I don’t like baby showers.
Maybe it’s the pastel colors that put me in a bad mood, or the fact that I actually have to talk to people (small talk makes me feel stabby). Yet this past Sunday afternoon found me hanging out around the punch bowl while women shared stories about their episiotomies and near-death birthing experiences while the pregnant guest of honor opened a constant stream of pastel-wrapped baby paraphernalia.
How many hooded baby towels does one kid need?
Sure the tiny-footed pajamas with smiling animal faces are cute. But babies grow fast and the pile of newborn clothes that mom-to-be racked up looked like Mount McKinley (excuse me, Denali). Chances are good that sweet baby might wear the $30 outfit that Aunt Bertha bought once before it is outgrown, for about 40 minutes before diaper blowout lands it in the laundry.
Let’s be honest. Most baby shower gifts are a waste of money. The bottle warmers and Diaper Genies and shopping-cart covers will end up being more trouble than they are worth. Baby will probably end up loving one of the dozens of blankets that she received, so the rest will just take up drawer space, constantly getting in the way. Heck, that tricked-out stroller and solid wood crib are liable to become nothing more than handy storage facilities for the metric ton of soft stuffed animals and noisy toys that baby won’t have time to play with—because she’s too busy snuggled up happily next to mom or playing with empty boxes and cheap plastic cups.
The biggest reason I don’t like baby showers is that, in spite of all the expensive gifts and sappy greeting cards, moms just don’t get what they really need for life with a brand new baby. Expectant mothers don’t need wipe warmers and baby powder nearly as much as they need for the women at the punch bowl announcing their birthing war stories to just shut up. The last thing a woman staring down the barrel of labor and birth needs is to hear about fetal distress and failure to progress and emergency C-sections. The thought of how that growing human inside of her has to make his way out is scary enough without all of the gory details.
Instead, she needs to hear about how knowledge is power, especially in the birthing room; that the right support team can help prevent a lot of trauma and unnecessary intervention; that yes, it’s a lot of hard painful work, but that the most exhilarating feeling in the world comes at the end when that tiny person you’re meeting for the first time, yet you’ve known forever, is draped across your chest.
Pregnant moms also don’t need to be bombarded with stories of breastfeeding failures, of cracked nipples and slow weight gain. Instead they need to be encouraged. They need to know that most women can breastfeed under almost any set of circumstances. They need to know that even though breastfeeding is a natural process, it doesn’t always come naturally. Having difficulty doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It means you are human. But new mothers also need to know that there is help out there. They need a ready list of lactation consultants and La Leche League leaders and mothers who’ve been there and are willing to lend support and encouragement, not hand them a bottle of formula or a heaping dose of criticism.
They need to know that postpartum depression is real. It doesn’t mean you’re a horrible mother. It means you need the loving hands of others to help you to the light that is at the end of the tunnel—the light that is sometimes hard to see when you’re up to your neck in sleepless nights and colicky scream fests.
Motherhood isn’t all frills and pretty packages and soft pink layettes. New mothers need hot meals delivered with no strings attached, hands to wash dishes and fold laundry, ears that will listen without judgement (or giving unwanted advice), arms to hold a fussy baby so she can just brush her teeth, someone to tell her she’s doing a good job even when she feels like she isn’t. They need errands run and groceries bought and floors swept while she tries to figure out her life’s new rhythm. She needs to know that she is awesome, that generations of women before her made it through, that babies do eventually sleep through the night, that the dust bunnies can wait but her baby shouldn’t have to.
She needs to know that there are days she will feel pulled to the end of her rope, but that’s normal and it’s okay. She needs to know that all mothers struggle to find their stride, that all mothers make mistakes, sometimes really, really big ones. But most things are OK in the end. What seems like a big deal today probably won’t even be remembered come that baby’s graduation day.
She needs these things more than she needs dozens of tiny baby-sized washcloths or heirloom-quality silver baby rattles. She doesn’t need perfectly wrapped presents. What she really needs is support. She needs pats on the back and hands extended to help. Those just aren’t gifts that are easily packaged in ribbons and bows.
Where will all of those women be when that new mom is in the trenches covered in spit-up, smelling like sweat, losing her sanity? I hope they don’t run for the hills.
Me? I like to slip my phone number inside of my baby gift and honestly hope that she uses it when she needs someone. My availability is the real gift.
But it’s way easier to just buy an expensive present than to be present, to be a meaningful specific in someone’s life. Of course, that isn’t usually discussed around the punch bowl.