by Fudia Muhammad
Most traditions, customs and rituals do not manifest out of the blue – most originate from a specific need, intention or belief. However, after a period of time, many traditions, customs and rituals gradually move away from their original intent and become no more than established routines, which have become accepted as normal. The true purpose often gets buried in the time-honored tradition. Baby showers are no different. A baby shower is typically a party thrown for a mother-to-be by her family and friends, who “shower” the expectant mother with gifts to be used primarily for her baby and occasionally for herself. Modern baby showers are held several weeks BEFORE the baby is born. Though, many women are now having baby showers AFTER the baby is born for various reasons. Herein lies the dilemma?
When one studies the evolution of what we now call “baby showers,” over different historical periods and regions – Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Victorian Era – they all have one thing in common…the “baby showers”all took place after childbirth. It is only when we enter the modern era that we see a shift towards having baby showers before the birth of the baby. According to Alison J. Clarke’s book, Maternity and Materiality: Becoming a Mother in Consumer Culture, “The modern baby shower started after WWII during the baby boom era and evolved with the consumer ideology of 1950s and 1960s. In other words, baby showers in the mid-twentieth century not only served an economic function by providing the mother-to-be and her home with material goods that lessened the financial burden of infant care, but purchased “things” also emerged as the principle whereby women make themselves into mothers.”
Today this concept has exploded. What we see with many baby showers is that they have become less about the needs of a new mother and her baby and more about a status symbol, which indirectly links motherhood with materialism and social inclusion. As with any party, “attendance” at the baby shower is of the utmost importance. The mother-to-be is burdened with who came; who didn’t come; why didn’t they come, how many attended, etc.? Then – what gifts did I receive? Were they of the highest quality? Can I exchange them? Typically the mother-to-be will open each gift individually and recognize the giver of the gift publicly. This can be an added burden to those in attendance because there WILL be comparisons and silly conclusions drawn – the more extravagant the gift, the more love the giver has for the mother-to-be. What about the Sister who brings diapers, baby wipes or nursing pads – very practical gifts, but she is overshadowed by the Sister who brings the $200 designer outfit that the baby may wear once?
There are some strong arguments for having the baby shower before birth – the mother will ideally have everything she needs ahead of time, she can plan and get organized, and it will help her out financially. However, there are also important reasons to consider having a baby shower after the baby is born. Historically, the primary focus was always on the successful birth of the baby and the health of the mother. Ceremonies, prayers and devotions were held to celebrate and bless the new life. Sadly, the reality has always been that not all pregnancies result in a live healthy birth. In addition, having a baby shower after the baby is born (approximately six weeks) allows the shower to be far more celebratory and practical at the same time. There is a brand new life to welcome and the mother knows exactly what she needs the most. She is also likely to be more engaged in the festivities.
The actual duration of pregnancy used to be (and should return to) a private personal time; it was never viewed as a social experience. Mothers would often keep the pregnancy a secret until approaching the due date. When a baby shower is held before the baby is born, this is typically the last time the expectant mother sees or hears from most friends and relatives until the next special event or occasion. But women need help and assistance when the baby is born; particularly if the pregnancy was difficult. Everything from buying diapers to helping with errands to cooking a few meals is far more appreciated post childbirth. Feeling alone can lead to depression and anxiety. Women who have baby showers or gatherings after the baby is born are also not as impressed with superficial gifts – they have had a reality check and tend to request very practical gifts or assistance.
At the prompting of one of my Sisters, I began to inquire about the history of baby showers in the Nation of Islam. I already knew that a few years ago, the Sisters in the Nation of Islam were asked not to host baby showers unless we could commit to giving every single Sister a shower, so no one is left out. But at present, the Sisters no longer include baby showers as a formal part of our class affairs. “If they are done, they are done privately with close friends and family.”
However, many Sisters also recall that some time ago, the Sisters in the Nation of Islam were given instructions to have our baby showers AFTER the baby is born. We can all take it upon ourselves to search further into this if we so choose, but here is what we were able to confirm. After reading these statements, we can all decide for ourselves:
Sister Ati Hamid Cushmeer (daughter of Brother Jabril Muhammad, author of Closing the Gap) said, “I am 99% sure Mother Evelyn said this (we should have baby showers after the baby is born) to us in M.G.T. (Muslim Girls’ Training) when I lived in Phoenix. I texted her daughter, Marie, to verify it…”Later,Sister Ati shared the following from Sister Marie: “My mom does not remember when I asked her. She said that sounds right, but I can’t give you a definite answer because she’s forgetful now, but she said that makes sense. But of course to quote what the Honorable Elijah Muhammad said on that subject, I can’t do.” Sister Ati then shared with me, “My mother-in-law said that back then they didn’t really have baby showers. She said first there was no way of knowing the baby’s gender and that if a Sister needed something, the M.G.T. would come together to help her get whatever she needed.”
Sister Callie from Detroit added, “I always heard that we should wait until the baby was born to have a shower. When the Minister (Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan) got the Nation back, we did not have showers with Sisters outside the M.G.T. because it was done after class when Sisters returned from having babies…We did not have a need for showers as we understand them today, we all helped each other because we only had each other.”
In summation, after asking additional Sisters, Sister Ati said, “I believe it varies from Mosque to Mosque prior to 1975, but the consensus seems to be that after the baby was born, if a Sister needed items, the M.G.T. would band together and get her what she needed. Some of it sounded informal and sometimes it was done more formally as in a ‘shower’ after M.G.T. class.”
Who would have thought that something as common-practice as a baby shower could be far more layered, when we consider the history? The moral of this lesson is that we should all probably get back to focusing on the mother and what she truly needs to take better care of her baby. Parties, fancy gifts, games and decorations are not the true expression of our love for her or her baby.
In the Bible, Jesus says: “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the One who sent me” (Mark 9:37, NIV). Whether the baby shower takes place before or after the baby is born; or if we forgo a baby shower altogether, we must return to genuine intentions and sincere motives. Helping to care for a child is honoring the Source of his or her existence – Allah (God). Our goal is to come together to serve our Sister in a period of need and provide her with our company, our assistance and our resources. We should come to her aid, in a timely manner, so she is free to completely focus on caring for her precious new life and regaining her strength. That’s LOVE!
[A special thanks to Sister Ebony Safiyyah for bringing this subject to my attention and being the inspiration behind the article. My deepest gratitude to Sis. Ati Hamid Cushmeer, Mother Evelyn Muhammad, Sister Marie Farrakhan, Sis. Bobbie Muhammad, and Sister Callie for their valuable insight.]
(Sister Fudia Muhammad is a member of Muhammad Mosque No. 64 in Austin, Texas. She is married to Student Minister Robert L. Muhammad and they have been blessed with four children. Sister Fudia holds a Master’s degree in Education – she is a writer, an educator and an advocate for God-centered child-rearing.)