In France, just about like anywhere else, people usually shower new parents with gifts for their first baby. You get all the “adorable” bibs your great-aunt Greta knit herself, the little booties, onesies and other “cute” stuff people love to buy for babies. This gift-giving usually happens after the baby is born and is a way for people to gain access to your home or your hospital room to see and coo over the baby while trying desperately to figure out who the baby looks like the most (Uncle Roger, Grandpa Maurice or the mailman, you pick…).
When I moved to Canada and found out I was expecting my first, my coworkers got really excited about organizing a “baby shower”. Now, having spent my teenage years watching a whole bunch of American comedies and tv shows, I wasn’t completely clueless. I knew it involved some sort of girly gathering with cupcakes, baby gifts and some weird games. I was intrigued by this tradition to give gifts before the baby was born, as in many parts of Europe it would be considered bad luck until after the baby is safe and sound earth-side. Nevertheless, I was willing to comply with this seemingly innocuous tradition of our adoptive country. Since Laure was expecting her own little munchkin a few months before mine was due, I was also able to observe how the ceremony goes. Laure had to taste different jars of baby food and guess what was in them amongst other fun activities. Girlfriends provided cake and sweets and swaped stories aboutmotherhood, giving advice for the new mom-to-be along with gifts for the baby. Baby showers are a little bit like bridal showers and depending on the mom and her girlfriends it will cover a broad spectrum from low key and funky to high-end spa treatments and catering from the best cupcake place in town.
My co-workers actually had a wonderful idea for my first baby shower, instead of giving us the usual baby gifts, they each brought their favourite childhood book along with a wish for the baby, so we now have a huge library of amazing stories to pick from every night. Including several copies of “Good Night Moon”!
The second time around, my more hippy feminist girlfriends decided to host a blessingway, a ceremony inspired by traditional cultures where pregnant women are adorned with symbols, bathed and massaged before receiving prayers and blessings from the women around for a safe birth. Because I was planning a vaginal birth after caesarean and attempting a homebirth again, it seemed timely! My friends gathered in the garden shared some good food and hired a wonderful henna artist, Nicole Pilich, who did a beautiful henna design on my belly while my friends shared blessings, feminist poetry and jokes. They also each brought me a bead to make a birthing necklace, symbolizing the circle of womanly support around me. I really enjoyed this little ceremony and the feeling of being surrounded by lovely and witty women.
Other blessingways could include foot massages for mama and her friends, casting mama’s belly or composing a song with all her friends.
I was lucky on both occasions to have people who had thoughtful ideas for the celebration. I enjoyed both parties a lot. If you don’t want to be overwhelmed by gifts for baby you don’t necessarily need, I would recommend letting your friends know in advance what gifts would be appreciated and what your philosophy around these types of celebrations are. Some baby showers can involve pitching in for a common gift that the parents will truly need or, for a blessingway, you may ask of participants to donate a little something on behalf of the baby to a non-profit instead of buying some gift you won’t need.
Both baby showers and blessingways are a rite of passage that should celebrate your passage to motherhood and be uplifting. If you are a guest at a shower or a blessingway, keep any horrible war-like birth stories or unwanted advice to yourself and remember that this is time to pamper and empower mama before her life gets turned upside down by bébé.
Organizing a blessingway? Here is a great book with some wonderful ideas: Mother Rising, the blessingway journey into motherhood
For baby-shower themes, home-making guru Martha Stewart has a list of ideas on her website.