Baby's first birthday: capture the moment or else

  • Posted on
  • in

Paul at someone else's birthday party
Photo from Citybee Studio

The day after I had the baby, a professional photographer came by my hospital room offering to take portraits of the baby, my husband and me. "Can you come back tomorrow?" I asked. I was still so tired and shot up with muscle relaxants that I couldn't even feed myself breakfast. Her answer was no. I was feeling vulnerable (I cried both at the slideshow video she showed me and of the pamphlet she gave me, both of which featured babies that were not my own) so I agreed to the session, even though I didn't have the strength to sit up yet. (You can see the photos here and I hope you enjoy them because the package cost something like $265.) My friend Elizabeth had used Bella Baby, the photo company in question, and had netted a beautiful Facebook profile photo of her and her new babe, looking beatific together, and in the moment I felt that all my efforts of having the baby would be for naught if I didn't have a kickass Facebook photo of the baby and me as well. Priorities.

In retrospect, I'm pretty annoyed by the prospect of someone trawling around a hospital floor preying upon exhausted, emotional women's vulnerabilities but this is America and Bella Baby figured out how to make a buck. And the pictures are nice, too, even though I realized that in a lot of the photos, my baby could have been any baby if not a realistic-looking baby doll.

In retrospect I wish I had the balls to just try saying "Fine, bye" when the photographer said that that was her only time to take my photo, which meant I was unable to adhere to the company's recommendations that new moms "Wear clear or neutral nail polish on the day of your shoot." I also didn't think to "Bring a dark-colored shirt to wear in the photos...solid/dark colors look great in both color and black-and-white prints" (not that I would have been able to put it on, anyway.)

Not content to let that event lie in the past, Bella Baby is back, offering its services for photographing the baby on the occasion of his first birthday, just in case I mess up and do something cheap or on my own for his birthday.

Sorry, Bella Baby. It's not your fault. I had a strange complex about the baby's first birthday that I had to work out and Bella Baby bore the brunt of it (not to mention some wicked alliteration.)

I felt a weird sort of pressure to make the baby's birthday a lot bigger deal than it needs to be. This came (unwittingly, unknowingly, so it wasn't their fault) from my friends who had big parties for their kids and invited everyone they know, not to mention the parenting magazines that say things like, "Well, obviously, you need to have a theme for your baby's first birthday." So I contemplated renting a room somewhere and doing it up. I then realized this would be too much of a hassle, so I asked my mom if I could host it in her backyard, which she said I was welcome to do as long as I did all the work (which was only fair considering this was my baby and she babysits him all the time anyway and has been very generous to him and us in many ways so I don't know why I would have expected more. She also remembers an era when a first birthday was really not that big a deal--can you imagine?) My husband kept doing this annoying thing where he'd say "Are you really up for hosting a party like this?" and I was like "Shut up, shut up, I've got this." Until I came to Jesus one evening and realized that nobody was going to enjoy this party that much, let alone the baby, so why should I knock myself out for it?

Quite obvious solution, no? But there are reasons for the big first birthday and why you need a professional photographer to come and snap the moment, and the articles and ads make it seem like it's about the baby but really it's about the mom's vanity and pride and future-nostalgia. Because the first birthday isn't just the baby's first birthday. The baby won't remember his first birthday, just like none of us remember ours. The first birthday and all its documentations is the signifier of how much you got your shit together after the baby was born. If you have a nice party and a great photo to go with it, you're saying to the world (via Facebook or something like it), "Hey look at my adorable baby but also, get a load of me! I lost the weight and I put on a nice outfit and my hair and makeup are on point and I put together a first birthday party that doesn't make my guests want to kill themselves! I have created a moment that is perfect for freezing in time so that there is proof, once my child is old enough to declare me old and irrelevant and Just A Mom (which will be in about two months), that I was once young and beautiful and vibrant." I mean basically with the right first birthday party you are getting the photo you hope they blow up really nice and big and put on an easel next to your coffin at your funeral, right?

Is that a bit macabre? Sorry. Having a kid has both made me much more aware of the moment and the big picture. The other, less freaky reason to have a big party for the kid is for the mom to celebrate the achievement of keeping a kid alive and getting her life together. I like that idea! However, a major flaw in my plan of having a Pinterest-worthy party is that there would be no chance in hell I would have a moment to enjoy it. Are you kidding? After all the cleaning and readying and prepping, I'd be making sure the appetizer trays were full and that the dishes were half-kept-up-with and that the drinks were refreshed and I suppose someone would need to keep an eye on that kid, too. And then everyone would go home and I'd have to clean up. Some party.

So the theme for the baby's party is going to be Easy. Close family only. Sandwiches from the Vietnamese place down the street, decorations from the dollar store and, my favorite, a cake from the grocery store that I am going to design and order because I earned it, dammit. And I am going to take the hell out of a picture of that cake. It might go on Facebook, too.