The good parts -- the food, the seeing friends and people from different spheres of your life (or the honoree's life).
The bad parts -- sitting through a very long period of gift opening and possibly not knowing a whole lot of people if it is someone else's shower. Having to explain how you know the bride/mom-to-be. And, if you are single or have gone through a bad breakup or are childless by choice or not or have recently failed a cycle or miscarried or your future as a parent is uncertain, it can be downright painful.
I myself was given two beautiful baby showers earlier this year. I was showered at school in late September, and showered by my friends and family in October. We had only been waiting for a couple months. It was a "Help us get ready for some mystery baby" shower, not a "help us welcome a baby that we're certain is coming in a particular window of time." It was by design. Because we could get a last-minute call and we could go from being not-parents to parents in a very short period of time with little to no warning, I wanted to be ready, sooner than later. I wanted to not bond with our baby while we took turns frantically shopping for basics in the giant BBB baby superstore. I wanted to have a real nesting period, I wanted to feel just as real as any other expectant mom. I didn't want to miss out on an experience, a milestone, a chance to get together with friends and family and celebrate the impending mystery arrival of a mystery baby. I also didn't want to wait until I was matched, and then run the risk that the match fell through and my shower would forever be tainted by association with a specific child who wasn't going to ultimately be ours. A relatively small risk, but one I feel perfectly fine with avoiding, even if it means that I feel silly later when we've been showered and my house is full of baby gear and a nursery that remains babyless a year later. (We're not there yet by any means, but it is a very real fear, although I maintain that I'm far happier being prepared than waiting and denying ourselves the joy of expecting in all its glory.)
I was lucky to have my wishes be honored. I was feted by my coworkers first, and then by friends and family near and far and from different periods of my life. It was lovely, if awkward. That gift opening part seems to go on forever and I get punchy real quick and borderline inappropriate.
Some pictures that sort of prove this:
|Happy expectant parents in the middle school library, wondering where we'll put all this glorious baby gear|
|You can really see here where I've taken my ribbons and put them in my hair. You cannot see the tissue paper littering the floor where I violently threw it in a celebratory manner to make gift-opening unpredictable and more interesting.|
|Beautiful board books, and the look of "I am nearly done opening presents and am really not comfortable being the center of attention for this long, but I need to keep smiling and being enthusiastic although it hurts my face a little bit"|
|The Giving Tree gift area. We were truly blessed by so much generosity. Love the wagon.|
|Very Hungry Caterpillar food table. They really went all out with the theme, and it was fabulous.|
|I wish you could just open presents standing up... but that aside, me hitting Crazy Eyes phase of being uncomfortable at the center of things. There may have been cackling involved. Definitely there was insanely violent tissue-paper-tossing.|
I thoroughly appreciated the efforts that went into my showers. The people who coordinated, the outpouring of love and support and baby booty involved. It was still a little awkward, and I felt mostly warm and fuzzy and excited to be at this stage while at the same time feeling like it was surreal to have so much baby stuff without a baby to enjoy it, without a bump, without a specific timeline in mind. There were people at my shower who came although it was difficult, even though I had no bump or defined baby on the way, and I appreciated the effort it took to come and was completely understanding when early departures proved important for self-care. Both showers were beautiful celebrations of our parenthood journey and how far we've come and how close we are to having a baby materialize in our home.
Since my showers, we have set some things up and have left some things to stay in their boxes, to be assembled and put in their place when we're closer to the main event. We have gift certificates and items on our registry waiting to be purchased with said gift certificates. I figure that will be a really great way to spend a weekend when we're feeling discouraged and down or like the adoption is really, really amorphous and far away. Then, BOOM, we will go out and buy our stroller. Or set up something still in its box. We have to leave some stones unturned so that we have something to look forward to while we wait.
You would think that with my own showers behind me and us in our perpetually positive mindset that we are expecting and the countdown has begun, we just don't know the endpoint...that other peoples' showers would be easy.
Surprisingly, that is just not true. I feel somewhat like a horrible person admitting it, because I thought being in such a good frame of mind with letting go of pregnancy and being so excited for adoption and all that is to come that I would be a baby shower CHAMP now. Not like before, when I sent gifts or showered 1:1 but could not, would not go to an organized baby shower. Too painful. The only exception was a friend of mine who had twins via IVF. I could go to hers, because she was a survivor. And she understood when I said I might have to escape to the bathroom to cry. Which I did. And because she had been there, she knew not to take it as me not being 100% happy for her, but rather that I wanted to celebrate her although it was desperately, painfully sad for me to be left behind.
But now I should be able to go to baby showers no problem, because I am also an expectant mother in my own way, right?
I went to the first shower last month, for a friend who was matched through private adoption with an expectant mother through connections with a mutual friend. It was an adoption shower, which made it seem like it would be amazing -- except this wasn't a Mystery Baby shower, it was a Definite Baby Due in Two Weeks shower. There was a significant level of uncertainty gone. But, I was still okay, even though I didn't really know many people at all. I could say I knew my friend through adoption, but then was surprised when I was asked how old my baby was. "Oh, I don't have one yet." That was my first moment of prickling sadness. The second came when I was introduced as a friend through the journey but who was still in the trenches, waiting. (Which I felt in a way made me sound unsuccessful and again left behind, even though that's not at all what was meant. I felt very much Sad Sack Case again, since the other person we knew through adoption had brought her son home last year.) Then the kicker came. It was meant well, as an encouragement, but I was very much given a persuasive speech about how private adoption was so much better, so much faster, it's all about the connections, the more people you can connect with, I just want you to be in this place, yada yada yada. To me, it smacked of someone in fertility yoga class announcing a pregnancy and then proceeding to tell everyone how to do it, that they have the right formula of acupuncture and herbs, or prayers and meditations, or positivity and rituals to be successful. It drives me crazy, this feeling of "I was successful, and I have the secrets!" I get it -- you are euphoric and want others to feel this amazing feeling of being pregnant/being matched, but YOU DON'T HAVE EVERYONE'S ANSWERS. Not even remotely. You have YOUR answers. I kept repeating, "We are all going to do this in our own way" and that I actually was very happy with the agency and felt that the support offered to birth parents and adoptive parents and adoptees alike was invaluable, but after a while I felt like there was an unspoken commentary that I just wasn't trying hard enough. That if I would consider private I would get matched faster. (Again, all with the best of intentions in mind, but so upsetting.) Particularly upsetting because the mom-to-be's connection was a mutual friend, and it was ONE connection that resulted in this beautiful situation coming to a head. Not a ton of advertising, not putting herself out there to receive possible harassing calls from trolls pretending to be expectant mothers or having to sift through serious/not serious. It was a Right Place/Right Time situation that came to a head out of a beautiful connection that was decidedly not random, and not due to a ton of effort placed in private advertising.
I left that shower a bit early and spent the rest of the day in a funk. I was insanely happy for my friend to be in this position, as she had quite the road through infertility to get to adoption and this amazing opportunity with the expectant mother, and I enjoyed the present opening quite a bit, but I had a bitter taste in my mouth from a whole lot of "Shoulds" pointed my way. I felt outside the circle. I felt left behind, but also misunderstood in my choices. It was not a good feeling.
Fast forward to today, when I attended a baby shower for a friend who struggled with infertility and suffered quite a bit of loss and bewilderment and desperation in her journey. She is pregnant, and it is amazing. She is an incredibly sensitive pregnant person. I was thrilled to go to her shower and celebrate her miracle pregnancy, and I didn't feel bitter at all. I have had the ugliness of jealousy pop up from time to time when I think about how her experience will just be so much less complicated than ours, that she got the miracle on-a-break pregnancy that we will simply never have, that she will get this experience. It is completely and utterly muted however by her sweet disposition, her incredible sensitivity, and her lack of "pregnancy amnesia" that sometimes hits people who have experienced infertility and then become the worst pregnant people ever, making their profile pictures ultrasounds you can't escape on facebook, complaining nonstop to you about an experience you wanted desperately and have made peace with never having, etc. etc. etc.
The shower itself was gorgeous. It was in a beautiful room in a restaurant, it was well planned and tightly run so that it wasn't too long, games were unobtrusive (and I won one, which actually I won one at the other shower too. Cracks me up that suddenly I'm a baby shower winner, but the prize just isn't a baby, har har.), and they had the Baby Bingo that I so enjoy. You fill in the card with presents you think the mom will get, and then you pay attention to all the opening because if you get five in a row, BINGO. Brilliant concept. I had gluten free food options, including cupcakes she'd ordered special for me and one other intolerant guest.
The problem was the table where I sat.
They were all lovely ladies, people I knew marginally through our husbands and have met maybe once or twice before at Christmas parties or whatnot. HOWEVER. One woman had had her first baby three months before, and another was pregnant. Another young woman was somewhat recently married and excited to begin trying to have a baby. One more was interested in all things new motherhood, presumably because she is anxious to start on this path.
And so began two and a half hours of detailed birth stories, tales of not wanting to have children and then flipping a switch and deciding it was "the right thing to do" and getting pregnant fairly immediately. Of how pregnancy hormones kick in and all that mothering instinct is RIGHT THERE. (Oh wait, no hormones for me.) You just KNOW how to hold the baby and how to feed the baby and it all comes together. Tales of the moment conversations were had with husbands, deciding that babies were to be in the future. Drugs or no drugs. Long labors or short labors. Gender reveals or keeping it a surprise. BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH.
Statements like, "EVERYONE has a birth story, and they all seem to be SO DIFFERENT."
Yup. I have a birth story, and it sure is different. It's just largely unwritten and I won't be the author. (But what about another woman at the table, who is childfree and won't ever have a birth story other than the one that brought her into the world? How does that feel?)
No one asked about adoption or brought it up in that context, even though one woman asked me if I had kids earlier in the event and I said we were waiting to adopt, and then a few questions were asked before I was informed that it is SO MUCH HARDER to adopt internationally because of all the travel and immigration and whatnot, and I SO KNOW YOUR TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS because I KNOW SOMEONE WHO ADOPTED. Sigh. I mean, it was nice to have it be a question that wasn't just a pleasantry, but I wish people would think before they speak. This person was redeemed by enthusiastically congratulating me as she left and telling me that I absolutely needed to share the news when it came. But still... even when my gift bag was covered in owls and someone told the new mama at the table, "that's your nursery theme! Awww!" and I said, "It's mine too..." no one commented. I just couldn't hold court with an actual mom with a physical, non-theoretical baby. The celebrated Mom-To-Be did occasionally give me a nod and when opening things that I had gotten too, said, "oh, Jess has this!" Which was lovely and again speaks to her inclusive nature and sensitivity.
I left the table repeatedly to get more coffee or water or use the restroom, because it was just an onslaught of birth birth doula doula why the particular hospital she delivered in was the best. (That one smarted, actually, because it was the same hospital I would have delivered in, you know, if I was physically capable of getting and staying pregnant... but I kept my mouth shut. No one wants to hear Sad Sack at a joyous event.) It also bothered me greatly that those who wish to be pregnant spoke of it as an eventuality, with absolutely no sense of worry or possibility that it could be hard. Or simply not possible. It amazes me, being on the other side of that naivete, that people can live in such an iridescent bubble of innocence. Of course, in all probability, all of those women will get pregnant easily and women like me will remain a scary urban legend. All the more reason to keep my trap shut.
I felt kind of like an internal Debbie Downer, but at the same time I was enthusiastically oooohing and ahhhhing over all the baby loot, because it took me away from the ridiculousness at my table and brought it back to the FOCUS OF THE EVENT, which was my friend and her impending motherhood. That part was amazing.
And, towards the end, I met a friend of my friend's who was just starting her first (and hopefully last) egg donor cycle. SHE WAS ON LUPRON AND ATTENDED THE BABY SHOWER. Now, THAT is an amazing friend. (She said that was why she was downing the punch, ha ha.) All I could think was, thank goodness she wasn't at my table. We chatted for a while and I offered up that if she wanted to contact me I'd be happy to be a support, either information or whatever. I hope things work out for her, and I wished we had had more time to talk, although I could see the teary eyes starting at points in our conversation and I felt badly, like maybe talking about it at the baby shower was breaking down that cellular wall that kept the sadness and left-behind feelings on the outside. It was still lovely to meet a kindred spirit, someone for whom the shower was both celebratory of an infertility survivor, but probably difficult as well.
I guess the upshot is that regardless of how well-adjusted I think I am, baby showers are STILL HARD. They will probably always be hard. Even though I got my own and it's not something I feel I'll never experience, there's a difference when your shower lacks that sense of "someday... who knows when..." I didn't get to rub my pregnant belly. I didn't get to have an ultrasound of the baby growing in another woman's belly on the cake table. I don't even remotely have a due date. I will never join in on tales of birth stories, even if I have one that I witnessed as an outside-insider. I won't have miraculously thick hair from pregnancy (but I also won't lose it in clumps after the baby comes). There's so much I will have, so many beautiful experiences still to come, but it's still just so hard to acknowledge all the ones I've lost. And as much as in a way we revel in our uncertainty, living in the present and soaking up all we can from our just-us time, days like these make the uncertainty pull at my chest, reopening a gaping wound I've stitched up over and over again.
This will pass, and one day hopefully we will all have our own stories of new motherhood...it's just so hard not knowing when that story will be written.