In the Market for a Mother

My pace was slow as we approached the store. Partly because I’d just filled my belly and bladder and couldn’t walk without a hitch, but also because I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to crossing the threshold.

My mother and I were headed to the baby superstore. She had kindly offered to supply our new little one with bed linens, mattress pads, etc. It would be fun to pick at least the patterns on the sheets, and it made sense to come to such a store with a ridiculous variety of options; still, I hesitated – and not just when I realized the restrooms were in the far rear corner of the store. (Seriously, people? Preggos and newborns? Damn the marketing man.)

The fact that this store had such a ridiculous variety of options was part of the problem. If I’ve learned anything after three babies, it’s that simpler is usually better. The addition and care of a little person complicates life enough. Why does a parent need a proprietary gizmo for each and every function? They only suck up money and space.

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Have you ever googled ‘baby gear image’?  Don’t.  (pearlsonastring.com)

One of the liberating aspects of this older, wiser, and unexpected pregnancy (ie gave away all our stuff) was that it would be bare bones. All that stuff I’d registered for and thought I needed and accumulated now was non sequitur. I could pick and choose what was truly needed to care for my baby. And really, that was not much of anything besides my hands and heart. (though, disposable diapers would be nice).

Especially after the rough ride with #3, I was looking forward to a pared down experience focused on the mother-child bond rather than the circus that can sometimes surround newborns and new motherhood.

So after my mother graciously offered to walk back to the front of the store to acquire a shopping cart, she found me staring glassy-eyed at the crib sheet display.

You’re overwhelmed, aren’t you?” she asked.

More than anything, I felt like I was in an alternate universe, never having expected to find myself in this aisle again. It had been years. I felt older. A little self-righteous in a been there-done that sort of way. Appalled – and again older – to see how much the prices had gone up since I’d last bought this stuff. Amused by the upper tier options people who didn’t have any frame of reference would actually spring for.

After choosing a good foundation of necessities, we wandered into other departments, which was probably a mistake. Bedding I could do. The child couldn’t sleep itself into a sweaty, sticky mess on a bare mattress. But cradles, and cups and spoons, and bottles, and little padded strap cushions. Mom and I decided to get a few nursing supplies since I’d need those right off and call it a day.

Don’t get me wrong, Mom and I swooned when we saw the adorable itty bitty sheep on a crib sheet. I picked up a little fox and she nearly hugged a fuzzy penguin. Humans love fresh starts, soft little fingers and toes, and the fragility of life we often forget otherwise.

But I feel like the culture of modern motherhood and merchandising drowns all that. Sure, it shines through in a precious petite bodysuit. But the rows of cribs, reclining chairs, canvas art work, and countless accessories? No mother needs all that. If she wants it, fine. But I think the first insidious brainwashing of the perfect mother myth is that she must have it. The material, the physical accoutrements must be perfectly laid for her to perfectly welcome and care for her baby.

For those times when the maternal bond is muddled, all that material just masks the root problem – and ultimate solution – further.

It’s time to get back to basics.

I picture myself holding my baby, swaddling her* close, and facing the world together – without the marketing man anywhere in sight.

 

*And no, this is not a veiled announcement of the sex of our child; female pronouns just roll off the tongue after three girls

Love or Logistics?

I remember my grandmother being none too impressed with the idea of baby registries.

Asking for specific gifts? Telling people what to buy? We’ve all raised children; we know what a baby needs.

I tried to explain them from a logistical standpoint.

It’s to prevent duplicate gifts. People can buy gift cards or certificates to apply toward larger items. Or you can buy gifts to match the nursery theme.

She understood all these arguments, but she did have a point. Still, I registered.

I spent the excruciating better part of a Saturday at the local baby superstore, one which my husband still laments never being able to get back; one which I still remind him proved he was a sore sport. We took a break at one point, resting in two of the array of gliders on display. Stretching out on the coordinating ottomans, he said how much his feet hurt. Your feet hurt? I am carrying around a nearly full-term human!

My sister-in-law recounts a similarly disappointing experience. She, too, entered the store full of excitement and anticipation, ready to get all the things her little one might need. One look at the wall of bottles and nipples sucked that right out of her.

There’s different flows? I didn’t know there were different flows! How do I know which one to get? How am I supposed to know which my baby will like?

She ended up walking out of the store, the lunch date with my brother-in-law a much better prospect.

I’ve come to revisit this harrowing phase of a woman’s life – the waiting period before one’s first child – because I attended a baby shower this past weekend. I hadn’t realized how long it had been since I’d attended one. I hadn’t realized how much psychic distance I’d achieved from that point in my life.

Scrolling through the mother-to-be’s online registry, I pondered all the minutae we stockpile for one fragile little being. Watching the mother-to-be open myriad boxes and bags, I marveled at the physical objects we amass in preparation for their care. I thought about the stupid decisions we make beforehand – because we have nothing on which to base them. We don’t know whether our baby will like to be bounced or rocked. We don’t know whether they’ll take a pacifier or spit it out. We don’t know whether they’ll take to nursing like a vacuum or suck down formula like it’s going out of style. Yet, we let marketing gurus and product developers make these decisions for us; tell us what our baby will need before we’ve even met them.

I was thinking how wonderful it would be if we instead showered the mother with practical wisdom. Looking back, having been what I’ve been through, I think, would it not be more beneficial to surround the mother with support rather than things? Not to offer harping advice or to scare with harrowing tales, but share our experiences and struggles; to let the mother air her concerns and ask questions.

Is not the combined experience of all the mothers in that room much more valuable than the material trappings?

Modern society may have streamlined gift-giving with the registry process, but it also omitted something special. The human element. The generational wisdom and tradition. The magic and wonder of growing and birthing and caring for a baby. That one little trick your mother learned from her mother that will stop a crying baby better than any toy or tool can do.

Mothers need other mothers more than they need anything else. Love and support, the nest of family and friends. All things that no amount of logistics can provide.

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