You Don't Need To Get Married or Have a Kid To Have a Party
The Case for the Non-Baby Baby Shower
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When I was in the my late 20s and through my 30s, I spent a lot of money on engagement gifts, wedding gifts, baby showers, and baby “sprinkles.” I spent money on bridesmaids dresses and bachelorette parties and traveling to weddings and staying at the wedding and getting home from the wedding. I did it to celebrate my closest friends, and I’d do it again.
As it became clearer to me that I wouldn’t have those sorts of socially-validated celebrations in my own life, I remember feeling a sort of soft, very background, very subdued form of resentment. Not directed at anyone in particular, but at the way we’ve organized our celebrations towards a very narrow slice of “achievement.” I never said anything to that effect, but I was both surprised and delighted when my friends threw me a beautiful party when I came to Seattle for my second book. I felt very seen, very loved, very known.
People talk about throwing themselves the party they want to have — particularly people celebrating big birthdays. I’ve also heard about new apartment/house showers, graduation parties, or big life change parties that function much in the way engagement and baby showers do: as an opportunity for your friends and family to help “outfit” you for the next stage in your life. And it makes sense: more and more adults (38%) are unpartnered (for many different reasons!), it’s very expensive to be single, and 44% of people between the ages of 18 and 49 say they’re unlikely to ever have children (up from 37% in 2018). When that high of a percentage of people are on a different life path, it makes sense to figure out how to celebrate and support that path, too.
Still, these celebrations largely remain in the realm of theory, very rarely making their way into actual practice. They’re the sort of thing people empathetically say should be okay but still feel very weird about actually doing. When Nicole Washington (who some of you will recognize from her turn as a co-host on the Work Appropriate episode on shitty culture) told me in passing about her no-baby baby shower, I asked her if she’d tell me how she made it happen — and if her friends would also share how they helped make it happen, and just how much the whole thing really and truly mattered.
Obviously, every situation and friend group is different, and none of what Nicole and her friends describe below is intended as an exact recipe. But hopefully their story prompts you to think: If you resist this idea (for yourself, or for others), well, why? If the answer is still “it’s weird,” then again, why? What norms is it challenging, and are those norms worth challenging?
And just as importantly: if you have a friend who you haven’t celebrated or showered in some way, how can you start the conversation about making it happen?
When we first started talking about this concept, you used the shorthand “no baby baby shower,” which I think gets right to the heart of what’s happening (the sort of shower that we usually reserve for ‘traditional’ life events like engagement, marriage, a new baby). I know some people flinch at the idea of “no baby baby shower,” simply because it’s underlining the absence of a thing, an almost un-wholeness, instead of just underlining the life thing, or moment, or stage that you’d like to celebrate. So: what’s your take on what name we use to talk about these celebrations, and how do you describe it, and its purpose, to people that aren’t your close friends?
I’ve never wanted kids, ever in my life, and I have always been very vocal about that, often to my detriment and always to my family’s disappointment. I was finally able to get my tubes removed in July of this year (I wrote about it for Leonor’s newsletter — you’ll meet her below), and having an “event” like surgery to peg the celebration to was helpful. I was joking with a friend about what to call it, and she suggested “No Baby Shower” and that was it.
I think in light of the destruction of the right to abortion, people were a lot more receptive to the idea, but I also think my friends are very much a self-selected group in that regard. And to be honest I think it’s all in what you make of it. I do not think of it as a loss or an “un-wholeness” and will not treat it as such. I’m not missing anything (except a few errant socks and my favorite tape measure). I made a deliberate decision not to have children. I used to not like kids, but that changed dramatically once the people I love started having them, and now I take tremendous pride in being an aunt(ie). I made it to 38 because I had adults who were not my parents that I could talk to and helped raise me. I think every kid deserves that, and I’m honored to (I hope) be that person for some of my friends’ kids.
I think people are going to want to know a lot about specifics. How did you start the conversation with your friends? How did you execute it, invitation and registry-wise? Please be as detailed as you’d like.
I did NOT want to use a baby or bridal or other registry and so I ended up at Thankful Registry (not sponsored!) because it met all my needs — I wanted to amalgamate across different sites, and give specifics about colors and sizes because I’d rather get exactly what I want than get a surpriseI can’t use. I also wanted to make sure there were lots of different price points — I have always worked in nonprofits, which means I’ve always been broke or close to it, and I wanted everyone to be able to chip in if they wanted to. Thankful also links to Amazon registries, so I was able to sneak in a teacher friend’s classroom registry, too.
I am an oldest sister, so practicality was top of mind- I needed something to keep my dog, Maggie, occupied while I was in bed recovering, so the first thing on the list was an interactive toy for her. I will NEVER turn down gifts Maggie, so I also added some treats and a new collar. Then I added things I wanted but hadn’t bought for myself- nicer towels, a steam cleaner, gift certificates to my extremely beloved wine shop and coffee shop and bookstore. In fact, the bookstore thought I was very ill because I got so many “get well soon” messages with gift cards. Here is the link to the actual registry I made.
As for the invite, I LOVE an occasion, but it was just too hard to pull off, so I sent an email to all of my local friends + the folks I knew were coming into town. I am always inclined to do THE MOST, so this was an exercise in not stressing myself out over something that was supposed to be completely enjoyable. Since I live in New Orleans, the weather is nice until January, so my friend offered up her back yard. Marc, Sarah, and I got the makings of a snack board from Trader Joes, Sunday brunch supplies from Costco, all the wine we could carry from my beloved Faubourg Wines, and called it a day. We also had juice boxes and sodas and seltzer for the non-drinkers.
I’ve found that a lot of people are theoretically on board with this idea — of course people without kids deserve to be celebrated, yes it’s great to “launch” single people into adult living with basic supplies the same way we do with married people — but bashful or weirded out about doing it themselves. Some of that, I think, has to do with general reticence to mess with the status quo, and some of it has to do with women in particular being socialized not to ask for things. What do you think is going on with the reticence, and how did you get over it?
I was WILDLY reticent. Not because I didn’t think I deserved to be celebrated (I would have happily had a party and left it at that!), but because I don’t like asking people for help. There’s a joke on TikTok about how everything is a trauma response. I wouldn’t go that far, but I am hyper independent, and it is absolutely a result of my childhood. I was the kid who got good grades and stayed out of trouble and learned to never need anything big or important. As an adult, that means I will do it myself because asking for help means I can’t handle it on my own, and that is a weakness. I know intellectually that is the worst kind of white dominant culture horse shit, but I’m probably going to be working the rest of my life to unlearn it. I also struggled because it has only been recently (when I got my current job) that I have been able to put my bills on autopay and buy what I want at the farmers market. It is new enough I’m still reveling in that freedom.
Over the last two years, I’ve lost several people important to me. I always loved an excuse for a party, but now? We’re going out to dinner because it’s Tuesday and you made it through the day. I’m springing for the fancy wine because you got a new job. Had enough spoons to finally do that one hard thing? I’m so proud of you, I made us manicure appointments. Life is fucking hard, being an adult is an unbelievable scam, I have never been more sure that you should celebrate every possible (and impossible) occasion. One of my friends you’ll hear from, Sarah, has a nasty habit of reminding me that if I would do it for her, I have to let her do it for me. My burden to bear is that I am always right, which in this case means I have to listen to her and eat my own words.
There’s another, sappier part of it too. I have long suspected one of the reasons I am comfortably and chronically single is that my friends are absolutely, without a doubt, the loves of my life, and I have yet to find a partner who is okay with that. I cannot express how deeply I value them, and it really is enough for me to be in the presence of all these devastatingly brilliant, unbelievably big-hearted, wildly hilarious people I have tricked into hanging out with me. That’s really all I ever want, which is why I love having parties so much. Unfortunately, my friends are also all strong-willed assholes (takes one to know one I guess), so they insisted. More on that from them below.
What was the weirdest reaction you’ve had to the idea? What was the best?
My mother, despite having known me my ENTIRE LIFE, asked me if I thought having my tubes removed was a good idea. I didn’t even bother to tell her about the registry. Come to think of it, most of my family (basically everyone not a cousin) did not know about the registry or my surgery. I didn’t want to have an argument that would dampen what has otherwise been an unreservedly joyous occasion. No pissing in my cornflakes.
I have been unpleasantly surprised by other people’s reactions to my choices and thoughts on some of the more traditional aspects of what our society calls “womanhood-” marriage, changing names, having kids, staying home with kids, etc., so you never know. My favorite responses have been from my friends with kids, who were all absolutely over the moon about the idea — probably the most supportive. And to a person all my local parent friends came out for the party.
How did the actual event feel? How does it make you feel within your friend group? What are the lingering tangible and intangible effects?
Marc and Sarah always come to stay for my birthday, and after the surgery I was dealing with so many other things, I decided to just combine my birthday party and No Baby Shower, especially since Marc and Sarah would already be here. My friend offered up her idyllic backyard, I told everyone they were welcome to come, and that was it.
Oh my GOD the party was EPIC. Not like epic in your 20’s. Late 30’s epic. Everyone was in bed by midnight. Anyway, it was so, so, so good. A few months into the pandemic, I started a slack so that all my friends from various walks of life who mostly only hung out when they were all at my house for Sunday Brunch could talk to each other (I am a notorious friend smusher). This was like that, except in real life and across places.
Despite it being a no baby shower, I demanded that friends bring their kids, and one of my favorite photos from the night is me with my friend’s baby in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. We made a giant snack tray/charcuterie platter — not everyone could eat everything, but everything had something they could eat, which is my general party food philosophy. My fellow Sag and wildly talented friend Bronwen made me an incredible birthday cake. I got to support my beloved wine shop by telling people to bring booze and if they had questions, just to go to the shop and tell them they were shopping for me.
My old boss was there. One of my college best friends was there. My closest friends in New Orleans were there. My child army was there. My new friends and old friends and pregnant friends and parent friends and drunk friends and queer friends and baker friends and teacher friends and DC friends and everything, they were all there together, having a great time, and I do not have words for how much I love seeing the people I love love on each other.
As best I can tell, lots of people who have only met each other on the internet were able to cement their relationships IRL. I loved every fucking second of it. Except when I left my phone in the Lyft home and had to get a new one on Monday, hungover. That was not ideal.
What starting advice would you give to someone who wanted to spearhead one of these events, either for themselves or someone else?
Stop thinking about it and do it. Your friends want you to do this for you, and if they don’t, you need new friends.
As for the registry, add literally whatever you want. I had a few things for hurricane prep on my list, because again, practicality. But please do add things you want, and not just things you need- like a pretty water pitcher or fancy laundry detergent or a cordless sander (yes, these were all on my list). As much as I feel like it’s unnecessary for my friends to give me things, I love it when they do, because more than the thing, every time I use it I think of them. Momofuku umami salt is delicious, but every time I reach for it, I think about Noe. I’ll probably save the jar it came in and use it for something else just for that reason. Ugh, I can’t believe I’m that sentimental. Every night as I climb into bed and pull up a quilt from H, and think of them and their parent, one of those non-parental adults who helped raise me and is sadly no longer here. My car was broken into a while ago and someone stole a produce bag from my friend Mollie. I could easily get an identical one, but it’s not the one Mollie gave me, so I haven’t. It’s not the same.
Also, call me old fashioned, but write thank you notes. You can even put stamps on your registry (I did, but I am also a weirdo who likes stamps). Also, apologies to everyone reading this who didn’t get one, I found the second stack of them behind my dresser rearranging furniture for my birthday weekend. They’re in the mail.
Questions for Nicole’s Friends: Leonor, Marc, and Sarah
Why did this feel like an important idea (and event!) to support?
Leonor: I think it is so deeply important to celebrate more than just weddings and babies which feel like they take up all the airspace and are obviously worth celebrating, but not the only things we should gather for. We should be celebrating everyone’s big life moments with BIG parties and/or registries. I want to celebrate your new job! And your new apartment that you bought ALONE. And I absolutely want to celebrate your new pet and your decision not to have a child. Normalize asking your friends and communities to show up for the things that are important to a fuller life - whatever that means to you.
More specifically, I will always take the opportunity to celebrate Nicole because she is a kind, thoughtful and generous friend; incredibly generous with her time and compassion in so many ways. She is a friend who shows. up. It was a no-brainer to support this event for her and to take the trip down to NOLA (I’m based in Brooklyn).
Sarah: Nicole and I have been best friends since I cornered her our freshman year in college and told her all the reasons why the University of Maryland (and not her terrible Duke) was the best college basketball team in the ACC (yes, Maryland was not always in the Big 10 and yes, we are old). She’s my family, and we’ve been through so many life events and big decisions together. We’ve talked about families, careers and partnerships for years, and when she finally decided to get her tubes tied, I was really excited for her (even though I was very nervous that she wouldn’t let me come to New Orleans to help her recover from her surgery).
I’m a strong believer in celebrating all big events and changes in a person’s life. During the pandemic, Nicole created a slack channel so that friends from different walks of life could interact and get to know each other. One of my favorite channels is #shinetheory where we congratulate people on all of their accomplishments, whether it is getting a promotion at work or going to an exercise class even though you were tired.
I think it’s pretty clear that I’ll take any reason to drink to Nicole, but I really wanted to celebrate her decision to make this big change. I traveled down to DC to celebrate her big move to New Orleans, and, as Leonor said above, it was a no-brainer that I’d be there to support her for this big life decision. *insert “That’s What Friends are For” music*
Marc: This event felt super important to support because Nicole is the friend that always gives and in a moment of growth (insert Insecure meme) she was vulnerable and let us pour into her. As Leonor and Sarah have stated, Nicole is the friend you call in a pinch, the person who has great career advice, a co-conspirator who gleefully will carry your grudges, and every year at / around Thanksgiving volunteers as a one-woman Butterball Hotline for any questions you may have for all things cooking and entertaining. When *that* person asks for help, or gives in to you celebrating them, you have to act and act quickly!
What did you try to take off Nicole’s plate when it came to the execution and planning? How did you narrativize it to the people you invited?
Leonor: I’m gonna step in here and say what they did was pay for a lot of stuff. Almost the whole party in fact. It happens every year, and this year I (mostly) let it happen. Everyone I have told about the party has had to hear, extensively, how excited I WAS that Nicole is doing this, how happy I WAS that she registered, how much she had to advocate for herself to get this procedure done in the first place and how proud I am of her for doing so.
Sarah: After all these years, I knew Nicole would tell me what she needed from me to make this party happen, and that has mostly been buying a ticket to come visit and convincing my mom to buy her fancy olive oil from her registry. I’m sure we will fight over who gets to buy the wine at her local wine store, and we all know I will win that fight because I argue for a living.
In terms of narrativizing the party, I’ve told everyone that I am so excited to celebrate my partner in crime’s decision not to have children and that I hope this guarantees that we will make our dream of living in a Golden Girls house together in 20 years a reality. I honestly think the biggest thing I did to help with this party was to convince my mom that she also didn’t need to come down to New Orleans for the party. Maybe she will let me make the playlist if I promise to add “Sorry Not Sorry” by Demi Lovato several times.
Marc: Nicole can be..exacting in her execution and expectations, so for most of the party planning, I just followed her lead and her instructions at the moment. I offered to join her while she ran errands for the party and while riding out to Costco, we had a moment of zen just enjoying each other’s company in silence. It can be tempting to always want to fill the moment with something, so it was great just being there in a helpful capacity without having to be “on”. The other thing I contributed to the weekend was pictures. I took a lot of pictures of everyone and what we ate and what we drank, and not necessarily for social media, just to be able to capture some moments that we could laugh about later. Posed photos, candids, and so many blurry pictures of Nicole who would not. stop. moving.
As far as narrativizing the party, I just told everyone about how impressed I was with my friend and just shared her story to be kind of a Possibility Model.
What did the event feel like to you? How has it affected or strengthened your relationship with Nicole?
Leonor: Like Nicole, I am a friend smusher and this felt like a beautiful version of that. The feeling of community was palpable even with people who were meeting for the first time.
I’ve been planning to come visit Nicole for years and life always seemed to get in the way, after this weekend it felt like maybe that all happened so that this first visit could be especially meaningful. I’m just so proud of her for celebrating herself in this way and was honored to be a part of it all.
Sarah: The event was wonderful. I got a chance to celebrate a best friend while meeting her extended Nola circle. As Marc mentions below, we have made Nicole’s bday an annual excuse to visit her in New Orleans. The added no baby shower really felt like a way to celebrate Nicole, friendship and the lives we built over the past many years. I was so happy to be a part of this day, and Nicole knows she can’t get rid of me.
Marc: It felt like a graduation and a personal leveling up. Me and Sarah have been coming down to visit for years now, but this year I felt like we were a well-oiled machine and the objective was to help execute this party and we pulled it off! I think as a host, the most awkward and difficult part of a party is determining how the people will interact with each other and what the mix of personalities will bring. To her eternal credit, Nicole is the consummate “smoosher”, someone who loves connecting people and being a bridge to different relationships, opportunities, and experiences. So, depending on which corner of the party you were at, it felt like a family reunion, or the beginnings of a new and promising friendship, or just a deepening of an existing friend that you were maybe on the fence about, but decided to go all in on. It was a place that felt safe for you to be your whole and complete self and to have fun and laugh and be part of a community.
I think this whole experience and especially this weekend has strengthened my relationship with Nicole by showing how you can be a hyper-competent, self-sufficient person, but still give yourself a break and throw a party with people you love, and to let those people show up in ways big and small. We have countless examples and scripts of people (especially women) being in a position of constant sacrifice and deprivation. It was heartwarming and slightly radicalizing watching someone you love step into an abundance of love and affirmation.
If someone wants to throw one of these events for a friend, what advice would you give?
Leonor: Make your friends register! It’s so nice to be able to give your friends the things they want that they wouldn’t buy for themselves. I wish everyone had an active registry at all times.
Sarah: I second Leonor’s suggestion to create a registry. We all want to support and celebrate our friends! Also, I would hope that anyone throwing this type of party has friends and family that would support their decision not to have children. However, if you do have those who feel the need to comment on your personal choices, I want people to know that you don’t have to engage with the haters and you can choose to disregard people who feel the need to judge your life decisions. You can make decisions that work for you, and you don’t need anyone else’s validation (unless you are Nicole, and then you definitely need my ok).
Marc: Registry registry registry! And I would push that friend to put everything on it. If there is a silly thing that you wanted to always buy, but felt guilty about, now is the time! If you have a need or want an item that you think is prohibitively expensive or that you couldn’t afford, outsource that need to your friends and loved ones!
Before Twitter implodes, you can find Nicole there. Or listen to her on Work Appropriate. And if you’ve had a celebration like this or thrown one for someone else, we definitely want to hear about it in the comments. If you still need encouragement to make it happen, that’s also what the comments are for.
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