The Cost of Not Having a Baby Shower

by A.J. O’Connell

I don’t make a lot of money, but I also don’t believe in baby showers. So when my husband and I learned we were expecting two years ago, we decided not to have one, but were nervous about the expenses that our little one would incur. The idea of throwing myself a party and inviting other people to give me presents always made me uncomfortable, and anyhow, sitting in front of a room and opening presents in front of all my female friends and relations at eight months pregnant sounded like my idea of hell.

While my husband shares my opinion about baby showers, he was a concerned. I’m an author, and at the time, I worked for a community college as an adjunct. How were we going to afford a baby without the gifts and closetful of diapers that come along with a shower?

It was a fair point. We do not live in Finland, the land of government-issued baby boxes. A quick glance at the prices of cribs and car seats, the two items we were absolutely going to need right away, terrified me. My adjunct paycheck was less than $600 every two weeks. My author royalties are almost always barely worth mentioning. Neither was going to buy a lot of Pampers.

“Are you sure you don’t want a baby shower? Are you sure?”

I heard this from my friends, my mother, my sister-in-law.

“I don’t want you to regret not having a baby shower,” my sister-in-law told me.

I promised that I wouldn’t.

Here’s the thing: I don’t like showers. I don’t like bridal showers. I don’t like baby showers. I don’t like sitting inside on weekend afternoons. I don’t like how showers are still mostly a women-only affair. I don’t like eating salad and drinking chardonnay while making small talk about labor pains. I don’t like asking for gifts.

I’m not passing judgment on people who have showers, either. If a friend invites me to a shower, I will go and celebrate her happiness. I just didn’t want one for myself. I hadn’t wanted a bridal shower, but allowed myself to be talked into it. Maybe it was the hormones, but when I was pregnant, I put my foot down.

I was surprised by the people who began asking me if I had a registry, because I hadn’t planned on one. I figured that if people wanted to buy us presents, they would, and I thought that people might like to choose their own presents if they decided to give us a gift.

“I don’t know what you want,” said one aunt. “What do you want?”

I had no idea what I wanted, but I set up a registry, and went with BabyList. BabyList is the Pinterest of registries: you see something you like anywhere on the Internet, you add it to your list. The site then compares prices for the item across the Internet. Anyone who wanted to buy us something could buy it at any retailer, although they would then have to come back to BabyList and remove the item from the registry themselves once they’d bought it. It was a little complicated, but I liked it better than asking my friends to give all their money to Babies R’Us, or Target, or Amazon.

I started with a modest list of the things I thought we’d really need: crib sheets, a bathtub for the sink, bottles.

Then I got scolded because there weren’t enough items on the list.

Then I realized that I’d have to teach my older relatives how to use the site.

Then, hilariously, some of the people who asked for a registry in the first place ignored it completely and bought whatever they wanted anyway.

One of our biggest lifesavers came at the start of my pregnancy when a book arrived in the mail — a gift from a friend who had just had her own baby. The book was Baby Bargains, by Denise and Alan Fields, and it was a guide to all the baby products. The book rated them, explained what to skip (the wipe warmer) and where to splurge (the car seat). Honestly, I don’t think I could have navigated the byzantine world of car seats without it. Almost once a week, throughout my pregnancy, I would settle into a hot bath with Baby Bargains and a highlighter and conduct consumer research.

It was a handy tool, because when another expectant friend texted me to tell me that the cribs at Ikea were pretty inexpensive, I flipped through Baby Bargains and voila! The Ikea cribs were in fact inexpensive and the authors recommended them.

We bought the crib and mattress ourselves. We sprang for a $119 crib, although Ikea cribs start at $99. (As I write this essay, one model is on sale for $69.) We’d been nervous about the crib. Most of the Babies R’ Us cribs started at $200. We also bought the convertible car seats ourselves.

But we had help. My parents volunteered to buy a stroller, my grandmother bought the high chair, and my college friends pitched in to buy one of those Fisher Price swings that sings, makes noises, and provides the baby with both a rotating mobile and a mirror to look at. Some models even have a light show.

“That’s not a swing,” said my husband, in awe, after it had been set up in the bedroom. “That’s a Pink Floyd concert.”

And then there were the hand-me-downs. A friend cleaned up her son’s Pack ‘n Play and bouncy chair and drove them to my mother the week I was due. I received carriers, wraps and slings from friends whose kids don’t like being worn. A woman I grew up with gave me her six-month-old daughter’s old play yard and exersaucer. The infant car seat was borrowed from a friend whose infant had just outgrown it. (It had not expired.) Everyone had clothes for us. Without the hand-me-downs, I think we would have needed a baby shower. But gently-used items saved us.

We did pick up used items ourselves. When my son was born, we lived down the street from a store called the Gumdrop Swap: it looked like an ordinary baby consignment shop, but it worked like this: you bring in your old baby things, and get points. The points earn you money off your next purchase. I spent a lot of time in there, picking up maternity clothes, newborn swaddles and a Rock ‘n Play. After my son was born, we’d bring back the things he’d outgrown and I’d buy new things at a discount. Once I got a bag of clothes for a dollar. My husband, an inveterate tag saler and finder of free stuff, found us two extra Pack ‘n Plays in the course of his travels. I bought a used ErgoBaby carrier on eBay for $60.

Our biggest purchase turned out to be the diapers.

I decided early on that I wanted to cloth diaper our son. My husband and I both work from home, we feel very strongly about sustainable living, and I’d read in Baby Bargains that despite the initial outlay of money, using one-size cloth diapers and washing them ourselves would be the cheapest option for us.

With that in mind, I bought six organic BumGenius diapers from Amazon for $129, thinking that would be enough. But I learned quickly that babies go through several diapers changes a day. Six all-in-ones would not do the job, and paying $129 for every lot of diapers I bought was not going to work for us. So I began to scour Craigslist. A mother several towns over was selling her kids’ cloth diapers at a tag sale. I made my husband drive me to her house early on Saturday morning the week before my due date.

The woman gave me a garbage bag of 11 handmade newborn diapers for 10 dollars.

“You might want to strip them when you get home,” she said.

“Strip them, yes, thank you, I will,” I said, trying not to look clueless.

Stripping, to me, was an activity people did for money at clubs, not what parents do to cloth diapers to get the stink out.

It was a learning curve.

There were other cloth diaper acquisitions: a friend’s mother had bought six diapers for her granddaughter, only to learn that the diapers were unwanted. She sent them to me in a neat package, prewashed and ready for use. A mom in my area was getting rid of her cloth diapers. I paid her $100 for them and regretted the expenditure within the week, because we don’t use those diapers very much.

I bid on two lots of BumGenius pocket diapers on eBay. They were old. No telling how many baby butts they’d been on, but they are workhorses. We still use them every day.

All told, we spent $400 on cloth diapers. I’m not entirely happy with that number, because some of that expenditure was my inexperience. Also, I have no way of knowing the cost of the water and electricity we’ve used to wash them. Still, considering that a package of diapers costs $10 and we would go through one package of disposables in three days, we would have spent that money on disposables in four months, maybe five if we were buying in bulk. And there’s another silver lining: Whatever is still in good condition when my son is potty trained is going right back on eBay. Can’t do that with a disposable. Well, you can.

After going over the receipts, we probably spent $1,100, all told, on outfitting our home for a new baby. I’m excluding items like formula to supplement breastfeeding and extra pacifiers and all those cute little board books I just could not say no to. Our son is now a year old. We’ve passed most of the things that were handed down to us to our newborn niece. Now we’re faced with a new challenge: raising a child on our salaries. I’m not terribly worried. Plenty of people raise more children with less.

A.J. O’Connell is a freelance journalist and author. She is based in Connecticut.

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