While expecting my second daughter, I wanted to honor and celebrate my blooming belly with a baby shower. But I was packed to the gills with baby gear and didn’t need another thing. My friend Kim introduced me to the concept of a “mother’s blessing.” She gathered a group of my closest friends to foster my courage for labor, birth and the transition to two children. They joined me in henna body art and a potluck feast, showered me with personal gifts and created a necklace from special beads that each woman contributed.
With my third daughter, I knew without question that I didn’t need any more stuff for the baby or myself. But I did need loads of support from my friends! My friend Gigi came to my rescue and facilitated another “mother’s blessing,” asking each person to forgo a physical gift and bring only a written promise of whatever support she could offer me during the first year after my daughter’s birth. I couldn’t have asked for a better baby shower gift, and the cards, with promises that ranged from meals to play dates to a trip to the grocery store, still bring tears to my eyes when I read through them.
While my experiences were truly unique, I am not alone in my desire to do something unconventional for a baby shower. Baby showers can be as individual as the mothers and babies they celebrate.
The mother’s blessing derives from the concept of a blessingway, a sacred Navajo fertility rite. While traditional baby showers are generally baby-focused, a blessing is a woman-centered event.
Lake Forest Park mom Silje Sodal enjoyed mother blessings for her two pregnancies. At Sodal’s baby shower blessings, her guests each brought a bead, picked out just for her. The beads were combined into a necklace that holds with it the history and intention of all of the important women in her life. “Every time I see it, I think about the love of my friends and the connection between women generally,” says Sodal.
For Carey DeMartini, the ceremonial aspect of the baby shower blessing created intention within her community that has supported her ever since. “I feel that because of my friends’ high level of participation in the blessing, I have continued to receive very generous support,” says the Ballard mom. I feel like I went into mothering with a very full cup.”
Any type of baby shower can include a ceremonial component. “Becoming a mother is a rite of passage,” says Gigi Wickwire, a Bothell nurse who has facilitated several mother’s baby shower blessings. “Ceremony is an opportunity for the community to acknowledge, witness, offer support, and take stock in the changes occurring and to share wisdoms learned.”
A ceremony for a pregnant woman does not need to be an elaborate and formal affair. It can be as simple as a moment of silence, during which everyone lends their thoughts to a pregnant woman, or as complex as a detailed ritual with a professional facilitator. This can happen through the sharing of a meal, through a loving show of affection to the pregnant woman by sharing wishes and advice, or through any number of other things that are done with loving intention.
“Becoming a mother is an incredible, often solitary, journey,” says Wickwire. “Ceremony offers an opportunity to deposit love and other intangible forms of nourishment with the mother-to-be to support her as she journeys through the threshold of birth and early motherhood.”
Redmond mother Laurie Apfel celebrated her second pregnancy with a scrapbook baby shower party. Each friend made a page for the scrapbook, which Apfel later put together with photos of her baby. She says that as women become parents, it becomes more important to create intentional time with our adult friends. “By the time you have a second baby shower you pretty much know who the important friends are in your life, and it is wonderful to share experiences and quality time with them,” says Apfel.
Amy Gilbrough’s sister coordinated onesie art for her baby shower. Equipped with fabric pens and assorted plain onesies, guests at Gilbrough’s baby shower created their own practical, wearable art for her baby. “I dressed Julian in those onesies every day!” recalls Gilbrough. “I still have a few of them packed away with the little baby things I cannot part with.”
Liana Montague of Mercer Island recalls having her girlfriends over for a baby shower to help paint fish on the walls of the nursery she was preparing for her son. Each person signed her name under a fish she painted on the border of an underwater scene. As her son grew, Montague could point to the fish and talk to him about the special people in his life who helped decorate his room during the baby shower. “My son learned his colors from the fish on his wall!” she remembers.
Once you start to consider an art baby shower party, the possibilities are endless. If you know a quilter, ask for help assembling a quilt that contains a square each guest has decorated with fabric markers or paints. If you belong to a knitting group, consider having each guest knit a square of a patchwork baby blanket. Paint tiles to frame a mirror for baby’s room. Art parties for kids are popular, and it’s easy to see why. Not only do guests enjoy creative time together, but they create a tangible memory of the event.
To fully preserve the awesomeness of the full-blown pregnant belly, some women choose to make a life-size belly “mask” out of plaster for their baby shower. Actually making the cast is not a great way to spend a baby shower, according to Kimberly Radtke who runs BirthWays, a website dedicated to empowering birthing families. Radtke, who has casted more than a hundred bellies and facilitated 20 mother’s blessings, says, “It takes more than an hour where the pregnant woman has to sit very still and requires that she be nude for most of the process.” Most people would rather spend a special party or baby shower enjoying their guests with their clothes on.
However, once a cast is created and prepared (which takes several coats to finish it), a party or a baby shower could include time spent decorating the belly mask.
Henna is a plant product that stains the skin a reddish brown, leaving a temporary tattoo. It is essentially risk-free, painless skin art that paints on and wears off after several weeks, leaving no permanent marks. Historically, henna has been associated with beautification and protection from evil, and has traditionally been applied to women for ritual purposes such as weddings, preparation for birth and postpartum recovery. “It symbolizes a safe passage for mother and baby,” says Krysteen Lomonaco, owner of Mehndi Madness, a henna studio in Edmonds.
Lomonaco regularly attends private parties and baby showers to paint henna on pregnant women and their friends. Lomonaco might decorate the pregnant belly with an intricate mandala, and then paint complimentary patterns on the hands or feet of the other baby shower guests. Some use the shared art as a reminder to send positive thoughts or prayers about the coming birth.
What better thing to do with a giant belly than take it dancing? “While there is a lot of controversy around the origins of belly dance,” says Julia Demarest, assistant director of Troupe Hipnotica Tribal Belly Dance in Seattle, “many people believe that women in tribal societies throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa would drum and dance for each other during labor. Belly dance has always been a dance of celebration.” Demarest sometimes performs and sometimes teaches lessons at baby showers. Belly dancing helps build core strength and teaches women to get in touch with their bodies, which some consider to be useful in preparing physically and emotionally for birth.
Belly dancing is not the only way to incorporate dancing into a great baby shower; women can gather for any type of dancing that is physically appropriate for pregnancy. Whether cranking the music and cutting up the living-room rug or shaking rattles and dancing under the stars by a bonfire on the beach, there is something primal and invigorating about dancing together, and it makes for a memorable party or baby shower.
Once a mother has received all of the baby gifts she can stuff into her home, she may appreciate a different perspective on baby shower gifts. Ideas for such alternatives include a “build a library” baby shower, where all of the gifts are children’s books for the new baby; a “gift for older siblings” baby shower, where the gifts are all intended to support the growth of a big brother or sister; or a “feed the growing family” baby shower, where the friends pool their efforts to make meals for the pregnant woman’s freezer.
An especially welcomed baby shower gift, the “meal train” is a promise of a meal once baby arrives. People sign up to bring a meal, with one person coordinating the efforts. Sometimes it’s all one can do during those blurry postpartum days to eat and sleep. The idea of answering the phone and coordinating the generous efforts of friends can be too much. The meal train coordinator rescues exhausted parents by both making sure that people will bring meals, and by coordinating the delivery, as well as communicating food preferences and sensitivities.
DeMartini received the baby shower gift of a meal train from her friends when her daughter was born. “After a difficult birth and complications post-delivery, with no family in town, we literally ate for the first six weeks because other people fed us. The meal train allowed us to be nurtured while we directed our attention and love to our daughter.” Not only did the DeMartini family receive scheduled meals, but one friend showed up at their front door unannounced and with two bags of groceries. “I’d told her that in between meal deliveries, we were mostly eating sandwiches,” recalls DeMartini. “We call this ‘guerrilla groceries’ and have paid it forward to other friends with new babies having been so moved and helped by this gesture.”
Meal trains benefit the whole family, not just the expectant mother. “The meal train was a great way to introduce baby and a life saver for meal preparation in those first months,” says Madrona dad James Drage. “It was also a great function to introduce baby to our friends.”
If an expectant mother needs anything, it’s a little pampering. She can enjoy it in spades with a pampering party. Shelley Hansen, spa party coordinator for Spalicious, which provides mobile spa service to Seattle, the Eastside, Everett and as far north as Bellingham, explains, “Typically the guests are all together chatting, eating and opening gifts while getting manis, pedis, massages and facials . . . They get to relax, be pampered and socialize all in one place!” This is precisely the little slice of heaven that new mothers often wish for, and late pregnancy is prime time to appreciate the benefits of relaxation and beauty services.
Make it personal
The key to any fabulous baby shower is to tailor it to the expectant mother — or parents. There is nothing saying that partners should be excluded from the nurturing and celebration associated with welcoming a new baby! With a little creativity, a baby shower can be as unique as the baby it celebrates.
Tera Schreiber has hosted, attended and received a multitude of showers and believes that the best thing about all of them has been the amazing pregnant bellies!