How to get the party you want without hurting your host's feelings.
I had nothing to do with planning my first baby shower. In fact, I was so out of the loop that I didn't even make it to the party. When I went into labor 11 days early, I called my boss to tell her I wouldn't be at work that day. "But you have to come in," she shrieked. "We're having your surprise baby shower this afternoon!" My co-workers wound up nibbling cupcakes without me as I ushered my daughter into the world at a hospital across town.
Two years later, I was pregnant again, and this time, I really hoped to attend my own shower. Luckily, one of the other moms in my daughter's play group was due a month before me, so I decided to plant a few ideas. "Why don't we throw a casual tea party for Erin—but let's do it six weeks before her due date, just in case," I suggested. The party was a hit, and a few weeks later, the gang threw the same "surprise" shower for me. We have since given similar showers for four other moms in the play group.
By starting a new tradition with my friends, I was able to skirt the delicate issue of trying to orchestrate my own baby shower—something that would make etiquette experts raise their eyebrows. "A pregnant woman doesn't have the right to plan her own shower," says Diane Warner, author of Diane Warner's Complete Book of Baby Showers: Hundreds of Ways to Host a Unique Celebration (Career Press, 1998). "A shower is a gift, not a right."
Of course, you should be happy that someone loves you enough to plan an elaborate party for 50 guests with scads of pink ribbons and silly games. But what if all you want is a nice luncheon with your five best friends? Or what if you want to skip the traditional shower altogether and invite your female and male friends for beer (for guests only, of course!) and pizza?
Fear not: There are ways to gently drop hints about what you want, says Caroline Tiger, author of How to Behave: A Guide to Modern Manners for the Socially Challenged. "If the potential party giver is very sensitive or has a strong stubborn streak, ask mutual friends or family members to talk to her," she advises. "Have them say, 'You know Sharon hates being the center of attention,' then let them plant hints about the kind of shower you want. If the host is a close friend and more reasonable, just be straight with her and lay out what you do and don't want."
The modern baby shower
What a lot of moms-to-be want these days is a party that celebrates their own tastes and interests rather than just focusing on the baby, says Bryan Rafanelli, a party planner in Boston, New York and Palm Beach, Fla. He has planned several cocktail parties with nonalcoholic choices for the mom-to-be, fashion-themed luncheons, pool parties and clambakes. "You can have a grown-up party and just tip your hat to the baby with fun details, like serving miniature hot dogs and burgers," he suggests.
Some women can't wait to play traditional shower games, such as guessing the mom's waist size or seeing who can diaper a doll the fastest; others would rather be bonked in the head with a diaper pail. Some less-embarrassing party options include dancing (hey, even in your third trimester you can shake your oversized booty a little), taking turns telling the new mom the best and worst parenting advice the guests have ever heard, offering funny suggestions for the baby's name or playing baby trivia. For new twists on traditional shower games, including memory and word games, as well as active and craft-making games, check out Joan Wai's 100 Baby Shower Games.
What you should do
Even if you let your host take the reins in planning your shower, there are two details that you should help with: choosing the date and compiling the guest list.
If you and your hostess need help in choosing a theme, check out Gia Russo and Michele Adams' Baby Showers: Ideas and Recipes for the Perfect Party. "It's best to plan the event one to two months before your due date, so there's less of a chance you'll go into labor, and you won't be so uncomfortable or stressed that you can't enjoy yourself," Rafanelli says. In fact, Russo says, there is a growing trend of waiting until after the baby is born and then having a "welcome baby" shower, which can be combined with a bris (ritual circumcision), baby naming or christening.
Providing the hostess with a list of names and addresses ensures that everyone you care about gets an invite. But what if your sister, your co-worker and your pal from the dog park are all planning separate showers for you? Having more than one celebration has become commonplace. "It's fine to have multiple showers," Warner says, "but the guest lists should be separate. If someone is invited to more than one shower, she is only expected to bring a gift to the first one."
Speaking of gifts, no matter what kind of shower you have, games or no games, petit fours or pepperoni pizzas, everyone will gather around at some point to watch you ooh and aah as you unwrap tiny T-shirts, toys and other goodies. Pick someone you trust to make a list of who gave what, and try to write thank you notes (by hand, not by e-mail) within a week after the shower. The longer you put it off, the easier it becomes to forget (and people do notice if you don't send them). One exception: If you go into labor, people will understand if their notes are a few weeks late.
No matter how much input you have in planning your shower, the hostess will be doing the majority of the work, all because she loves you to pieces, so be sure to thank her with a hostess gift like a basket of beauty products, a picture frame or gift certificate. She'll be grateful for your recognition of her hard work.