Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Surviving Baby Shower Season

As I set my fingers to the keys, I suddenly asked myself how I would feel if there were a baby shower for me. After all, most of my Edinburgh friends are childless. Actually, I am not sure who would host this baby shower. Obviously I could not host it for myself. Thus, if there were a baby shower for me and my imaginary miracle baby (or babies, since twins would be better), it would be held by one of my Single, childless friends, which would be an act of tremendous love and generosity.

If I, aged 39++, managed to have a baby, I would be deliriously happy, and the baby would be such a magnanimous gift from God that it would seem to me horribly self-absorbed of childless Single friends not to come to this baby shower unless they had a really good excuse. Hello! Miracle here. Years of waiting. Scary doctors. Blood test phobia. Husband struck mute.

Ideally this baby shower would involve delicious cocktails that everyone but me could drink as I sat in the middle of room like a fat spider sipping water. Also ideally it would be in the ninth month of pregnancy when I would be an object, not of envy, but of pity--terribly swollen and sweaty and moaning, "Baby!!! When are you coming out?"
That would be extremely awesome. Much more awesome than when I went to a baby shower in my early-30s and everyone there except one other woman and me was married or widowed and babies swarmed the floor. I hadn't been to a friend's baby shower before, so I was excited to be invited to this one, and I was not expecting to feel so out of it. The other Single woman felt out of it, too, and we hung out for most of the afternoon, talking about our world travel. I wonder if frazzled mothers  overheard us and felt intensely envious and resentful. Oh to be single and childless and participate in world travel.

There are two kinds of baby showers that I know of: work baby showers and social baby showers.

Work baby showers are great because they give you an excuse to stop working, and also an excuse to duck out of the baby shower early. They aren't usually that expensive because all you have to do is chuck $10 or $20 at the woman organizing the baby shower. (At least, I hope it's only $10 or $20.) Although it is pretty ridiculous to have baby showers at work, it is a good time to witness to the Christian beliefs that babies are good and that being a mother is more important than being the purchasing manager at Beeptronics.

Social baby showers are great if you love the woman having the baby. How many of your woman friends do you love? I don't mean like. I mean love. If you love someone who is having a baby, you don't care that much about yourself and your own disappointed hopes after your first effects-of-original-sin twinge of "When will it be my turn?"  It is natural to think, "When will it be my turn?" but it would not have been before the Fall.

However, social baby showers are not great when you are the only--and I mean the only--adult woman there without any children. In fact, they can be pretty darn boring because, if the few baby showers I have been to represent the genus as a whole, women at baby showers talk a lot about their babies. And why not? If a woman can't talk about babies at a baby shower, where CAN she talk about them? I don't think it would be fair to expect fifteen women with babies to watch whatever they said so that poor childless Seraphic didn't feel sad.

By the way, for sheer grotesquerie, read an online message board for fertility challenged married women. After that, you will not complain about baby chat again. Nor will you ever want to read an online message board for the fertility challenged. Trust me. Ick.

My recommendations are as follows:

1. For work baby showers, pay up your $20, sign the card and say you are very happy for your co-worker. Have a glass of whatever and go back to your desk.

2. For social baby showers, consider the invitation carefully and ask yourself if you love the woman having the baby. Be honest. If you like her, but you don't love her, RSVP that you can't attend and send a card. If you feel guilty, send a present. Cards and presents symbolize respect. Post some respect, and nobody feels disrespected.

3. That said, if you don't love her, but you see her socially at least once a week anyway, you should accept the invitation.

4. At a baby shower, keep an eye out for the other childless women. Ask them how they know the mother-to-be and then ask them how they enjoyed the circumstance, that is, did they enjoy their high school, college, job, living in that city. If you start feeling sad at a baby shower, the attendance of other childless women can perk you up. Remember that the party is not about you but about the guest of honour.

5. Don't be dramatic or wallow in your feeling of being left out. Who knows what the other women have suffered, and yet there they are. Perhaps the mother-to-be had two miscarriages before this baby. Perhaps the cheerful woman gabbing on about breast pumps lost her first child to crib death. The great-grandmother making sandwiches in the kitchen may be thinking about how her late husband would never let her have another child. The glowing woman with the five year old may be ten days late on her period and is hoping against hope that her second baby has finally come. Fifteen women in a room means fifteen stories that are mostly secret to everyone else.

Other suggestions welcome in the combox.


MaryJane said...

Amen to no. 5. I've seen first hand that even in the happiest of marriages / families, there is suffering, whether it is loss of a child,major stress in the marriage, or serious illness. No life is easy!

Jam said...

When I was in high school my dad forbade me from going along with my mom to baby showers. This was very unusual; dad didn't usually lay down rules like this; but it was on the grounds that women at baby showers talked about things that were either gross or inappropriate for my young ears (I wonder which of his sisters was the occasion for him to be traumatized...). Anyway, when I started going to my friends' showers after college, I discovered that this was pretty much true. Baby showers really bring out the earthiness of the new mother's earthiest female relations. Also baby showers, on the whole, tend to feature such embarrassing games that I really don't feel any qualm in either leaving early ("wish I could stay! but...") or just not going at all. I never miss a chance to buy a baby gift though. Shopping in the baby department is a hour or more of good clean fun for me, and happily has no negative aftertaste in my case.

Roadkill Rhapsody said...

It helps me to think of the baby-themed talk as useful. (That sounds more calculating than I mean it to be!) I mean that having no babies of my own doesn't mean I'll never have to hold a baby, or make small-talk about one, or be there for a friend who's stressing about her first one, and so on. Everything the mothers say can be stored away for those times when it's necessary to say something intelligent or sympathetic about a baby, and it's much easier to be intelligent and sympathetic if I'm not making it all up on the spot.

Mustard Seed said...

At past baby showers, I have found it helpful to wear something particularly ladylike, chat up the other women, marvel (to myself) at the size of the pregnant lady, eat some mini sandwiches or whatever, and then go home. Once my sister and I made a game of who could say "awwww" louder at the gifts, but we were teenagers then and it probably wouldn't be appropriate now.

Is there any tactful response when married friends fret about how they don't know when they should have their next child? I have no idea how to respond. As a single thirty-something, I'm aware that children may not be in the cards for me, but I'd rather not go there in conversation. It seems insensitive when people bring this up, and I'm not sure what they expect me to say or how to sympathize (when I have little sympathy for that, haha). Anyway, it's true that you never know what the stories are. Thank you for the much-needed perspective!

Elizabeth Lee said...

Seraphic, you said, "Fifteen women in a room means fifteen stories that are mostly secret to everyone else."

You are absolutely correct. I am not your typical reader being much older and divorced. Even though I eventually had several children, my husband and I waited a year before our first child was conceived. And I was still in my 20s! Also, I had 2 miscarriages during my child-bearing years.

To the outside world I would have been one of those smug, cheerful women gabbing about birth and mommying. But in private, there was a lot of pain along with the joy of being a mother.

Anna said...

Think about the good night's rest you will get while the pregnant lady and other mothers will probably not. ;)

Urszula said...

The whole shower idea is a bit foreign to me, so I struggle with what seems to be the 'commercial' aspect of bridal showers, baby showers, engagement parties, etc etc. In Poland, we just get things for babies without making a big fuss about it - generally the fuss is reserved for the time when the baby actually makes an appearance.

That said, I understand why you would want to share the joy of new life with loved ones, and I had a great time at the work baby shower of a first-time dad that I was colleagues with. Part of it was the MC in charge, part of it was the funny games (nothing like winning baby shower anagrams to boost your mood), part of it was just being happy for my colleague and his wife. Especially in secular workplaces, we need to be witnesses to the joy and beauty of new life, even if it's sometimes hard.

Lydia Cubbedge said...

Excellent suggestions! I would add, as a mother who dealt with primary infertility, miscarriage and secondary infertility, assume that the baby-mad women oohing over tiny socks have suffered something in the reproduction department. Even if they haven't, assume it anyway, because it gives you a safety mechanism. Avoid any women who are ignorant ("it's so easy to have a baby! I bet you can't wait for your turn!!!) and make it your special job to be the one to fix non-alcoholic cocktails for the mother to be. Believe me when I say she will appreciate anything that reminds her of her primary humanity and isn't pastel-colored.

And may I just mention a wee baby-related story? At a do after Trid mass I was sitting down holding my very active 6 month old when a pillar of the community came up to me. He has known my husband, older daughter and myself for some time and surely must have noticed I was heavy with child not too long ago. He looks at me and says "I see you have finally reproduced. About time."

Sometimes, being single in church looks good, if only to avoid the reproduction commentary from stalwart Catholic gentlemen.

Seraphic said...

Dear Lydia, I just have to respond to you first because I am appalled. I do not know what that man was thinking. Could it have been,"Ah! I always thought such a nice, pretty girl should be blessed with children?" I hope so, but I fear not.

The way I dealt with people who might make comments about my lack of children was to write a column in the CR about how angry I would be if people assumed my inability to have a child was because I was on the Pill. Eight hundred words of pre-emptive strike. Of course, my own parish doesn't read the CR, but I don't think it could have been lost on the people with children that I love children.

Mustard Seed, I cannot imagine why married people would agonize to a childless friend about when they should have their next child unless they thought of the friend as a very good and discreet listener.

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

I've only been to one baby shower - for my mom. :-) She had never had one, and so for my youngest (7th/8th sibling - later added one by adoption) we asked a couple of family friends to have one for her. Maybe it's because my mom was probably one of the youngest (at 37 or 38), and I think most people there were mothers or consecrated, but nothing gross happened - there were a couple silly games (I don't remember them exactly but think something like "pin the pacifier on the baby") and chatting.

I guess that it could be painful to go to a baby shower, especially for someone with many, many children, and I think there were some people who had struggled with singleness or infertility or the need to avoid pregnancy for serious health reasons. But my mom had never had any sort of shower, even when having children in really difficult financial circumstances, and she'd given birth to the first of us far from her family and without knowing many people in the area. Being able to celebrate with friends meant a whole lot to her, and I appreciate that those for whom it may have been difficult came and brought joy to my mother through their presence.


lauren said...

I have a few practical suggestions:

1. As Auntie says, feel free to decline the invitation. No excuses necessary.

2. Find a gender-neutral gift, stock up, and give every baby the same thing. I give books. Little cotton dresses are only usable for so long, but a good children's book is a life-long gift.

3. If you're up to it, offer to host the shower. There's nothing that says only married women can host. I've loved to put together a civilized brunch (no games!!), and the moms have loved that as well.

Anonymous said...

Lauren, I give books too! I think they are the best! And beautiful wooden toys that will last years and years.

I've also given clothes at showers that will fit the baby when they are much, much older, toddler sizes and beyond. I've noticed that there will be a bajillion flimsy 0-6 months stuff, but they won't wear those forever! I like to focus on something like a nice sweater (their oh, so, sweet looking too!) that will fit a girl or boy when they are 1-2 years. Because let's face it, if you buy something that will last they can always pass is down to the next baby or hand it off to a friend. (It all sounds horribly practical, but usually much appreciated!)


lauren said...

Also, Lydia, you're a better woman than I. I would have been sorely tempted to swear at him. Why is it that men think they can say whatever they want to women?!?

Anonymous said...

I have been on both sides of this issue.
Firstly, I got pregnant soon after I married and moved to a new country. I then miscarried at 10 weeks. 2 months after that, one of my new friends was having her baby shower. I was really struggling at this point and I guess I could have easily excused myself since I was still very new in this country and my friends were really acquaintances at this stage. However, I considered that the expectant mother was also away from all her family, was very young (husband studying and not yet employed) and that she was actually estranged from her parents. I decided that her need was greater than mine and so I went. It was a struggle to be sure. I fought back tears when we all had to pray over her and there were prayers read which talked about how it was God's plan for women to be mothers. I couldn't help but wonder if I had fallen short for God to exclude me from his plan (not rational I know but grief causes these thoughts to come ). But I hid my feelings and participated in the games, contributed a plate of scones and set a fixed time for my husband to pick me up.
A few months later I fell pregnant again. As I continued through the pregnancy I resigned myself to the fact that I would not have a baby shower as all my family and close friends were overseas. Imagine my surprise when my friend, the expectant mother ( now with baby born) called and asked if she could host my shower. I was so overcome by her kindness. I didn't think many people would come to my shower as most of the women I knew were single or married and struggling with fertility. But you know what - everyone, bar one, came to my shower. They were so kind to me, someone they had only known a year at most. I was so overcome with the love they showed me.
I guess I want to say, while I totally get why going to a baby shower might be painful, please do consider the situation of the mother. She may really need your love and support.

Anonymous for this post

Seraphic said...

What a beautiful story!