Kate Middleton Spotted for First Time in Months Amid Surgery Recovery

Middleton took a drive with her mother on Monday, weeks ahead of her projected return to the public eye.

Kate Middleton was spotted by paparazzi photographers on Monday for the first time since her abdominal surgery in mid-January. The Princess of Wales sat in the passenger seat of an all-black SUV while her mom, Carole Middleton, was driving. They were near Windsor Castle, and it's not clear why they were out nor whether they intended to be seen by reporters.

Monday's photos show Middleton dressed in black with her hair down and her face obscured by large sunglasses. She and her mom paid no attention to the photographers, who got plenty of shots of the duo passing by on a wide open road. Middleton has not been photographed in public since Christmas Day when she attended a church event with her husband, Prince William and their children. She was hospitalized for a "planned abdominal surgery" on Jan. 16, and the longer she has stayed out of sight, the more speculation has emerged on social media.

When Middleton was hospitalized back in January, Kensington Palace issued a public statement saying that her "planned abdominal surgery" was "successful and it is expected that she will remain in hospital for ten to fourteen days, before returning home to continue her recovery." It also said that she would be "unlikely to return to public duties until after Easter," which raised some eyebrows as fans wondered why she had scheduled public events during that time if she had this operation on her schedule. Details on the surgery and her condition have been scarce.

Middleton left the hospital quietly when she was ready, with no photos or fanfare. This contrasted with the king, who made a point of smiling and waving to cameras even as he was diagnosed with cancer in the same hospital. Prince William took some time away from work to be with Middleton and to oversee their children so that she could begin her recovery at home. Last week, chatter about Middleton reached a fever pitch online when the prince skipped a prominent public event for unnamed "personal reasons."

The speculation about Middleton online ranges from silly jokes – for example, "perhaps she is staying out of sight until a bad haircut grows out," – to horrific conspiracy theories – for example, "maybe she was killed and they are now creating a body double to replace her using cosmetic surgery." Of course, there is no evidence to support any of these ideas, and Monday's photos would suggest that Middleton is still inching along in her recovery. Kensington Palace has reiterated its original statement but has not added any new details.