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It was one of those nights when I felt so overwhelmed that I was almost bored. Like my brain simply had no room in its schedule for dopamine until at least next month. I had a million things to do, each of them essential and none of them exciting.
The least boring thing on my overwhelming list was--I thought-- "make a baby list," so, at 7 pm, I figured I'd wind down by looking at some cute baby things and putting them together on a public registry for friends and family who were interested in getting the baby a gift. I would also use the list's "private" function to keep track of other things we'd need for the baby and my postpartum recovery time, but didn't necessarily want on the public registry-- things that cost too much money to even ask for as gifts, and things that felt too personal to ask for. (I don't want my friends and family to buy gifts that are designed to help sooth my tender postpartum taint. No shade to anybody who asked for postpartum recovery kits from friends and family, but I thought about it, and, for me, it would feel like getting a box of my preferred brand of tampons in my Christmas stocking signed "FROM, SANTA.")
I'd never made a registry before, but it seemed like it would be fun. I'd skipped making a wedding registry last year, since Josh and I had a scaled-down, immediate family-only, outdoor-only pandemic wedding, and besides, before we met, we'd both been living independently for over a decade. I already had a KitchenAid stand mixer and a nice Dutch oven. He already had a nice set of pans and enough silverware and dishware for a large family. What would the point of a registry have been?
Reader, building a baby registry from a place of knowing very little about what babies need is not fun.
The world of baby gear, like almost everything around pregnancy and parenting culture, is a terrifying tangle of advice, sanctimony, consumerism, neuroticism, sales pitches disguised as guides, and people with obvious trauma from birthing and raising their own children who are now projecting all of their unresolved shit onto other parents in a way that feels deeply unhelpful.
Some of what a baby needs is obvious-- they won't let you leave the hospital if you don't have a carseat. The baby needs clothing and diapers and butt cream to treat their tiny little rashes and a safe place to sleep to keep them from accidentally suffocating themselves. But what carseat? What diapers? What ass cream? What bed?
At the end of baby registry build night one, I had approximately three dozen tabs on different strollers open and was nowhere closer to picking out a stroller than I was when I started my search. There were so many questions that I didn't know that I should be asking myself. Such as:
Do I care if it's light, or do I prefer a heavier stroller?
Does it matter if its easy to fold?
What is a "travel system" and should we get that?
How big should the sun canopy be?
Do I want a car seat that just clips in? Do I want a bassinet attachment? How much space do I want below the stroller to store my own things?
The answer to all of these questions was: I had no fucking idea and no way to find out.
I looked at some parenting forums online for guidance. Big mistake; parenting forums are, as a rule, insane. Did you know that there are entire stroller universes out there with fans whose devotion was not unlike that those of a ComicCon attendee dressed as Wolverine? I am surprised that I have never seen a bumper sticker of Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes, wearing a Nuna Mixx tee shirt and peeing on the Uppababy logo. I became convinced that unless I purchased a stroller system that costs more than I paid in rent when I lived in Brooklyn, I would be a shitty parent. I felt like failing to pick out the optimal baby gear would be a reflection of my own unfitness. And, as my late grandpa would say, that's how they getcha.
What about a "bouncer"? A bouncer is another, separate place for parents to put the baby down, one that either rocks the baby mechanically or allows the baby to bounce itself using its leg muscles and gravity. I was skeptical that we needed this, but I learned that bouncers come in handy when a parent is alone with the baby and needs to take a shower or use the toilet. A bouncer got added to the registry.
Where would the baby sleep? Well, that depends: did I love my baby? Because if I did, I'd want the baby to have the nicest thing available, right?
Before I waded into the world of baby products, I had no idea that something exists called a Snoo bassinet, a tiny robot cradle that can sense when a baby is upset and responds by playing escalating white noise sounds and rocking the baby mechanically. Babies are strapped into the Snoo via a special swaddle that hooks into the bed. Babies can only fit in the Snoo for up to six months, but rhapsodic writeups of the robot bed claimed that it gave parents an extra two hours of sleep per night. The cost? $1500. I did some napkin math and figured out how much every extra hour it purported to give parents would cost, and decided it was still too much money. The parent forums assured me that Snoos hold most of their value and are easy to resell. On eBay, they were "only" $800. My sense of how much things should cost was completely warped.
"Must-have" lists claimed that we needed new baby furniture for the "nursery," an extra room that I guess everybody just has hanging out in their houses, waiting to be stenciled with the name "LIAM ELIJAH" or "OLIVIA WILLOW" or whatever, and filled with on-theme decor and matching furniture. We had to pick a theme? We needed new furniture? We technically live in a two-bedroom house, but the second bedroom is an office, because we both work from home. Also, the office was our "crap room," where Josh and I both put things that we don't feel like putting away. Plus, there already is furniture in there. We didn't have room for much more! Registering for the nursery was a game called "what large items can we get away with not having?" (Josh, the more frugal of the two of us, liked this game, especially after I attempted to make a case for purchasing a Snoo, a case that, to his credit, he was not fully aboard with.)
What about toys? If I get the wrong toy, will the baby's brain be under stimulated? How about books? What if the baby hates Chicka Chicka Boom? What if the playmat I select contains harmful chemicals? HOW MANY HATS DOES THE BABY NEED? IF I GET THE WRONG SOAP WILL MY BABY HATE ME?
But then, a breaking point.
One hill I will die on forever is that homes do not need to be "smart," because the more "smart" you have in your home, the more "opportunity you create for Russian hackers to use your fridge to commit cyber crimes." Making things "smart" that don't need to be "smart" is a recipe for trouble.
As the list of things I needed to research to exhaustion grew, I noticed something: everything baby that can possibly be made "smart" has been made "smart," and then doubled in price.
"Smart" baby gear that requires WiFi to function is 95% unnecessary, but it's everywhere. The aforementioned robot crib? WiFi. A machine that plays white noise and lights up in different colors? WiFi connection. The baby monitor? WiFi connection. Breast pump? WiFi. A formula warmer? WiFi connection. Most of the higher-end baby bouncers? WiFi. A robot sock that is supposed to monitor baby's vitals and theoretically alleviate anxiety about SIDS but, according to the FDA, may encourage a false sense of security and/or set off false alarms, thus aggravating the stress? WiFi. Why does my formula need to be online? Why does pumping milk require an app?
The spell was broken. I was being had! Our list of baby gear didn't need to be full of the latest, fanciest, most expensive, or the most enthusiastically reviewed gear. Who were we trying to impress? We simply needed to figure out what baby gear best fit into the life we have. We didn't totally redecorate the office (but did throw or give away a lot of the junk and hung up some space-themed prints). We didn't get too hung up on knowing every possible thing we might need before the baby gets here. Stores exist. Fast delivery exists. We'll be fine.
The easiest shortcut to this whole process, I realized after wasting hours and hours trying to figure all of it out myself, was asking friends with kids for input. Friends with kids are much less of a snake pit than parenting forums, less of a sales pitch than anything available on a parenting website. Babies need love and attention more than they need stuff, anyway.
(However, we did end up getting a robot cradle... we rented one. To the Snoo's credit, it is very cool. I'll feel pretty foolish if the baby hates it.)
Image via Shutterstock