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So You’re Having a Baby During a Pandemic

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nora

This is going to be awful to say, but I’ve had friends who’ve had to postpone weddings or things like that. But you still get to have the wedding that you more or less envisioned, just at a different time of year or a later time. I can’t put the baby back inside me and have my baby shower in the summer or the fall.

priya parker

There are some events that even during a pandemic are complicated to postpone. But in that navigating, a question that we often skip over can arise, which is why do we do it in this way in the first place? For The New York Times, this is “Together Apart.” I’m Priya Parker. This week, we turn to baby showers.

(richard)

Hi, Nora.

^(^nora^)

Hi, Uncle Richard. Hold on.

(richard)

How are you? Hi.

^(nora)

I’m good. Look at this baby bump.

priya parker

Show me a gathering, and I can tell you what that community’s values are.

(richard)

You’re getting bigger than your father.

(nora)

Yeah.

priya parker

I can tell from watching any gathering, whether a frat party or a soccer game or a court proceeding, what the underlying assumptions of that community are about what role everyone is playing.

(nora)

Just remember, every contraction is bringing you closer to meeting your baby, which was why you got into this mess in the first place.

priya parker

You think a baby shower, it’s kind of straightforward. You give some gifts. There’s a rattle game. You pin the diaper on the baby. What’s the big deal? It seems pretty straightforward. If you look more closely, though, every gathering is a social X-ray onto what people’s assumptions are about who’s going to take care of this baby, who holds knowledge about these things, and who needs to hear that knowledge. Gatherings are expressions of values. Who gets to speak? Who leads the gathering? Whose advice is taken seriously? Who’s ignored? Who’s in the room? And baby showers, in part because the rituals are so explicit and they’re replicated over and over again, are a wonderful vessel to understand gatherings as social X-rays. [BABY CRYING]

allie

I’m sorry. I thought she was going to be calm if I held her, but she hasn’t settled down quite yet.

priya parker

Allie reached out to me asking for help reimagining a baby shower that she was planning for her friend Nora before COVID-19 hit their state. Allie recently actually had a baby herself and wanted to create something special for Nora, who’s due in two weeks with her first baby and had to cancel her in-person baby shower.

priya parker

I would turn on my camera to show you my face, but I’m literally in a closet in the dark surrounded by clothes to try to get the best sound quality. This might sound like an obvious question, but why did you want to have a baby shower? ^NORA^ I’m kind of terrified about the actual birth process, so I just wanted to hear from everybody. OK, how was it for you? What should I expect? What don’t I know? What can you tell me that I should know that I don’t, like labor and delivery stuff, and then I think after the baby’s born, questions about, OK, how do you make sure you get the baby to sleep through the night, that kind of stuff. And it was everybody from grandmothers to aunts to friends from my book club, friends from college, friends from high school, and friends from home, so just a mix of all types of people. Were you planning for your husband to be there as well?

nora

He was going to come at the end. There’s a bar attached to the restaurant, so he was going to hang out with his dad and my dad. And then at the end kind of they would come in and just kind of be there and see everybody. But for the most part, it was going to just be ladies.

priya parker

Have you and JJ talked at all about how, between the two of you, you would share roles, or how are you imagining you might be a mother and he might be a father?

nora

I really haven’t thought that far yet. I’ve just thought about getting to the actual delivery room and then getting the baby out. That’s as far as my brain has been able to process.

priya parker

Look, when it comes to baby showers, there’s a tradition of who we think it’s for. It’s for women and their friends and their moms. The idea that you’d invite a man to a baby shower is a recent idea and, for some, pretty radical. And I bring this up early in the conversation to start actually talking about roles because the roles in the gathering tend to reflect the roles that will also be taken later on. And by the way, this is also true for gay couples. Within any pair, people take on roles, and sometimes more consciously and sometimes less consciously. And I decided to explore this with her on the call.

priya parker

What I hear you say is a couple of things. Up until now, at least without corona, for you, the function or the purpose of the baby shower was, A, information exchange, but I also heard kind of like, I think you used the word terror of, what? of labor and delivery.

nora

Yep. That’s right.

priya parker

I have two children, and for my first I was really scared of the actual birth, and so I can really relate. If I think of every gathering as an exchange or a social contract, at a deepest level what we’re doing anytime we host anything is we’re saying I have this need, and I’m asking you as a guest to play this role. Won’t you come and play that role? And then I think there’s this other question now that’s kind of emerging, which is like how do we navigate postbirth in a corona environment? Is not fair?

nora

That’s very fair. That’s so true.

priya parker

Here again is Nora’s friend Allie.

allie

I had mentioned that my sister made me a labor-and-delivery playlist, and it was actually one of the things that I remember from labor and delivery the most. I had wanted personally very mellow, calming music. And to this day, I’m singing Frankie’s songs now that were on that playlist, and it’s really special. So I thought maybe we could all , everyone who participates in the shower could choose a song to help get rid of some of that fear from labor and delivery or distract from it at least. We can tell her why we chose that song. So that was my one idea so far for an activity that we can do.

priya parker

I love that. It’s a beautiful idea, and it’s beautiful for a number of reasons. First, it gives people something to do, very simply. I think one of the challenges that we’re trying to figure out here is how do you log into a Zoom call and not just all say hello and chitchat. The second, though, is that it’s a ritual that has legs, and what I mean by that is it will walk out with Nora well after the shower. She can literally take those songs into the birthing room with her, right? She can literally then continue to sing some of those songs to her child. I mean, to play it all the way out, there are some songs that somebody could bring from that shower that the mother then listens to during birth, hums to her child through their childhood, and then that child finds herself or himself humming to their child a generation later. One of the things that creates meaning and gatherings and makes them transformative, which means very simply that people leave slightly differently from when they entered, not only Nora but everybody else who was there, is that you carry something out with you, and it continues to spread in ways you could have never imagined.

priya parker

There are a number of ways for gatherings to live well beyond their end. One of them is through song, and I’m trying to get them to think that way. So I shift the conversation to see if we can move beyond the best diaper cream, which is information, to advice that could change the trajectory of a couple’s parenting. But more on that in a moment. This is Together Apart. I’m Priya Parker.

priya parker

Some of the advice that I got when my husband and I were having our first child was the first few weeks is actually when you have relative equality in terms of your knowledge of how to raise a child, which is you’re both clueless, unless one of the parents is in early childhood care, right, like some asterisk. But for the most part, most people are equally clueless. And one of the best pieces of advice we got that we really appreciated was for as long as possible for both parents to do both things as much as possible because in those early days, that’s when you are both exploring and you’re curious and you’re kind of trying to figure this out together. And it’s very easy after two or three or four weeks to just basically think oh, well, she’s a mom. Of course she’s the one who can soothe the child. Or he’s the dad. Of course he’s the one who warms the bottles or whatever it is. And often these patterns get replicated when a parent goes back to work very quickly. So just to plant a seed, I think this is actually a really fascinating moment for couples around the country who find themselves in a situation of giving birth, and then both parents are going to be working from home for a few months or paternity and returning for a few months is to really be conscious about how do you actually invent and create when you can both be home? at least in the context of the US, which is quite unusual. What are you thinking as I say that?

nora

I’m thinking I have never thought about it like that, and I love this idea of equal parenting and kind of just like no set roles but just redefining how we can support and help each other to do what’s best for the baby. I think that’s beautiful.

priya parker

We all have in many parts of our lives inherited rituals of gathering forms that made sense at one period of time for one community. And some of those rituals become outdated for us, but we keep doing them over and over and over again, in part because we’re on autopilot and in part because we feel attachment to the form because we’ve seen other people in our community do it. For many gatherings, we don’t pause to ask, does this form match our values and our current needs? Baby showers traditionally were a way to defray costs for a couple just beginning their lives. And people now have babies at a much older age, often with two working people. It was a form of women to give advice to women. And this ritual largely affects a world in which women were responsible not just for birth but for child rearing, and we haven’t yet invented a ritual that reflects the parenting norms of many couples today.

priya parker

And you have to talk to JJ about this. This is me putting my values onto you. But one of the things that I’ve seen in baby showers is, in part because we perpetuate these assumed roles where it’s like women passing knowledge onto other women, and men actually don’t have this physical transformation of the body expanding and giving birth. They don’t have showers to actually have conversations of what does it mean to move not just from a husband but to a father? What does it mean to move from a couple to a family? And in part because we often don’t have time to think about our rituals, something like a baby shower perpetuates a set of beliefs and assumptions that, at least in my experience, this new generation doesn’t totally think, but we don’t often pause to reimagine how we might gather for both parents.

nora

Yeah.

priya parker

So as I think about the different people in your life, and as you said, the different people coming from all these different walks, first, how many people, are you still planning on inviting 40, the same 40? You’re just kind of moving it online?

nora

Yeah. I want to open it up to all of the people that were originally invited.

priya parker

So I hear in your questions kind of three needs. So the first sounds like it really is about delivery and labor. Is that fair?

nora

Oh yeah. That’s the one, that’s the biggest one I’m most terrified about.

priya parker

The second song like it is about kind of advice after the baby’s born. So it sounds like it’s about the caretaking of the baby. What are the questions around that? Is it really about caretaking for the baby or caretaking for you and the baby, or what’s the category?

nora

I would say it’s caretaking for the baby and what routines have worked best for feeding, for sleeping when you first come up from the hospital. I didn’t even think about myself too, but what has been helpful to just get back into the routine of being like a normal human.

priya parker

And then this underlying theme I think, which I was poking at earlier, which is like and who needs to hear this? The way I would think about this, and again, take it or leave it. But the way I would think about this is for the first part of the shower or the event, the gathering to be women and really around supporting you in labor and delivery. And that’s where I think Allie’s idea of the music can come in. I have an idea of an exercise you can do during that part as well. And then I would actually invite you to really think about, and think about this with JJ, to have the second half to invite the men, or at least invite maybe JJ and perhaps a few men who he respects who are fathers to enter that call. Maybe it’s like half an hour in. And have couples who are going through this kind of share any tips you have about coparenting at all, and particularly in this early phase. Because often if we’re asking for wisdom from a generation before us who doesn’t share the same assumptions or roles, then the wisdom they’re actually sharing with us may not be relevant to this moment. We also need some amount of invention.

nora

Oh, that’s so true. Yeah, I mean, I never gave that any thought before. Like, yeah, he deserves to hear all the information as well since he’ll be parenting too. I think that’s brilliant.

priya parker

Yes. And what I’m saying is I actually don’t think every ritual has to be mixed genders or throw all the rituals out. So a bachelorette party or a bachelor party, to me it still actually makes sense in some contexts to have them be single sex or, and even that’s being broken open. But in part because traditionally, or at least the need is to prepare the single person for a union, so in that case it absolutely makes sense to not have the partner at the bachelor party or the bachelorette party. I don’t have an agenda of have every ritual be everybody. I’m actually deeply against that.

priya parker

Again, Nora’s friend Allie.

allie

I think that’s a great idea, and I wouldn’t have thought of breaking it up into different chapters of the event. I actually had my shower in December, and I had a joint shower. I did want Dan to be involved and have other men there, but I really didn’t think about why and what was the exchange of information going to be to make it meaningful for them too? It was more just the optics. So I didn’t get into that second layer. So I really love this idea of having it be really purposeful.

priya parker

I love your use of the word optics. There is a version, and I’ve seen many baby showers in which the men do come in. And I think that’s the first level of participation, quote, unquote. But this is where, from a gathering perspective, it really is asking them, what is the role you’re inviting them to play when they enter?

priya parker

So Allie’s use of the word optics points to something that can actually still happen in our gatherings even when we change the form, which is we change the form without changing the underlying function. You can bring in the man but not change the underlying beliefs of the ritual. And what I’m actually talking about here is shifting the fundamental structure of the gathering. I’m inviting the husband in this case to come in as a corecipient of the ritual, as a coreceiver of advice. You’re inviting the men to share in the gathering in part because you’re inviting the men to share in the parenting. So then we turn to the brass tacks. How do they actually run this thing?

priya parker

And so very practically, if we were going to map this out, this is how I would think about it. So I would invite them to a 90-minute experience, and for the first 40 minutes or so I would have it be a women’s exchange. And I would call it something like preparing the mother or preparing for labor or,

allie

Stories from the front lines.

priya parker

Perfect. Perfect. And add humor. Laboring, colon, stories from the front line. And it could be three things. And Allie, I think either you or somebody , and maybe different people at some points should be the host. Nora is not the host. She’s the beneficiary. I would also then map out who are the men you’d like to invite for the second half? I would call each different portion by a different name. And then I would be very explicit for part one, what is it we’re asking you to bring? And I would ask them to bring those who are come to the labor stories two things. One is a song, as you said, that carries deep meaning for you. And whatever you think Nora needs during labor, this is something you would want her to hear. And then the second would be I would actually, in each of the portions, I would, at the top of the invitation, have two questions for part one and part two. And these are real questions from Nora and then real questions from Nora and JJ. And I would invite every person to write an email to answer both of those questions and send them privately after the shower. So there’s an also an opportunity for everybody to understand who each other are, particularly because they’re coming from different communities. So this is the ritual. You choose a bead or a color of a bead, and each person shares a quality that they know Nora holds and that they believe will specifically and uniquely help her in labor. And have them share a story about their friendship with Nora or their relationship with Nora that demonstrates she holds that value.

nora

I love that. And I just went on view because I was tearing up a little bit because it’s so genuinely beautiful, that idea that I think truly I would love to have help power me through the labor and delivery. I’m still crying, but I think it’s because I’m in my ninth month of pregnancy here. But that is so beautiful, and I already feel so touched. It’s really powerful.

priya parker

And, Allie, this is also when it becomes really important for you to be kind of the honoring facilitator or gatherer and actually explain all of this. So as you understand, because there’s 40 of us, we’ve chosen eight people that just represent different parts of Nora’s life. We’re collecting all of the stories from all of you, but we’ve asked eight of you, in parts so that we can all get a better set of both Nora but also each other. And I would actually say for each of you , I would perhaps talk for like one or two minutes to your community and say what you’re going through and what your questions are and how you’re thinking about reimagining this moment. And then for the second part I would think about the two questions you and JJ have. And I would make them sharp, and I would make them specific. And I would invite like , I don’t know, maybe four men and four women to answer them.

allie

I love that. I think that’s so good.

nora

Yeah, I mean, I think we’ll do all of this. It sounds amazing. I feel like you’ve really opened up my mind. Just listening to what a Zoom call could be from after I just hear you kind of speak about it to before, I’m just very optimistic and hopeful that this is going to be so much more meaningful now.

priya parker

Nora’s baby shower was last weekend, and Nora and Allie did end up inviting JJ and other men to participate in the shower and gave them a role and a place in this virtual gathering. [BABY LAUGHING]

recording

Wow. She’s so , Very relevant. I think that says it all.

priya parker

They changed the language of the gathering from baby shower to baby welcome party.

archived recording

I put motherly. You’re already motherly to my kids and Bridget’s kids. You already know what to do. It’ll be a breeze.

priya parker

They had two phases. Part one, for the ladies only, was called delivering good vibes for Nora.

recording

You’re going to want them to nap at one time. They’re not going to nap at that time. You’re going to want them to eat that one time. They’re not going to eat at that time. So just go with the flow. This is your first , and especially during all this crazy time, this is your first lesson to just go with the flow.

priya parker

And part two, the men entered and was called words of wisdom for the parents to be.

recording

There was no such thing as paternity leave. Paternity leave didn’t exist. It was oh, stay from work before you go back. Definitely taking turns and relying on your support system as much as you can. Like, if anyone is available to help out, I think we’re definitely , I think that’s a good point.

nora

Now I’m finally getting it. Like, OK, I’m just going to give it up and let the control thing go and just go where it takes me.

priya parker

Every gathering has the potential to have legs. One piece of this gathering that will likely have legs is the song shower. These are songs that she can play during labor. They can sing to the baby, and perhaps one of them will last well into the life of the child.

recording

Before Sam came, I listened to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” all the time. When Ryan was in my belly, we used to play that “Trolls” song, “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” I put down “Let’s Get It Started” by the Black Eyed Peas. “I’m Every Woman,” Whitney Houston version.

priya parker

Every gathering has the possibility in it to create a new reality. In this example with Nora and JJ, part of what they began to explore was how might they create a gathering that begins to reflect the types of parents they want to become, not necessarily the types of models they’ve seen before? Or what of the past do they want to bring with them, and what do they need to invent anew? We each, when we structure our gatherings, have the ability, based on the questions that we ask and the way we decide to spend that time, from whom we ask wisdom and from whom we don’t, to shift and create and explore new ways of being together.

And as we close this, the song exchange reminded me of a song that has always been extremely important to me. It actually comes from a gathering. When I was 11 years old, I got my period and came home and told my mother. And I was at the age where I wasn’t sure if this was something to be ashamed of or hide or celebrate. And she looked at me and picked me up and swung me around the air and hooted and hollered all over the house. And she put me down, and she said, “Well, now it’s time for your period party.” And I thought, what is a period party? And she invited six women to come and welcome me into womanhood, and she kind of made up this ritual where each woman was invited to bring a gift for me that represented to them the best thing about being a woman. My mother played all types of songs , Peter, Paul and Mary, Madonna. And then she played the song that I’ve carried with me for many, many years. It’s called “On Children.” It’s sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock, and the lyrics are from a poem by Khalil Gibran. “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself. They come through you, but they are not from you. And though they are with you, they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts. They have their own thoughts. They have their own thoughts. You can house their bodies but not their souls. [MUSIC – SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK, “ON CHILDREN”] [MUSIC] ,but not their souls for their souls dwell in a place of tomorrow which you cannot, not even in your dreams. You can strive to be like them, but you can not make them just like you. Strive to be like them, but you cannot make them just like you.

announcer

Together Apart is produced by Jesse Baker and Eric Nuzum at Magnificent Noise in partnership with The New York Times. Our production staff includes Hiwote Getaneh, Destry Sibley, Kristen Mueller, and Paul Schneider. The executive producers of Together Apart are Jesse Baker and Priya Parker. And this show would not be possible without Choire Sicha, Joanna Nikas, Anya Strzemien, Julia Simon, Lisa Tobin, and Sam Dolnick.


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