Photo: Larry Williams/Corbis
Shana Kelly was six months pregnant with her first child when her best friend told her she was throwing her a baby shower at their church, and was planning to send handwritten invitations to all of the women in the congregation - most of whom Kelly didn't know well.
The Kawartha Lakes, Ont., mom of two was touched by the gesture, but also mortified by the idea of having a huge party with a guest list that included more than just close friends and family. So she put her foot down and gently asked her friend to scale back her plans.
Kelly did the right thing, says Toronto etiquette expert Louise Fox. "Embarrassing the parents-to-be should never be part of the program," she explains. It's OK for guests of honour to voice strong preferences for what they don't want, but they shouldn't go so far as to direct the party planner. Kelly's mother urged her to not to stress about the shower too much. "My mom said, 'This is the one time when you have to sit back and learn to let people help and celebrate you.' And that helped me graciously accept all of the amazing support. I kept telling myself, 'It's only a few hours of your life.'" In the end, Kelly's shower was still overwhelming to her, but she considers it a positive experience.
These days, what your baby shower may look like varies. Traditions change - using a registry was considered a faux pas 30 years ago, says Fox. So while expecting moms might still be feted with a ladies-only afternoon affair, complete with gift opening, cake and silly games (chocolate in the diaper, anyone?), it's no longer the only way to go. Coed events, showers for second and third children, and throwing a party after the baby is born are all acceptable.
Christine Davidson, a Toronto mom-to-be, is hoping for a non-traditional, coed shower. "It's about me and my partner and the baby, so let's get everyone together and celebrate this new chapter of our life," she says. She doesn't like the awkwardness of opening gifts in front of guests, and doesn't want any more baby gear (her family has already supplied her with the essentials), so they worded the invitation carefully to convey the no-gifts preference.This is a tricky point in the modern shower playbook. Fox says that gift givers like to see the recipient's response, so opening presents at the shower is the way to go. But if you're shy, there are options for pleasing both you and your guests - consider opening gifts one-on-one with the giver. It's also perfectly OK for the host to politely indicate gifts aren't necessary. However, the invitation should say something positive, advises Fox. Try "only your presence and smile is required," rather than "no gifts."
Shyness or a lack of interest in gifts is not the only reason someone may not want a shower before the baby is born. In certain cultures - including some Chinese and some Jewish families - superstition over celebrating an unborn baby makes it taboo to buy gifts for the child until after the mother gives birth. A Chinese man yue (or a full-moon party) is held one month after the baby is born, complete with gifts and specific foods like special cakes and eggs dyed red. However you celebrate, and whatever your faith, baby shower hosts and mamas-to-be should feel free to switch things up. The goal is a party that balances traditions with the beliefs and wishes of the guest of honour.
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