When Flora Gill hit her 30s, she was ready for the influx of hen parties and wedding invitations. But nothing prepared her for the pageantry of her friends’ pregnancies.
‘I think it’s carrot and squash,’ I guess, swirling the orange paste around my mouth as I sit, blindfolded. ‘Anything else?’ my friend asks.
‘Yes, that’s right – but you missed out chicken!’
I’m very much hoping this will be the last round of ‘Guess the Baby Food’ that I’ll be forced to play this year but, given the number of baby-shower parties springing up in my diary, I fear it won’t.
I’m 31, an age where every other weekend seems to feature a wedding or a hen do. This is fine – it’s a life stage I was prepared for. But what I hadn’t predicted was the sudden dawn of the baby-shower invitation.
It wasn’t long ago that Brits viewed baby showers as a ghastly American invention. A pregnant mother in the UK might have had a small dinner with friends after finding out she was expecting, but the pageantry of a dedicated party would have been considered completely over the top.
The perfect example of the clash between American traditions and English attitudes can be summed up by the reaction to the Duchess of Sussex’s lavish 2019 shower. Organised by Serena Williams, and reportedly costing up to £300,000, it was said to have been met with eye-rolls and private condemnation at the palace. But big showers are common in the US, where throwing one can be compared in terms of stress and spend with organising a wedding.
There are dozens of articles online dedicated to picking themes, snacks, decorations, games and even goody bags. A US-based friend informs me that, in the past year, she’s been to two pink-themed showers for baby girls, a space-themed shower for a future astronaut and a Harry Potter-themed party where guests sat at tables for each wizarding house and ate chocolate that looked like frogs. They almost always involve copious balloons, carefully constructed finger food and bespoke games – such as the guess-the-baby-food one I was subjected to. I could horrify you further by detailing another game, which I’m told is gaining popularity, whereby different types of chocolate bars are melted into nappies… but we probably don’t need to go there.
Baby showers are thought to have originated in the postwar baby-boom era – their main purpose at that time being an opportunity to gather gifts for the future family. Today, presents still feature, with guests joining together to buy big-ticket items such as prams, but they’ve evolved to be more about the party.
The explosion of the baby-shower party may be explained by a general trend (undimmed by a global pandemic) towards commercialising minor celebrations. It’s been happening to Halloween throughout the 2000s and now celebrations such as Easter are being dragged along in its wake. John Lewis reported sales of ‘Easter trees’ were up 65 per cent this year, while searches for the term ‘Easter wreaths’ also reached an all-time high.
As might be expected, celebrity mums have been on the bow wave of the baby-shower trend. Last October, Made in Chelsea’s Millie Mackintosh, 32, celebrated her second pregnancy by posting images from her party on Instagram with hundreds of neutrally coloured balloons creating a picturesque backdrop for her baby bump. A month earlier, Stacey Solomon, 32, shared images of a pink party for her first daughter (after having three sons) featuring flower-decorated Rapunzel hair. Apparently such was the buzz around the shower, some of her guests thought it was going to be a secret wedding to her partner Joe Swash, 40.
There’s also the not-insignificant power of the social media ‘mumfluencer’. Millie Mackintosh’s baby-shower image, for example, garnered several thousand more likes than any of her other recent posts.
These events create the perfect Instagram fodder: beautifully picturesque with you front and centre. It’s even been reported that some model agencies are advising older models (depressingly, this means those in their late 20s) that getting pregnant is a good career move. There are only so many pictures of food and sunset views you can post before your followers may unfollow you – but the journey of motherhood can open up a whole new avenue of social media opportunity.
You might assume that the baby-shower boom would be self-limiting given that – unlike Halloween or Easter – it doesn’t happen every year, nor for every family. But the marketeers have thought of that. Once the number of baby showers has reached saturation point, you simply subdivide the celebration, creating an entirely new one. Welcome to the world of the ‘gender reveal’.
This brand of party, for those who couldn’t guess, is where the sex of the baby is unveiled. The actual ‘reveal’ tends to involve colour – pink or blue. Celebrations range from the simple, such as confetti balloons being popped or a coloured cake being cut, to the deeply elaborate. There are stories of alligators biting into dyed watermelons, or people dressed in baby boy and girl sumo outfits fighting in a ring until the winning baby pins the loser. There are now businesses built around preparing your correctly coloured surprise item, with doctors giving the future baby’s sex to the party organisers so Mum and Dad find out with everyone else.
Among the most newsworthy gender reveals to date have been one that lasted just three minutes, cost £74,000 and entailed the Burj Khalifa in Dubai being lit up blue to let YouTube stars Anas and Asala Marwah know they were expecting a boy. Then there was the 2020 gender reveal that sparked a California wildfire when a pyrotechnic device was used to reveal a baby’s sex and ended up causing £6 million of damage.
You may have gathered that I am not particularly enamoured of such trends. These American imports feel distinctly un-British; they go directly against our natural ‘don’t count your chickens’ attitude. It does feel a bit like buying a car before you pass your driving test.
Then there’s the stress factor (for guests, I mean), not to mention the expense. Hen dos are bad enough (read: dire multi-day events abroad, costing hundreds of pounds and ruining friendships) without sticking a few baby showers and a gender reveal into the mix.
And, on a very personal note, I’m not sure how much more baby food I can stomach.
How the A-list big up their bumps
Ahead of the birth of her fourth child in 2019 with her then husband Kanye West (for which they used a surrogate), Kim hosted a very relaxing, CBD-themed baby shower. Activities included a DIY cannabidiol-infused bath salts and body oils station, flower arranging, group meditation and sound baths.
To celebrate the forthcoming arrival of her daughter Harper in 2011, Victoria was surprised by close friend Eva Longoria with an English garden-themed party on the rooftop of the Petit Ermitage hotel in West Hollywood. Attended by A-listers such as Demi Moore and Selma Blair, guests played a game that involved making dresses out of toilet paper.
The singer, above, commemorated the upcoming birth of her twins (Rumi and Sir with husband Jay-Z) in 2017 with an African-themed baby shower. Brought to life by African dancers and drummers, a henna tattoo artist and a soul food buffet, the guest list included family members and friends such as Serena Williams, and bandmates Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams.
The TV presenter celebrated the imminent arrival of her third child with husband Marvin in 2020 with a do at private members’ club Annabel’s in London’s Mayfair, serving up a three-course menu with burrata, wild seabass and a pistachio and raspberry Eton mess. The lavish venue was decked out with an impressive balloon display and delicate flower arrangements.
Additional reporting: Charlotte Vossen