I was working on my last article in The Living Room at Cultivation Food Hall last week and noticed two women visiting over coffee across the room. They were in their late 20s and one had her baby with her. The baby was still in a car seat carrier, probably around six months old. The other woman had a tiny baby bump and a notepad.
After visiting a while, they got down to business with Pregnant Friend asking New Mom Friend about what she needed to buy to get ready for her own new baby. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, but the room was silent except for their quiet conversation and the lack of my computer keys tapping. Pregnant Friend asked New Mom Friend about getting a Boppy Nursing Pillow and that’s when I had to step in. New Mom said, ‘I know people who have those but I use a Luna Baby Pillow and like it a lot.’ Pregnant Friend asked what the difference was and when New Mom Friend didn’t immediately reply, I did—naturally. I called across the cavernous room, ‘The Luna is way bigger and way better.’ The fact that I inserted myself into the conversation of strangers to issue a very strong opinion that was not asked for will come as no surprise to my friends. The fact that New Mom Friend agreed with me and said I was right, came as no surprise to me.
When I was pregnant with my first baby, I bribed my friend, Harper Jones, with the promise of a free lunch if she would go through ‘The Baby List’ with me. Harper’s husband was a medical resident (read that as ‘they were flat broke’), her baby was 18 months old and I could get Harper to do anything with the promise of free food and an excuse to get her and her daughter out of the house.
Harper had told me about a list she had received while she was pregnant that detailed everything you needed to bring your new baby home. The Baby List had circulated Jackson for years, she said, and she would get me a copy. Harper knows me better than to think that’s where I would leave it. Of course, I was going to make her go through the whole thing with me, of course she wasn’t going to want to, and of course I would bribe her into doing it.
She managed not to roll her eyes at me too much as I took a pen to the printed out, three-page list of MUST HAVES. This list included the quantity ‘needed’ of onesies, day gowns, burp clothes, blankets (light and winter weight), ‘dress-up’ outfits for church, booties/baby shoes, footed sleepers, sweaters, socks, and more—it was insane. And it was exactly what I was looking for to guide me.
Eighteen months into motherhood, Harper knew there were very few ‘must haves’ on that list but she also knew I wouldn’t settle for such an answer, so she humored me. I bought her a plate lunch and since she’s a sucker for a plate lunch, she told me which baby wipes she liked, which diaper brand didn’t leak, which baby monitor she had, what items on the list were dumb (i.e. thermometer for nursery air temp, bath finger-puppets), and which items could wait like outlet covers because it would be a while before my newborn was sticking things in outlets. I wrote it all down like the gospel truth. Harper’s candor saved me from wasting money on things like a baby wipes warmer or a baby sleep wedge for the possible acid reflux my future baby might have (but didn’t, thank you, Lord), and I followed that list like it was going to save me.
There were very few things on there that I wouldn’t have figured out on my own, like the part that said to have more than one crib sheet because, duh—when a diaper explodes in the middle of the night you don’t have time to wait on a laundry cycle.
But the zeal with which I consulted, and then passed on, that list is embarrassing. I even edited it with my own commentary. Oh, the shame. I went through every item and, choosing red font so it would be noted that this was added at a later date (or maybe the way Jesus’ words are red in the Gospels? I didn’t think of that then, but I wouldn’t put it past me), typed in my opinions on what brands were the best, which swaddler was the only one that would actually stay swaddled all night, and yes—why the Boppy pillow was a subpar choice.
In my defense, I also pointed out what was silly, what was unnecessary, and what could wait. I also called out what was really bad advice like using ice packs to ease the discomfort of your milk coming in since that is horrible advice for a nursing mother. Why didn’t I just delete the bad advice and the stupid stuff? I’m not sure. Probably because I like being right so much that it helps if I can hold something else up to point out as wrong. Also, because I knew anyone reading the list would have heard they just HAD to have this, that, and the other and if I could point out why they didn’t then maybe it would save them some money and angst. But my motivations for editing and sharing the list were not totally altruistic.
I needed this list to help me feel in control of the two situations in my life thus far that I could not completely control—childbirth and motherhood. By the time I edited the list, I’d had two birth experiences that no matter how hard I tried—I wasn’t able to bend to my will. I did not have control over them, but I did have my own (very strong) opinions on baby gear. So, I added my two cents to the list in order to pass it along to friends seeking the sense of control I couldn’t find.
And because I really love having people say, ‘Oh my gosh, that list you gave me—lifesaver!’ Let me go on the record as saying—that list didn’t save any lives. It couldn’t save me from a difficult birth experience, a tumultuous breastfeeding experience that ended long before I had hoped, or even from buying too many blankets. It did give me some sense of control in the moment, though, and that was something.
That list is still floating around out there somewhere—filled with the red font commentary of a new mother who couldn’t control the big stuff, but could save her friends from thinking it was imperative that they own a ‘travel swing that you can carry from room to room and take on vacation’ by adding my own notation of ‘I can’t think of how traveling with a swing would be fun and I have never needed one enough to make it worth it.’ Side note: this is not to be confused with a regular baby swing—I did have one of those and I used the stew out of it for all four of my babies and it was worth every penny, (especially with my last couple of kids because they could be strapped in and thus safe from being picked up by their heads by their toddler siblings) but a portable, travel-swing? Not a ‘must have.’
I dug the list out of the deep recesses of my email to review while writing this article and I cringe with every glance at it. I sound so sure of everything, so seasoned and confident. I was not; I used the small bit of decent advice I had on baby gear products to cover the yawning chasm of what I did not feel confident about regarding childbirth and motherhood. But man—I had incredibly strong opinions about diaper bags.
Bringing home a baby for the first time is daunting enough without hearing about the 101 MUST HAVES necessary for ‘success.’ But I completely understand the motivation of Pregnant Friend at Cultivation—she was just looking for the instructions that nobody gives us about how to do this parenting thing. And I identify with New Mom Friend too; she was just trying to pass along info that might help with the things her friend does have control over.
But nobody needs a baby wipe warmer. It won’t save you from sleep exhaustion, a colicky baby, hormones plummeting post-birth, nursing struggles, the terrifying realization that you have no idea when you last showered, the startling realization that a trip to the grocery alone fills you with the joy previously reserved for a weekend at the beach, or the terror of not having a damn clue what you’re doing.
I have owned and loved a lot of baby gear over the years. I would be the last to tell someone they don’t need any of that stuff and it’s all a waste of money and over the top. Can you raise a child without 99.9% of it? Sure, people have and are every day. Does a lot of it make some things much easier? Absolutely. I would no sooner have given up that baby swing than wake a sleeping baby who was going through a growth spurt and, clearly, I still have strong feelings about my nursing pillow. But if I were to write a Baby List these days it would look more like this:
The boring and obvious stuff: diapers, wipes, baby soap, Aquaphor, bottles—you don’t need a list to tell you this:
Clothes that make you smile when you fold them and a hooded towel that looks like a duck (may sound frivolous, but you’ll agree when you see the pictures);
A bouncy seat to put the baby in so you can take a shower or eat a meal without holding them (music, lights, toys, vibration, recording of the Periodic Table of Elements that plays on a loop is not required—but whatever gets you through a whole shower);
The phone number of a good lactation consultant who does house calls and one for a friend who will listen to you cry without telling you that you’re being irrational;
Lots of zippered footies because ain’t nobody got time for snaps and buttons;
A really comfortable chair or couch by an electrical outlet, with a sturdy table next to it for you to build yourself a nest with all the things you’ll need all day so you only have to get up to pee: water, snacks, T.V. remote, and a phone charger because you will run your battery down taking a million pictures and videos of your very cute—but probably boring and asleep—new baby.
A willingness to accept that you can’t control very much of anything when it comes to becoming a parent and the grace to forgive yourself when you mess up
The knowledge that just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.
The Luna Baby Nursing Pillow—I’m still not wrong about that one.
Elizabeth Quinn makes her home in Northeast Jackson with her husband Percy and four children.