feels like Earth's very first mother. That never before in the history of the universe has there ever been a more perfect being than the red-faced one in her arms. Her whole world will shrink to the size of that miniature body.

The duke and duchess also will learn that babies make us believe in miracles, and humble us in ways that anyone who's ever touched a cheek so soft that it's almost not there will instantly understand.

That's the pot of gold at the end of a pregnancy for the royal, the rich, the entitled - and all the rest of us.

Maybe that's why I still keep my black velvet swirl of a maternity dress. Through all the purges of our household's wretched excesses, I have held on to that dress, one that I wore proudly through three pregnancies.

It was soft and lovely to the touch, and there is still a worn spot forever left in the lining at the place where my body swelled.

That maternity dress, shaped like a tent, stands as a reminder that once, I was with child. Pregnant.

A lovely state of being.

Sally Friedman can be reached at pinegander@aol.com.