Don’t Show Me That Wallet Photo, Please

By Lenore Skenazy

Published December 29, 2010, issue of January 07, 2011.
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A company on Long Island is offering parents this deal: a 15-minute CD-ROM of their child, four 3x5 color photos and a sheet of 9 wallet-sized pictures…

All before the baby is born.

Expectant moms can come in as early as 18 weeks (that’s less than halfway through the pregnancy) to get their first keepsake ultrasounds. And if they spring for the super-deluxe $269.99 package, they can go in once a month, from the fourth month to the eighth, to document the whole shebang.

Kurt Hoffman

As someone who got medically prescribed sonograms when I was pregnant, I can see the allure: It was thrilling to see a grainy image of the baby-to-be. I even put one of those photos on the fridge, as if it had been his picture from camp.

But as a mom who also avoided having a baby shower until after the baby was definitely (and deafeningly) here — as is often the Jewish custom — there’s something about these glitzy, just-for-fun pre-natal photo ops that make me want to curl up in a fetal position. Which is, perhaps, appropriate.

The idea of not having a baby shower — or, for some Jewish parents, not even bringing any baby gear into the home before the baby arrives there — seems to stem from the idea of not alerting the Evil Eye (ayin hara) to one’s good fortune. What’s interesting is that in this somewhat medieval idea lies a lot of timeless compassion for everyone concerned.

“The Evil Eye is obviously one that colored my grandmother’s world,” says Devra Renner, co-author of “Mommy Guilt” (Amacom, 2005) and a mom of two in northern Virginia. “She had me suck on a string if she was hemming something on me because of the Evil Eye. This was supposed to distract it.”

What could the Evil Eye possibly care about a new hem?

“The idea was that hemming something while you were wearing it would bring to attention the material things you have,” says Renner. The Evil Eye apparently operates a lot like one’s co-workers or neighbors: It is apt to be jealous.

It is exactly that jealousy that made Jewish baby showers a taboo, says Meir Fund, rabbi at the Sheves Achim shul in Brooklyn. “[There are] women who have trouble having children, and we are careful not to arouse jealousy. If you cause someone jealousy unnecessarily, it causes pain.”

It sure does. I went to a shower while trying to get pregnant, and I still remember it as one of the more painful afternoons of my life. So many booties. But the compassion hidden in the Evil Eye idea is not just for the onlookers. It’s for the parents-to-be, too.

“The way I understood it from my mom was if, God forbid, something happens to the child, why should you have something in the house to remind you?” says Randee Zeitlin-Feldman, founder of Get Noticed Public Relations in Boca Raton, Fla. She eschewed a shower before her son was born — “Jewish girls never had baby showers back then” — and now he’s 30 and recently married. Just sayin’.

Womb imaging companies present their product as a way for moms to “meet” their babies early, and even see them on the “big screen.” All of which seems more disturbing than a baby shower. A shower is about some mysterious creature who is slated to arrive. A big-screen video is as if the baby’s already among us. Family and friends are encouraged to attend the taping (that is, the sonogram sessions) as well as the screening. As if a successful journey from inside to out is a foregone conclusion. Would that it always were.

Inevitably, superstitious or not, we know a lot more about our babies before birth these days. Glossy photos of them smiling in the womb and growing from pea to person are all over the place — in magazines, pregnancy books, TV shows — and impossible not to marvel at. They are otherworldly. But seeing one’s own particular child develop almost takes away from the mystery. It’s the difference between “the miracle of life” and “Samantha’s first birthday video.” So while I certainly don’t begrudge anyone springing for a prenatal photo package, I’m in the “let’s celebrate when they get here” camp. My goal is simply not to upset anyone: me, my friends or the E.E.

Renner, the writer whose grandma told her all about the Evil Eye, had her shower after her son was born and it was a big success. “Everyone loved being able to carry him around,” she says. They also didn’t buy any pink onesies.

As for the Evil Eye, he was out looking for Mel Gibson.

Lenore Skenazy is the author of “Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)” (Wiley, 2010).

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