Whether you think they're the perfect way to celebrate someone's fecundity, or you find them about as appealing as a tweed G-string, baby showers are more popular than ever.
And as anyone who's ever attended one will know, games are a key part of the shower shenanigans, usually the grosser, the better. With that in mind, why not forgo the usual gifts of babygrows and blankets and embrace the spirit of the occasion with something rather more amusing (and actually useful). After all, anyone who will soon be squeezing something the size of a melon through something the size of a lemon could really do with a laugh.
Breastmilk alcohol test
After, presumably, nine months of abstinence, who wouldn’t want to get their gills around something a bit more intoxicating than tea? With the Upspring Milkscreen alcohol detector test, breastfeeding mums who've had their snout in the snifter can easily find out if their milk's got the green light or if they'll have to pump and dump.
Upspring Milkscreen, £18.19, Amazon
The bottom line is all that pressure on the ole backdoor during pregnancy and birth can give you piles the size of, well, the size of a baby’s fist. If you decide to give pile cream as a present, chuck in some super-soft toilet paper and a box of laxatives as well to create a charming gift box dedicated to your friend's rectal requirements.
AnuSol Cream 43g, £6, Tesco
Fact: babies’ noses get more packed than a Japanese train during rush hour. Fact: babies can’t blow their noses. Fact: some parents, in desperation, put their mouths to their baby's nostrils and actually suck out the sno... OK, I'll park that one there. Suffice it to say if you buy this for your pregnant pal you might just save her from a mouthful of mucus sometime in the future.
Snufflebabe Nasal Aspirator, £6.49, Pharmacy First
Bumper pack of condoms
Yeah, probably best not to give these if you're the mother-in-law of the mum-to-be.
Childbirth can leave your nethers looking like something out of a Stephen King novel. To help take the pressure off, give the gift of a donut ring. For extra Brownie points throw in an ice pack too. Once she's recovered from the birth, she can always use it as a handy wine bottle stabiliser, or even a Polo mint prop for a local production of Jack and the Beanstalk.
Mothercare Postpartum Pillow, £20
Why should us grown-ups have all the best wearable witticisms? There are some really rather amusing slogan onesies around, like these ones from Etsy.
"They see me strollin' " bodysuit, £9.70, Loved Onez, Etsy
"Ah good sir bodysuit" bodysuit, £6.99, GW Direct, Etsy
Go the Fuck to Sleep Cross-stitch pattern
First there was the bestselling 'Go the Fuck to Sleep' book; now comes the complementary cross-stitch. This delightfully subversive sewing project is the perfect activity for the interminable sleepless nights ahead (new parents reaching breaking point can also stuff it in their mouths to ensure their silent screams stay silent).
Go the Fuck to Sleep Cross-stitch pattern, £7.91, The Twilight Sewn
The Alternative Baby Keepsake Book
And finally, the funny baby shower gift to end all funny baby shower gifts (Me? Biased?). Forget insipid and schmaltzy regular baby memory books and instead give a gift in which the new mum can record the hilarious, not-so-magical moments that accompany the miracle of new life. I guarantee you that in ten years time nobody will care that the baby's third tooth emerged on 27th March, but everyone will love hearing the story of how mum accidentally kicked the doctor in the nads during a particularly painful contraction.
The Alternative Baby Keepsake Book, just £6.99 from this very site
A recent study by an independent midwifery service revealed that 89% of expectant women have used search engines for pregnancy health advice.
Having given birth the first time in 1997, a year before Google launched, then given birth again 13 years later - by which time Google had become the online equivalent of God - this made me ponder the differences between the two births. Was the second better than the first because I had access to endless information?
My first daughter arrived when I was in my lateish 20s, hardly the first flush of youth but still some years away from being labelled a ‘senile gravida’ (the medical profession's term for a woman who has the nerve to have a baby after the age of 35. I'm bemused that there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent term for older dads. Despite gargantuan leaps in modern medicine, when it comes to creating life it still takes two to tango, and there's evidence that the quality of sperm, not just eggs, may deteriorate with age. Perhaps the medical profession should utilise ‘paternus decrepitus’, although it does sound like something Hermione Granger might yell at an approaching Death Eater.
Anyway, I was pretty clueless the first time round. I attended NHS antenatal classes where I watched the dilapidated doll pass through the plastic pelvis; I did the ‘stork walk’ (otherwise known as the maternity unit tour); and I was informed that massage could work just as well as morphine in relieving pain (they lied).
None of it had much bearing on my actual birth experience. As The Alternative Baby Keepsake Book is aimed primarily at women expecting a baby, I’ll steer clear of the details. Suffice it to say it was fairly standard, give or take a few more stitches than I cared to count and my chillingly accurate impersonation of a donkey being steamrollered. But I have no doubt things would have gone better if I’d been more clued-up about what was happening.
Back in the late Nineties not many of us had internet access at home, and those who did had to suffer the miseries of a fickle dial-up connection. At the time I worked for a magazine publisher which employed around 30 people and had just one computer linked to the internet. This was guarded more closely than the recipe for Coca Cola, requiring written permission to use it.
Had the world wide web been easily accessible I’d have been all over it like a cheap suit. Never have I had such an overwhelming desire for information and reassurance, which my sporadic midwife appointments went nowhere near satisfying. Pregnancy magazines helped a bit, although I got fed up with rehashed photo shoots of the same poor woman endlessly giving birth. Desperate for more, I rediscovered the library, coming away with armfuls of books. Most of these seemed to have been published decades earlier and came complete with pictures of moustachioed men massaging their bubble-permed partners' backs as they gave birth. Much of the time the information provided was as dated as the spectacularly hirsute fannies on display.
These days, whether you have a question about cervical mucus or cradle cap, you'll find inexhaustible information online. When I was having my second daughter I suffered a terrible case of Gestational Googleitus. At the slightest twinge, I would turn to my nearest electronic device for a session with Dr Google. Rather than having too little information, I now had an overwhelming amount.
The more informed you are, the less likely you are to shout,"You're not putting that sink plunger
While the internet has done much to (vacuous buzzword alert) empower women (after all, the more informed you are, the less likely you are to shout, "You're not putting that sink plunger anywhere near me!" if the ventouse is brought out), it should be approached with caution. Much has been made of the negative impact of looking up medical info online, notably DIY diagnoses causing unnecessary stress. When, as in pregnancy, your symptoms change more often than a chameleon in a kaleidoscope, and when so very much is at stake, Googling can easily become an obsession. Additionally, much of the information available is medically unverified. For every rational, well researched article, blog post or comment, there are many that will put the willies up you (although, being pregnant, that's most likely happened already).
Websites that have their content reviewed or even written by health professionals, such as NHS Choices, are, of course, preferable to non-verified sites. But for anyone genuinely concerned, they are never, not ever, a substitute to a real, live medically trained professional - once that medically trained professional is good at his or her job. But that's a whole other blog post.
Whether you think they're the most irritating US import since The Osmonds, or a marvellous opportunity to celebrate the imminent arrival of a spanking new member of the human race, baby showers are increasingly popular here in Blighty.
Back in 2013, a Mothercare survey revealed that not only were more than a quarter of UK mums-to-be planning a baby shower, they expect to attend 23 in their lifetime. Twenty three? I doubt I'll even know 23 pregnant people in my lifetime, let alone 23 who are pregnant and have a baby shower.
It goes without saying that the perfect baby shower present is The Alternative Baby Keepsake Book. Not only will it have the mum-to-be spraying coke out of her nose with laughter (the carbonated drink variety, obviously), it will also get the guests in hysterics discussing their own buttock-clenchingly embarrassing mothering moments.
So that's the present ticked off. But what about the fun and games?
If you’ve ever been to a baby shower you’ll know that:
A) Most of the games suck.
B) Some of the games require you to suck.
Here are some suggestions for games the guests might actually find amusing, hopefully forgetting in the process that the cocktail they're quaffing is actually a mocktail as the organiser has decreed that if the mum-to-be can’t drink alcohol, no one else bloody well can either. Cow.
Every good baby shower needs a decent Push Playlist (aka "Songs to scream to"). You can turn the suggestions below into a game by asking attendees to guess the artists.
Do You Really Want to Hurt Me – Culture Club
Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd (for when you've finally received that much requested epidural)
Whoomp There It Is – Tag Team
Push it – Salt-N-Pepa
The Drugs Don't Work – The Verve
Push – Moist
The First Cut is the Deepest – Rod Stewart
Sex on Fire – Kings of Leon
Hurts So Good – John Mellencamp
Stand and Deliver – Adam and The Ants (for those hoping gravity will come to their aid)
Help! – The Beatles
F**k you, I Won't Do What You Tell Me – Rage Against the Machine (for when the midwife gets bossy)
I Hate You So Much Right Now – Kelis
Relax – Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Torn – Natalie Imbruglia
The Whole of the Moon – The Waterboys (for when the entire room's getting an eyeful)
I'm Coming Out – Diana Ross
I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor
What Have I Done to Deserve This? – The Pet Shop Boys
Under Pressure – Queen
Supermassive Black Hole – Muse
Every Breath You Take – The Police
Gimme Stitches – The Foo Fighters
And last but most definitely not least: Ring of Fire – Johnny Cash
Baby shower charades
Just like regular charades but baby-related (obvs). You can find downloadable suggestions online but truth be told they're as dull as they are predictable, eg: "Discovering you’re pregnant", "Burping baby". Creating your own scenarios to act out is much more fun. What about: Finding out you’re pregnant then realising you’re not sure who the dad is; Trying not to conceal how much you hate your midwife while giving birth; Squeamish dad reluctantly trying to cut the umbilical cord; and for the grand finale: The horror of that first post-birth bowel movement.
Name that stool
No decent baby shower is complete without this crappy classic. Smear nappies with anything vaguely resembling a baby’s bowel movement - peanut butter, pâté, lemon curd, melted chocolate, Marmite, curry sauce - even dog food - and get guests to guess what they are. Extra points to anyone who gives the nappy a lick. Depending on how kind you are, you may or may not want to warn them about the dog food beforehand.
Pushing or porn?
Google photos of women in labour. Google porn. Crop the photos so all you can see are faces. Wipe your computer's recent history (unless you want your local computer repairer winking at you in the future). Now see if guests can tell whether they are witnessing the miracle of life or the miracle of orgasm.
You can also buy ready-made downloadable cards from, among others, Etsy, (not quite the homespun, handcrafted vibe I have in mind when I think of that company) .
If the mum-to-be’s Aunt Janet is attending and you think this may be a bit near the knuckle (or any other part of the anatomy), you could create something similar with the theme ‘Birth scene or horror scene’ or ‘Baby bump or beer belly’.
Enlarge and cut up two close-up photos of the prospective parents to create a Picasso-style montage of the future baby. Then gather everyone together to pray that he or she looks nothing like the resulting axe murderer.
For an added twist, use one of the many free morphing apps to create a completely unscientifically-based but nonetheless possibly vaguely more realistic image of the baby. The guests can also have fun morphing themselves with various others. The baby pictured here is the result of a torrid affair between Aiden Turner and me, although he - and my husband - are as yet unaware that this is going to happen.
Divide the guests into two teams and get them to take turns drawing and guessing a variety of terms linked to pregnancy and birth (give them a minute each to do this before handing it to the other team).
Suggested words and phrases:
Waters breaking • Mucus plug • Stretch marks • Giant knickers • Hospital gown • Gas and air • Caesarean • Colic • Morning sickness • Crowning • Ventouse • Forceps • Episiotomy • Epidural • Umbilical cord • Swollen feet • Maternity bra • Nuclear nappy • Breast pump • Mastitis • Perineum • Cradle cap • Placenta • Mastitis
Spit the dummy
Very simple, this. Get the guests to line up, get each to stick a dummy in their maw and whoever spits the dummy the farthest is the winner. Unless you're a fan of flying phlegm, you might want to take this one outside.
If you've got any other suggestions for crude and funny baby shower games, feel free to share them by leaving a comment.
Things babies need
And so many more.
When it comes to spending money, I can be tighter than a dolphin's bum-hole. That’s not to say I live a life of grim frugality, it just means that I'm loathe to spend my hard-earned cash on crap . Oh, and that I still bend for pennies.
But entering the mysterious world of Planet Baby for the first time can turn even the most ardent anti-consumerist into a starry-eyed shopper. Baby stores and magazines are bursting with gadgets and gizmos which claim to make your and your baby’s life easier and, in our sleep-addled, sanity-challenged state, we fall for the spiel. Most of them are about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike.
Take baby wipes warmers. A quick search reveals a huge selection available, retailing on average around the £25/£30 mark. As well as protecting your baby’s tush from the horror of a room temperature wipe, most of them promise to keep wipes “fresh”, “moist” and even “free from discoloration”. Call me a cynic, but isn’t that what the wrapper does already? Moreover, if you're tender-hearted enough to want to warm a wipe before applying it to your little darling's derrière, what's wrong with using a bit of warm water to do so?
To be honest, things like baby wipes warmers and nappy bins (the latter aimed at those who must truly love the smell of festering baby poop wafting around the home for days on end) are such easy targets they’re hardly worth having a pop at.
Alas, I have no room for smugness as I, too, have been guilty of making useless baby purchases. In my case it was clothes for my first daughter; more specifically, adorable but overly complicated clothes. I can’t even claim to be the hapless victim of cynical advertising: I picked up these pieces of pint-sized couture while mooching around the shops, not because I’d seen an ad for them and nearly did myself an injury in my rush to get to the nearest stockist (this, as you've probably worked out, was pre-internet days)
The clothes of which I speak included dresses with more frills than a can-can troupe; dungarees with buckles made from actual metal; and clothes with pockets. Pockets. Unless they need somewhere to stash their Rothmans Superkings, what, exactly, do babies want with pockets?
In my defence, most of these outfits were purchased before my daughter was born, at a time when, looking back, I clearly subliminally suspected I was going to give birth to a doll I could dress up as opposed to an actual living human. It took a few goes trying to insert my flailing sprog into one of these clownish costumes – and trying to change her nappy or put her down for a kip while she was wearing them - for me to realise that buckles, bows and newborns are not a match in heaven made. After that, my daughter spent most of her first few months in blessedly squidgy babygrows, not a buckle in sight.
What’s your view?
Perhaps you'd sell your soul to the devil rather than get rid of your baby changing table. I'd love to hear about the baby buys you wouldn't be without, and the one so useless it's actually funny (well, it would be, if you hadn't shelled out £39.99 for it). You can leave a comment here.
When my eldest daughter was about two and a half, I took her to a local housewares store. I can't remember what I wanted, although it should have been white paint and the biggest mirrors known to man as we lived at the time in a Victorian terraced house so dark and gloomy it made Miss Havisham's abode in Great Expectations look like Liberace's lounge.
As I perused the shelves, Emily contently played bongos on some huge paint pots on the floor. The door chimed and I clocked a very glamorous woman coming in. The shop was in an iffy area, so she stood out in her swanky black ensemble. I can even remember her hair: it was in a chignon, a style I much admire but which, when I try to recreate it on myself, resembles an explosion in a sofa factory.
I went back to browsing, keeping a vague eye on Emily as I moved along the shelf.
And then it happened.
There was a loud bang followed by a shocked cry. I turned my head to witness a scene of such absolute devastation I almost dropped the tin of Whispering Peach emulsion I was clutching.
Glamorous Woman was glamorous no longer. Instead, she resembled an art installation in a particularly avant garde gallery. From her coiffed crown to her manicured toes she was covered in thick, white paint. Ropes of it hung quivering from her ears. Glutinous streams of it oozed down her torso. If I hadn't personally observed the complete annihilation of her appearance I wouldn't have believed it possible. In front of her stood my startled daughter, doing that great-big-intake-of-breath thing small children do before they emit a wail worthy of an air raid siren. On its side between them lay one of the big tins of paint, the last of its contents pooling gently on the floor.
I instantly understood what had happened: Emily had somehow lifted the pot up by its handle (I made a quick mental note to put her forward for weightlifting in a few years) and then dropped it, causing the lid to fly off just as our stylish fellow shopper rounded the bend. The forces of gravity were clearly against Glamorous Woman that day: while she looked like she'd been shoved through a satin paint sheep-dip, Emily had mere splashes on her shoes.
Picking up my howling sprog, I dived straight into profuse apology mode, offering to pay her cleaning bill - heck - buy her a whole new outfit. But so ashen-faced with fury was she that not only did she not respond, she wouldn't even look at me.
The manager came over and led the woman out onto the fire escape. Obviously realising a cloth wouldn't have any impact on the carnage in front of him, he gave her some sort of scraping tool, which she set about using while cursing under her breath. I made one final entreaty but she pointedly turned her back on me, clearly not trusting herself to engage. I then approached the manager and offered to pay for the paint but he waved me off; I had the feeling he wanted my daughter and I gone as quickly as was humanly possible.
Outside, a sleek, black torpedo of a car gleamed gently in the sun. It was obviously Glamorous Woman's, and I imagined her negotiating the journey home while desperately trying to keep white paint off its pristine seats. I pushed my buggy a tad faster, just in case notions of revenge overcame her previous restraint.
It was for stories such as this that I compiled The Alternative Baby Keepsake Book. While I could never forget this particular incident (even now, 16 years on, if I happen to drive past that store with a family member they will invariably pipe up: "Isn't that the place where Emily..."), there are a hundred other stories that didn't score quite so highly on the mortification meter and have thus been lost to the mists of time.
Parenthood comes with countless gooey-eyed moments (most of which happen when you watch your sprog innocently slumber following a day of carnage), but for every one of these there are any number of frustrating, embarrassing and - frequently - funny incidents, usually involving bodily fluids or fluids of another kind (see above). These are the stories that should be captured for posterity, the anecdotes that will be accompanied by shrieks of laughter when they're retold at family gatherings. A baby book that merely depicts a series of sentimental scenes would be a very dull thing indeed. Let's capture our children's childhoods in all their gory - sorry - glory.
I'd love to hear about the mortifying moments your kids have caused. Share them here.
Esther Onions can produce 1,000 words of decent quality copy (or so she likes to think). But ask her to write a mini biography...