According to a supplement in the latest weekend paper in Sydney, baby showers are becoming more and more common. Also becoming a “rite of passage” is a “man shower”, where the male of the partnership is taken out, given gifts and alcohol in celebration of his clever sperm making contact with the egg. I have a problem with showers, of all kinds except the one you have when you get up in the morning to stop you smelling for the rest of the day.
I didn’t have a bridal shower. I don’t think they exist so much in the UK as in Australia or the US. I don’t really understand them; I mean why would I deserve a lot of women giving me gifts simply for getting engaged? Isn’t it a bit rude: “Look at me! I’m getting married! I’m so clever! Reward me!” In all honesty, the very act of marrying the man of my dreams (vomit, vomit) was present enough for me. I did have a hen weekend, but while those who came gave me presents, they were cheap pairs of knickers that my friends had decorated themselves. I haven’t worn them by the way. I’m not quite sure what the reaction would be to a wife wearing a pair of white cotton knickers with “wedding belle” written on them in sparkly pink paint, and a selection of bells attached. Although the thought is interesting…
We also didn’t have a wedding list. I dislike wedding lists. I find the idea of inviting someone to your wedding, and enclosing a list of things that you’d like to receive along with the invitation a bit offensive, actually. I have no objection to buying a wedding gift for a couple, but out of principle I usually refuse to buy anything on the list, and if they are a friend whom I actually want to buy a present for, I will buy a present that I would like to give, and that I think they’ll enjoy, not an expensive set of cutlery that they’ll never use.
Wedding lists made some sense when they were consisted of household appliances and equipment for a couple who were setting up home together, and who were only then moving out of their family homes. These days, many couples live together for years before they marry, and so have everything they could need. Even couples who haven’t lived together have often lived away from home, separately, and built up a collection individually.
But even those who have everything see a wedding list as an opportunity to get other people to sped their money on buying the couple things that the couple wouldn’t buy for themselves. Take some friends of mine, for example. They had lived together for 5 years before they got married. They had everything they could want or need, and yet their wedding list was full of ridiculously expensive glasses, vases, plates that they don’t use, £200 bedding and towels. Their guests bought them everything on their list, and even now, their relatively small house is cluttered with all their gifts. They didn’t need anything on that list, yet they asked for it. Why? Why should getting married mean that people have to buy you presents? As Carrie says in Sex and the City, why do single women (for example) spend so much money on gifts for others, when nobody buys them gifts to celebrate their life choices?
I refused flat-out to have a wedding list when we got married. There was no need – we didn’t need anything, we’d been living together for a few years, and besides what we wanted we would buy ourselves. I didn’t want our guests to feel they had to buy me a gift. If they felt the urge to, I accepted it with the love with which it was given, and was grateful that they’d spent the time and money to choose something they thought we’d like. So on our invitations, we said that we didn’t ask for gifts. All that we wanted, was those people we had invited to come and share our day with us. We picked two charities that meant something to us, and asked people to donate to them if they felt inclined to. After all, they needed the money. We didn’t need fancy towels or plates.
This brings me to the next time when people are expected to give you gifts: a baby shower. I was invited to a baby shower not too long ago. It was for one of the seven women who gave birth around my due date. To be absolutely fair to her, she invited me, but also said that she understood if I didn’t want to go, which was very gracious of her, I thought. I didn’t go in the end, mostly because I’d landed in the country early that morning, was jet-lagged, and spent most of the afternoon asleep. I was glad that I didn’t go, however. Not only were the guests expected to bring gifts for the mother-to-be, but they had to sit around and decorate baby clothes for her. Not really what an infertile woman wants to be doing.
I just don’t understand baby showers. Why does having a baby and proving your fertility mean that you deserve presents? Is having a baby not present enough? Isn’t it part of the fun, to go out and buy tiny clothes and all the breast pumps/sterilising equipment you need? And it all seems so insensitive. By virtue of how common miscarriage and infertility is, you will most likely be inviting someone who is suffering from either or both. To celebrate your fertility when they can’t celebrate their own. And the smack-in-the-face, kick-in-the-guts, I’m having a baby, look at me, aren’t I clever (and you’re not!) invitation that is sent out only increases an infertile’s trauma as she works out how she can possibly not attend without causing offence, or attend and not sit in the corner in floods of tears.
The “man shower” is ridiculous. My husband has functioning sperm too. It’s not his fault that something went wrong and one baby stopped developing while the other couldn’t implant into my pathetic endometrium. Why didn’t he get presents and taken out for drinks too? And if it is just a big excuse for a piss-up, then please, just go out for drinks with friends for the sake of it and stop using your fertility as an excuse, thereby alienating those whose emissions may not be so potent.
Ban the lot of them, I say. Because fertility is not an achievement. It is something you either have or you don’t. If you don’t have problems with your lady bits, or indeed your man bits, getting pregnant is something that happens largely beyond your control, and you didn’t have to work for it, so why should you be rewarded by a lot of women/men giving you material things? Those who do have problems are the ones who have to work to become pregnant, have to go through multiple highly undignified and painful medical treatments, to have just one longed for, ached for child. If anyone is to be rewarded, should it not be them? And surely, surely, the miracle of a living, breathing, mini-you is reward enough?
But the issue is this: why does society celebrate fertility successes, and yet those heartbreaking failures are all too often forgotten, swept under the carpet, ignored and ridiculed. “Aren’t you over your miscarriage yet? No? you’re so weird. It wasn’t even a baby. Get a grip.” For when you walk through those valleys, when you are shrouded in darkness, that is when you need your friends and family clustered around you; protecting you and loving you. And all too often they ignore you and your distress, and pretend it doesn’t exist. Perhaps society should take a look at itself, and acknowledge those losses, that they are real, distressing and immense, and then perhaps those who suffer the indignity of infertility and miscarriage would get the support they need, as well as those who don’t experience such things.