Registering for wedding gifts was such fun. I fondly remember those satisfying beeps from the label-scanning gun as I selected towels, serving platters and a stainless-steel toaster.
Registering for baby gear when I was six months pregnant, on the other hand, was a nightmare. My husband, mother-in-law and I drove to a big-box baby store in the suburbs to fill out a registry in advance of my baby shower in spring 2011. The woman at the customer service desk handed me a registry gun, a fistful of coupons, a checklist with 62 must-have and 45 good-to-have items and released us into the store.
Have fun! she chirped.
I hadnt cared for a child since I baby-sat for my neighbors in the early 90s and hadnt spent more than a few minutes with an infant, ever. I couldnt tell a onesie from a romper or a gown or a bodysuit, and I had no idea which one a baby actually wore and when. Then, the financial worries kicked in as I scanned the list and saw that the store recommended that I must have two car seats and three strollers.
Before I got married, I knew how a toaster worked and the relative importance of having a bagel or defrost setting. I didnt fear that if I chose the wrong towels, I would kill my first-born child. But warning labels are slapped on the side of nearly every item of baby gear, from crib sheets (suffocation) to baby swings (falling) to infant bathtubs (drowning). The stakes could not have felt higher.
So, I did what any pregnant lady would do in such an overwhelming situation: I cried. Twice in 10 minutes. Once in the clothing section, once near the cribs. But there are ways to make this moment easier and even to avoid it altogether.
Bring an ally. The most important thing you can bring to the store is someone who has recently had a baby. I stress recently because my mother-in-law would be the first to admit that baby gear has changed so dramatically since the mid-1980s that she couldnt really help me navigate, say, the world of video vs. audio baby monitors.
Im now expecting my second child and, in just the past two years, a whole new category of baby monitors has popped up: WiFi remote view. (See the center of your world from anywhere in the world.)
Consult an expert. Buy or check out the book Baby Bargains, known as the baby-gear bible for clueless parents-to-be. Authors Denise and Alan Fields helped me realize that manufacturers and marketers know that theyre dealing with vulnerable shoppers and are ready to pounce on our pocketbooks. The next time I went to the big-box store, I brought my copy of the book with Post-it notes marking the things I wanted to buy. They numbered far fewer than the 62 must-haves.
Go online. In February, Amazon.com launched a baby registry feature called Advice Team. Its a way for parents to crowdsource their registries; Amazon calls it social shopping. Registrants can invite friends and family members to recommend items or add comments about their experiences with particular products. After an item is recommended, it goes to an advice list, where registrants can view the suggestions and either delete the items or add them to their Amazon registries with one click.
Online registries, available through Amazon and the Web sites of the big-box retailers, are nice because you can shop a little bit at a time and from your home. Also, theres no danger of an embarrassing public crying jag. The downside is you cant feel the different burp cloths to make sure you get the softest one, for example.
Stick it to consumer culture. One of the most helpful pieces of advice I heard during my first pregnancy came from my prenatal yoga teacher: You are all that your baby needs. You already have everything. My body could provide necessities such as food, warmth and comfort.
While not entirely accurate – you have to have a car seat installed to take the baby home from the hospital, for example – the sentiment stayed with me for the rest of the pregnancy and always calmed me down.
The commercial aspect of baby-preparedness often obscures the real work of getting ready for a baby. Are you getting enough rest, exercise and nutritious meals? How are you settling into the idea of becoming a parent? Most important: How is your relationship with your partner, or if youre a single parent, with your support system of friends and family?
What your baby needs more than anything (and especially more than window valances that match his or her crib bedding) is to be welcomed into a stable home overflowing with love.