We were going 60 miles per hour on I-95, just me and my girl Sue. Wearing summer dresses and armed with pastel-colored bags filled with miniature clothing and non-toxic miscellanea, we were ready for our estrogen-filled destination: our friend Tania’s baby shower.
After walking through a rubber ducky curtain, we entered a room decorated with yellow and green streamers (the gender-neutral colors) and a beautifully displayed rubber ducky cupcake tower. There were gift bags and boxes of various shapes and sizes. In the corner I saw a fairly large cylindrical one, which after going to a dozen baby showers I know is obviously a Diaper Genie. Taking it all in, I realized that this is not my mother’s baby shower. More precisely, the way South Asians and even first-generation desis usually celebrate an upcoming birth.
Over the past decade many of my friends and colleagues have had children and I’ve noticed the diverse attitudes towards pregnancy depending on what cultural background the mother is from. My Southern Christian co-worker who was pregnant a few years ago not only chose her daughter’s name before her birth, but also embroidered pillows with the child’s name and created a registry at Baby’s R’ Us. She wore clothing to accentuate her round belly and posted rundowns of her doctors’ visits publicly on Facebook status updates. Oh, and there was an album too (on FB) where she posted exclusively profile-with-shirt-pulled-up images to keep a journal of her growing belly. It started at Month 1 (“I just ate a big lunch”) all the way to Month 9 (“I swallowed two watermelons!”) It was actually really really cool and heartening to see her so happy and to virtually go along the journey with her.
My desi and Jewish peers however, had a different manner. Its not that they were unhappy about being pregnant (they were) they were just more cautious. They hid their body more, they kept it a secret longer, and finally when they did tell people, it was more in a private hush-hush way. I remember expressing excitement (read: squealing, hugging while jumping up and down) when one of my close desi friends told me she was pregnant and she flashed me her kindly-lower-your-voice eyes. Many times this attitude was a result of superstitious mothers who discouraged their daughters from talking about an upcoming birth for various reasons. One reason is to avoid the “evil eye” and the second reason may be to guard the woman from disappointment if the baby does not survive (common with my Bengali peers). This was most likely a protective measure since there were higher levels of stillbirths and pregnancy-related deaths (for both baby and mother) a generation ago in South Asian countries. I’ve heard horror stories of women and babies, mostly poor villagers, who developed harmful infections as a result of an untrained person delivering the baby and performing such practices as cutting the umbilical chord with sharpened bamboo sticks.
For women of my mother’s generation, their pre-birth celebration consisted of having a shaad, which means desire in Bangla. It’s basically a party thrown in honor of the mother-to-be to fulfill her desires by making her favorite foods and filling her living space with positive people and good vibes. There is one rule for the shaad and that is don’t buy anything for the baby. No cribs, no diapers, no onesies and absolutely no Diaper Genies!
I see this amongst some of my Jewish peers also, who although are sensible enough to register for baby items, do not unpack gifts or set up the nursery until the baby is born from fear of that pesky evil eye thing again. Someone needs to develop an evil-eye-repelling smart phone app! Alas, human emotions do not progress and change like technology.
I am proud of my friends for breaking tradition and throwing a practical, American-style baby shower. These Bengali superstitions and customs came from a time when childbirth was dangerous and they don’t have the same relevance today. Yes, I whole-heartedly think that mothers-to-be should be pampered with their favorite foods, but maybe my generation can combine the traditions of past and present and create an occasion that is both fun and practical. That way once the baby arrives, new moms will have something to show for it besides additional pounds. They might even get that Diaper Genie.