So You’re Having a Baby During a Pandemic

I recently heard from a woman who didn’t plan anything for her niece’s birth date. She said she’s been feeling regretful that, because of the coronavirus pandemic, her family wasn’t able to come together to welcome this new child. I told her: It isn’t too late! She could still organize an event. It just might look a little different than a typical baby shower or sip-and-see.

One of the cool things we’re seeing right now is that people are more open to bending the rules of gatherings as this period of isolation goes on. So, you didn’t get to have a baby shower? Do you want a baby shower? Well, go ahead and make it happen! If the baby is already here, you can call the event a baby welcome party.

On this week’s “Together Apart,” we talked to a woman who had to cancel her planned real-life baby shower. She’s due in two weeks, and a friend of hers still wants to throw her something. They had planned to do silly games like shaping Play-Doh into the shape of a baby. They anticipated eating a meal together. But now? They decided to see if they could still do something on Zoom. But what? Here are a few things to consider if you’re about to welcome a new baby.

Before the guest list is settled and invites are sent, spend a beat identifying exactly what the new parents need from this virtual baby shower. You may have to ask them. Is it information about what to expect, or what routines to make, or how to introduce older siblings to a new baby? Get specific. Maybe the point is just to bring together rarely seen friends and family who are busy with babies of their own. Maybe it’s a surprise baby reveal!

For the original IRL baby shower, our friend had planned to have a women-only gathering. (Her husband and father were going to stop by at the end to say hello.) But as she began to plan a replacement Zoom baby shower, she began to reconsider the role of men in this ritual. If they were both going to parent, shouldn’t both people hear the advice? Was this shower to help her prepare for labor? Was it to receive gifts, to help defray costs? Was it to support both parents as they became a larger family?

She spoke to her husband, and they decided to change the ritual to center around both parents. They structured the event to have two phases: “Delivering Good Vibes” was the first phase, where the women in her life gave advice and shared songs to take with her into labor and delivery. Then, the men joined the Zoom for the second phase, called “Words of Wisdom for the Parents-to-Be,” where all parents gave their wisest counsel.

Create rituals that have legs. That means, you want any activity you choose to be meaningful long after you log off the Zoom call. Perhaps you can encourage everyone attending to suggest a song the birth parent can listen to in the birthing room. Collate these songs into a playlist to provide her with some distraction while in labor. When she’s home, she can sing some of those songs to her child. Maybe they’ll listen to these songs through their childhood. And then that child finds herself or himself humming the song to their child a generation later.

One friend told me she listened to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons during her pregnancy. Another friend played “Can’t Stop the Feeling” nonstop. “Let’s Get It Started” by the Black Eyed Peas was another song on repeat. So was Whitney Houston’s version of “I’m Every Woman.” If the song makes you feel powerful and part of something larger, then it’s a great song to include in a labor room playlist.

I’ve seen people write letters to the baby expressing their dreams and wishes for the child. I’ve seen people put together baby books with newspaper clippings to capture what the world is like right now. Yes, things are chaotic — think of how fascinating it will be for the child to have a firsthand account of how their family coped with the pandemic. What a gift!

“How do you equally parent? Where does it break down?” leads to a very different conversation than “How do I get the baby to sleep?” The questions you ask determine the conversation you’ll get.

Send clear questions in the invitation. It’ll orient your guests and to give them some time to think ahead of time about answers to share.

I was once at a baby shower where the mom-to-be was terrified of going into labor. Perfectly normal. So a friend designed a ritual: She brought a handful of beads, all different colors. She asked her circle of friends to hold a single bead. Then each shared about a quality they already knew this woman possessed that they believed would serve her during labor. Strength, surrender, grit, resilience, humor were all traits named. Then they strung the beads together into a necklace, which the mother-to-be took with her into the delivery room, as a physical token of their support.

Of course now we’re not together in the same room, but we can still riff on the idea. Take something tangible that your loved ones have imbued with meaning — jewelry, plush socks, collected thoughts printed on a piece of paper — and take it with you in the birthing bag.

During your virtual shower, ask people to come with a prepared answer to this prompt: “What’s a quality that the parents-to-be already have that will also serve them as a parent?” Ask them to bring a story that shows you know they already hold that quality. Don’t overthink it! Explain how they’re a dependable friend, a nurturing presence or can always find the silver lining in life, all attributes that will make them especially well-suited to parenting.

It’s important to keep the people who aren’t parents in your inner circle. Even though they may not have useful advice about infant sleep schedules or diaper cream brands, they have other insights to bring. For one, they help the expecting parents resist being swallowed into their new parent identity. Here’s an answer they can bring: “What is one thing you saw your own parents do or that you experienced as a child that you want to share that might help people on their journey?”

Another friend group asked women family members to share which attributes they hoped their baby girl would have as she grew up. Love of nature, sense of wonder, sense of adventure, love of learning and friendship were traits people mentioned. It was a rare, and powerful, opportunity for the community to say aloud the values they hold most dear.

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