There's a smile in Giuliana Rancic's voice when she talks about her son, Duke. It's different from the way she asks a red carpet celebrity who they're wearing or how she introduces a breaking story on E! News.
She sounds, in short, like a proud mom.
"There hasn't been anything that's not a highlight," she says about Duke's first nine months. "He's such a blessing."
Fans of Rancic, the co-anchor of E! News, and her husband, Bill, an entrepreneur who won the first season of "The Apprentice," know their story. The couple publicly faced infertility, including two failed in vitro fertilization attempts, on their Style Network reality show, "Giuliana & Bill," before deciding to have a baby via a gestational carrier. Edward Duke Rancic, Duke for short, was born Aug. 29, 2012.
In October 2011, Rancic was diagnosed with breast cancer, undergoing a lumpectomy and a double mastectomy.
"In one year, I had the darkest moment of my life- a diagnosis of cancer-and then the brightest moment of my life-Duke's arrival," Rancic says. "Your darkest day can become your brightest before you know it. Life is funny that way."
And now that Duke is here, she says her past struggles have made her a better mom: stronger, grateful, more resilient.
"My tolerance might just be a tad higher for crying and screaming in the middle of the night," she says with a laugh. "We struggled for so long that we don't take it for granted."
Through their show, they were able to share the reality of infertility. She encourages couples trying to start a family not to give up and to do their research into the options that are available.
"I thought my dreams of having a baby were shattered, and then surrogacy came our way," she says. "It all worked out in the end."
Now that she's on the other side, the new mom delights in all the things parents love-especially when her baby reaches for her. And she freely admits that she and Bill already think little Duke is a genius.
"He has such a cute personality," she says, just before he comes into the room and she dissolves into adoring babytalk. "He's such a boy, and he's just like his daddy."
But even with so much time to prepare, she has been surprised by something many new moms deal with: guilt. In particular, the guilt of being away from her son when she goes to work. Even the littlest things, like a video of Bill and Duke playing at the park, make her heart ache to be home with her family.
"Before it happened, working moms would tell me how hard it was, but I never really believed it or understood what they meant," she says. "I get it now."
Her strategy is to stay 100 percent focused and committed to whatever she's doing at the time, whether it's being home with Duke, on the set, or behind the scenes at RPM Italian Restaurant, which the Rancics partially own.
She and Bill also take time for date nights, making sure they "check in" about things that are bothering them in their marriage or what's going well.
And she loves seeing her two guys together, especially because it's brought out another side of her husband.
"Bill is adorable and so nurturing," she says. "There's nothing sexier than a good dad."
Since Duke's arrival, they have been spending more time around Chicago, Bill's hometown, and plan to raise Duke away from the "superficial" nature of Los Angeles.
"We have people here who care about us as real people and not about what job we have," Rancic says. "We want to raise him in a place with values and morals."
The whole family enjoys strolling along Michigan Avenue and exploring the Gold Coast and already has made a trip to Lincoln Park Zoo. Rancic says she's looking forward to introducing her son to some of the mainstays of life here, including Navy Pier, Millennium Park, Notebaert Nature Museum, and Chicago Children's Museum.
She's also using her mommy status to engage with some new projects, including Healthing Coast to Coast, an initiative with Lysol that encourages families to go beyond cleaning and focus on implementing healthy routines and good hygiene, whether it's disinfecting countertops, getting a yearly physical, or making sure the car seat is installed properly.
Rancic, who admits to carrying wipes and sprays to disinfect her seat on airplane flights, says it's about doing the "little things" to make sure your family is healthy and protected. She's proud to say that Duke has yet to have even a runny nose or cold.
"There's a lot we can't control when it comes to germs," she says, "but what we can control, we might as well try."
After all, she's got some pretty precious cargo to protect. And when it comes to her son, whatever big dreams she might have for him are overshadowed by her ultimate goal: "Watching him grow and be happy."
Because when it comes down to it, Giuliana Rancic isn't a TV star or a restaurateur or a celebrity spokesperson. In the end, she's just a proud mom.
Elizabeth Diffin is the associate editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Wheaton.
See more of Elizabeth's stories here.