The cult of baby

In the U.S., the decision to have a baby automatically makes you a member of two cults.

First, there’s the mommy cult, which you are unwittingly inducted into as soon as people find out you are pregnant. You suddenly find yourself hearing intimate details about childbirth and child-rearing from relative strangers. Some women I know don’t like it, because plenty of women are inclined to aggressively supply you with advice you didn’t ask for, or to tell you birthing horror stories right when you’re already feeling bloated, vulnerable and apprehensive about how you are going to get this kicking being out of you.

But I’m down with the mommy cult. I like the way it opens channels of communication with women that you thought you had nothing in common with, deepens friendships with women who have or want kids and even makes some friends without kids anxious to be part of your child’s life. I’ve had the obligatory comments from people who openly admit they either don’t like or don’t know what to do with babies and hearing those things doesn’t bother me. I’ve been a self-questioner who wondered whether procreating was socially responsible for long enough that I feel that sharing my joy doesn’t mean I need to evangelize about parenthood.

Then there is the consumer cult, which you are unwittingly inducted into as soon as you make your first pregnancy-oriented purchase. A free copy of the book “From Here to Maternity” mysteriously arrives in your mailbox, along with postcards for 3D ultrasound portrait studios and dozens of overtures to bank your baby’s cord blood. People throw sample pregnancy and child rearing magazines at you, offer you credit cards that put part of their interest rate into a college trust for your child and give you giant packets filled with baby soap samples and diaper coupons. By the time you have the baby, the formula makers are hunting you down: Between the diaper bag full of samples we were handed as we left the hospital and boxes of samples we’ve gotten in the mail, we have all we could possibly need, should we ever have to supplement our purely breastfed baby.

Trying to figure out what exactly you need for baby before he arrives is utterly daunting, and aside from combing through Consumer Reports‘ book on baby products, there is little out there that’s helpful. Thankfully, if you embrace the mommy cult, it can help you limit your participation in the consumer cult. Most of my baby gear was handed down to us from my brother’s family, along with many clothes, and I tend to pass things on to the next mommy in line.

I can’t really understand participating heavily in the consumer culture willingly. Sure – now and then something is either so practical or so cute/clever you go ahead and buy it new, but I really can’t understand investing much in baby bling and fashion. For example – and it pains me to think about why this is so – but two of the top sellers on this baby boutique web site, are, ironically, camouflage baby towels and a vintage gas station-themed receiving blanket. Additionally, there is this desert camo loungewear outfit for a steep $37. If militarizing baby boys isn’t specious enough (and I’m not a fan of adult-ifying boys any more than I am of putting baby girls in trampy make-up), who spends nearly 40 bucks for an outfit that’s made to last less than three months, and that will undoubtedly be pooped or peed on?

On the flipside, I did laugh out loud at Babywit’s “President Poopyhead,” “No Blood for Mohel,” “Little Kafka” and “Binkie, Boobie or Blankie: Nobody Rides for Free” t-shirts. $20 bucks a pop seems obscene, but the t-shirts are made in the U.S. – in a non-sweatshop environment – by an independent mom instead of a corporation. Ah, if I were rich, all my consumer dollars would go to independent and fair trade businesses with good service and organic groceries… At the very least, since Declan was born in May, I’m looking forward to planting tomatoes and cucumbers on his birthday every year, and donning them his birthday vegetables all summer long.

What’s the most ostentatious, perverse or ethical baby product you’ve come across?

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My life with babies

I went to a friend’s baby shower, carrying my son, face out and kangaroo-like inside his sling. His legs were crossed like a yogi as he smiled and cooed and showed off his determination to hold up his head on his own at two and a half months old. By the end of the party, he began to get fussy, I believe because he was getting tired but didn’t want to give up getting all of that kind attention. Few people are as loving with babies as people who expecting their first, or parents of older kids who miss their own children being small enough to hold in their arms. And nothing pleases Declan more than interacting with people who are pleased to see him, not unlike me or his dad.

Once I got him into the car, he was resting so peacefully that I didn’t want to go straight home. Instead, I drove by my childhood house, which is still the approximate tan color that my high school boyfriend painted it about 18 years ago. The stacked stone pillars on the front porch are still in tact, but now there is a fancy looking swing set out back, a new screened-in porch on the side and the gravel driveway has been replaced with cement.

When my mother, brother and I moved into the place in 1980, it was sunny yellow with white trim. My room was also sunny yellow with white trim, which I hated. I’d have preferred any shade of purple, a mellow green, or a calming blue, but divorce and the move from the east coast made money tight.

Besides, the couple that sold us the house had just painted the room in preparation for a new baby. But when the baby died, they decided to leave the house in a hurry. I never found out if the woman miscarried, if there was a problem in the hospital or if the baby died in my room, but I spent years covering those walls with posters and magazine clippings. I still can’t say that I’m fond of yellow.

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Smooching infinity since 2005.