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The best gift of the baby shower

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By Kelly Dolejsi

It’s a tiny, velvety pink pair of pajamas, with miniature feet, each one barely big enough for a Ruby K’s mini-muffin, and a silky cut-out of a pointe shoe stitched over one hip.

It’s a handmade quilt with squares of antique fabric featuring drawings of marionettes.

It’s a book, only it’s also a glove with a little pig on each finger.

It’s a baby.

My friend Claire hosted my baby shower this past weekend, an event I had been both looking forward to and sort of dreading for weeks. On one hand, I am drastically fond of my baby, unborn though she dutifully remains, and wanted to gush about her with all my girlfriends. On the other hand, I have always felt a little funny about baby showers – the corny games, the overbearing cuteness of all the gifts and, in general, the way everyone is reduced to blobs of talking estrogen.

However, at seven months pregnant, I didn’t mind so much.

My estrogen has been in charge for many weeks now. I have just about given up the fight to be a fully-functioning, well-rounded adult capable of talking about a variety of topics, some of which are not even baby-related.

My appearance is not deceiving: I really am just a sleep sack for a three-and-a-half pound fetus. I am something other than what I used to be.

Anyhow, I opened a bunch of overbearingly adorable gifts on Sunday: pj’s, cloth books, board books, blankets, pillows, diapers, beaded baby-shoes, crib sheets, a scrapbook and even a device with a little net on one end – barely big enough for a votive candle – in which I am to place food. I was told I can load it up with a chunk of banana and then the baby can learn how to eat it, without choking or throwing fistfuls of banana at the house plants.

Oddly, opening these presents did not embarrass me. I didn’t feel reduced in any way, or childish, or bored. I never once thought, “I can’t wait to be done with this!”

Some of my guests undoubtedly did; I can’t imagine they were as delighted with the stuffed monkeys (yes, there were multiple monkeys) or the pacifiers as I was. But I was absolutely enthralled – not because I love baby toys so much, but because every single gift I unwrapped made my baby seem more tangible – more like a human baby and less like some impossible, hazy, dreamy phantom.

She’s going to be an actual being, not the mysterious fantasy half-me/half-my-husband that I see in my mind, who loves her Mommy-and-Me ballet classes and, a bit later on, adores playing volleyball with her daddy.

These fantasies are fun to talk about, but they lead nowhere. They describe an imaginary baby and not necessarily the one in my uterus. Our daughter might dance but she might not. She might have an amazing overhand serve or, like me, she might cry every time the volleyball slaps its stinging red wrath across her arms. I have no idea.

But the shower helped me focus on the few certainties we have. Although it sounds stupid, I know she’ll be a real person because she’s going to wear real clothes, have real toys, be swaddled in real blankets. I need these obvious indicators of non-illusion.

For me – someone who’s never had a baby and who rarely, before marrying Michael in 2008, ever pictured myself having a baby – being pregnant is a pretty abstract thing. Despite my animated belly, monthly visits to our obstetrician and a refrigerator covered in ultrasound images, I still have difficulty seeing myself as a mother, living with and taking care of a warm, smiling, screaming, diaper-devastating infant.

I have witnessed other women with infants and for the most part, these babies blurred into one generic, scary creature that belonged to anyone else but me. But this one is not going to go away once I get off the bus or leave the restaurant. This one stays. This one is mine.

How do I know?

Because I will wrap her in a beautiful quilt I can physically wrap over my shoulders. Because I will read to her from a silly book, my piggy fingers pointing to their two-dimensional piggy counterparts in the illustrations.

And because, although I can’t yet touch her cheeks or run my fingers through her hair, I can touch this set of footed, preposterously soft velvet pajamas and get some kind of glimpse, both foolish and yet substantial, of what – of who – will soon be in my life.

E-mail Kelly at kdolejsi@gmail.com.