I was 6 months deep into complete sleep deprivation, after the birth of my 3rd child, when I received an Evite for a friends baby shower. In that moment I was really only a shell of the person I used to be. I was running on automatic mommy robot mode, and so I admit, that my reaction was less than ideal. Dread and panic. Not because I didn’t want to celebrate my friend, but because I didn’t want to have to pretend for 2 whole hours that motherhood was AMAZING and that I LOVED it and that getting away from the kids in the afternoon (and being dressed) was NO BIG DEAL.
Is there any social situation more awkward than a Burnt Out Mom of 3 (BOM3) attending the baby shower of a bright eyed Brand New Mom To Be (BNMTB)? I can’t think of one, but I’m pretty much a hermit that drags around an infant by the breast, so I could be wrong. I don’t get out much. But the whole experience of being a BOM3 and attending the BNMTB baby shower really shook me up.
It’s like this; hey ladies, I have a great idea! How about we help our friends PREPARE for motherhood by throwing them an afternoon kid-free party where we dress up pretty and nibble on snacks while balancing drinks precariously on our knees? Oh and how about we bring gifts, like frilly outfits and peepee teepees, so that when the baby gets here she’s all ready to care for an infant. We will be giddy and happy and talk about how much she will LOVE motherhood. We will pretend that an afternoon spent with girlfriends is nothing. No, no, finding childcare? It’s a breeze! Oh arranging the breastfeeding and nap schedule to coordinate with a 1 o’clock party?…piece of cake! This outfit I’m wearing? I have a closet full of cute clothes that fit me perfectly post baby so really the hard part was choosing which one to wear!
Ok, so I’m a little cranky, but really how is this supposed to help our dear friends step into Motherhood? It doesn’t. Not at all. One could even argue it does a disservice for the BNMTB by maintaining the picture perfect ideal of motherhood that society serves up to us everyday.
But on this particular occasion I was too tired for critical thinking. I decided to pull myself together and just show up for my friend. I prepared myself to uphold the Sisterhood of Silence which says motherhood is effortless and natural and excessively wonderful. I tried to squash the fantasy of offering Lucifer as a baby name suggestion should I be asked. Nope, I was going to Hold. It. Together.
I somehow managed to arrive looking calm and competent. Not long after I arrive, we are, of course, sitting in the obligatory gift circle around the giddy BNMTB. The teeny frilly outfit makes it’s way around the circle to me. Did anyone notice grimace that passed my face before the wide smile? Are my Oooohs and Ahhhhs passing for sincere while my inside voice screams "are you kidding me? This outfit will fit for 2 minutes and that white ruffle will be annihilated on your first poo-nami! What you really need is a good baby thermometer, washcloths and a marriage counselor. But ANYHOOOO!"
No, no reign it BOM3...I try again with the tiny stack of onsies. I manage not to hurl them aggressively to the next person like a game of survivor hot potato. All I can think about is how there are bottomless laundry baskets full of these all over my house. I mean why the hell would I want to touch this? Oh no, Hold. It. Together. Deep breaths. The good news is that there is wine here and I’m actually childless right now. Except I keep panicking that I’ve left the baby in the car until I remember he is home with Daddy. What’s with that? But I digress.
The thing is that I do want to be supportive and excited for my friend, but I’m just too weary (and maybe a little jaded) to gloss over the real experience of parenting. I mean I kinda get the whole baby shower thing and I don’t want to be the kind of friend to tell war stories of doom and gloom either. It isn’t all terrible. I’m pretty sure last weekend there was 10 whole minutes where everyone was playing nicely while my husband and I sat on the same couch drinking hot coffee, and we looked at each other and said “This, this is what we dreamed of.” It was a snippet in a crazy week but it was beautiful. So I guess what I want to give the BNMTB is a more balanced idea of what motherhood is. I want to celebrate with her and at the same time let her know that it might be really hard.
I see that BNMTB and I remember myself in just the same spot 6 years ago. My own expectations were so high that the reality of motherhood shocked me, made me feel like a failure, and I thought I was all alone. No one I knew at the time admitted to anything less than motherhood bliss. (I thank God a few years later I found woman friends who tell it like it is! I love to hear their stories of epic tantrums and packaged foods and endless tv and think that maybe my own kids might just pull through this.)
But seriously when I was the BNMTB I thought I was going to glide through motherhood and it would be the best years of my life! I imagined endless time to care and nurture my little family by gardening and making delicious food, playing and laughing all day long in my beautifully tidy home. Who knows maybe I’d even take up running? Yes, running, I thought, I would look amazing running along the sea wall pushing my BOB. It didn’t seem to matter that I didn't do any of these things currently (or live near the sea) because somehow the miracle of motherhood and maternity-leave would open up so much space in my life that I would be able to do all of it. And be f-ing awesome.
It was such a blow when it didn’t quite pan out like that. I think it would have helped if someone had whispered “call me if things get hard when baby is comes”. I would’ve been like “haha, no thanks weirdo, I’ll be great!” but I would’ve remembered later when I was in bed leaking with a crying baby and eating frozen pizza for the 3rd day in a row. "I think I’d better call that friend now. Maybe she could bring me a vegetable and help me get the dishwasher unloaded."
I remember at my own BNMTB baby shower one lone person brought me a practical gift: a box of things for baby from the pharmacy (like a thermometer, nail clippers, bandaids, etc) which I thought at the time was super lame. What a delusional dreamer I was! Turns out it was the best and most thoughtful gift of all. When my baby had her first fever and I went to my box to get that thermometer I thanked God for my thoughtful friend. We need more of this. And real stories. With a rounds of “you will succeed and fail at motherhood all the time” “believe it or not, you are the best mom for your baby” and "I'm here for you."
I think I’m going to become the Mom who shows up with a box of important pharmacy items and maybe some important phone numbers too like 811 and Le Leche League and Post Partum Support. And most importantly my number laminated that says "call ANYTIME, chances are I’m up anyway." The BNMTB might think it a lame gift but when the shit hits the fan (by way of the frilly outfit) she’ll remember that box and she’ll know she’s not alone.
But then again, maybe if the BNMTB is not quite as naive as I was, perhaps she's already suspicious. Especially if she’s married and already gone through "the wedding" which totally prepared her for marriage.
Photo by Michele Mateus Photography
Karen Barré is an accomplished mom of 3 that can make snacks ALL day long and still find the time to make light-sabers out of paper and duct tape. As long as the conditions are perfect. And everyone slept the night. And we have groceries in the house. Or paper. Okay, I did it once, it was a highlight.