Thursday, July 16, 2015

Etiquette and Ladies in Waiting

A very special delivery from the stork

Stork Party and Baby Shower Etiquette

I only attended my first Baby Shower last year but when my two good friends said they were going to throw me one, I was actually pretty excited about it, and I enjoyed it tremendously! It is a great way to for friends to help out with some essentials, as it can be very expensive shopping for a newborn.

Baby showers are quite new in England really, and have only been taking off in popularity in recent years, so there isn't much info, if any, at all, in my British etiquette books. The majority of my books are British. I have only a few American etiquette books.

Vintage mid-1950s birth announcement card~ One benefit of waiting to shower a new mother with gifts after the baby was born? Everyone then knew the sex of the baby. Fetal ultrasounds as we know them today, were not available. ~ Ultrasound was first used for clinical purposes in 1956 in Glasgow. Obstetrician Ian Donald and engineer Tom Brown developed the first prototype systems based on an instrument used to detect industrial flaws in ships. They perfected its clinical use, and by the end of the 1950s, ultrasound was routinely used in Glasgow hospitals.  Fetal ultrasound technology really didn't take off in British hospitals until the 1970s, and it was well into the 1970s before it became widely used in American hospitals.– From Live Science

So when I was looking for information on baby showers, according to "Etiquette Sleuth, Maura Graber," I learnt it was the sobering reality of dropping infant mortality rates over the past 50 years, that led to "Baby Showers" being a more modern day creation. 

A bit of history: Once upon a time, what we now know as "Baby Showers" were called "Stork Parties" or "Stork Showers." Prior to the 1940s and 1950s, baby showers were not as common as one would think, regardless of what they were called. They are rarely mentioned in early etiquette books. 

Babies were usually given gifts from all well-meaning friends and family members, upon their Christenings. That etiquette for gifts given for babies, or for young children, was clearly spelled out for Christenings, or other religious events, and other cultural milestones, from baby to childhood.
Vintage Stork Party Invitation Idea

Many etiquette books avoided the subject entirely, other than to advise on the etiquette that relatives should never host showers or parties, and that notes of thanks should be sent as soon as possible. Other etiquette given, in advice columns and such, recommended waiting until a time after the birth, to shower a new mother with much appreciated neccesities and \ or niceties. 

In the 1941, "New American Etiquette" book, by Lily Haxworth Wallace, the etiquette for "Stork Showers" is the following: "It is best that they be held about five weeks after the arrival of the baby but it is quite proper, in some localities, to have the shower before the baby is born. All gifts at "Stork Showers" should be things for the child."

The Cokesbury Shower Book, in 1941, gave no etiquette advice on the Stork Showers themselves or the suggested tming for them, but  five possible themes: A "Current Events" party, a "Baby Book" party, a "Layette Shower," a "Petal Party" or a "Lady in Waiting" party.
Suggested decor or invite for  Lady in Waiting shower
The "Lady in Waiting"

( Miscellaneous Stork Shower and Buffet Luncheon) Informal white note paper forms the basis for this invitation, which is really a royal command if you, among others, consider a baby "king of his world." —From The Cokesbury Shower Book, 1941
Vintage 1950s birth announcement card – Baby Shower etiquette is very similar to Bridal Shower etiquette, with multiple babies or subsequent arrivals of siblings, being the focus of most proprietary etiquette questions. 

The etiquette question of who can host a baby shower has also come up, more and more frequently, but this has evolved to allow a family member to have a shower in her home (or his home), due to size restraints, while the "official" hostess (or host) should be a friend, or group of friends."

Tips to the Pregnant Executive's Co-Workers

One baby shower is enough. It should be hosted outside the office, because if it is held on the promises we can disrupt productivity. A baby shower might be held (Dutch Treat except for the pregnant one who's lunch is paid for) in a nearby restaurant or employee's home on the weekend. Then things will not upset management.

A point of etiquette: The mother-to-be should write a thank-you note to every single person who gave her a present within two weeks of the shower-and she should send flowers to the person who organized it.

The Unmarried Pregnant Woman

When a colleague on your staff who is not married becomes pregnant, there is only one thing to do: Treat her as you do her wedded colleagues. Don't make an issue of it. Respect her dignity and rejoice in her happiness over the impending birth." From Letitia Baldrige's 1993, "New Complete Guide to the Executive Manners"

On the Question of Second, Third, Fourth etc... Baby Showers

"... Miss Manners makes an exception for an informal gathering of the expectant mother's close friends who are moved to make a fuss over a second-or fifth-time. However, the plea for a more formal gathering for the lady's entire acquaintance, complete with those detestable gift registries, would enable the guest of honor to parcel out her shopping, is not charming." From Miss Manners' "Manners for the New Millenium"

My advice? 

Send notes of thanks for the gifts you've been showered with, as soon as possible. You'll be busier than you know after your baby's birth and expressing gratitude to those who showered you with those gifts, is the most polite thing one can do!

Sobering Statistics on Infant Mortality Rates from the Victorian Era to Modern Times 

U.S. : The infant mortality rate started a long decline from 165 deaths per 1,000 births in 1900, to a low number 7 deaths per 1,000 births in 1997 in the U.S.

Europe: The levels of infant mortality in the late 19th century were extremely high in Europe and could vary quite markedly from one country to another, ranging from about 100 per 1,000 live births in Norway and Sweden to 200 or even 250 per 1,000 in countries such as Germany, Austria and Russia. At the turn of the 20th century, however, infant mortality began to fall almost right across the continent. By the 1950s, when national rates of infant mortality ranged between 20 and 50 per 1,000.

UK: The infant mortality rate in England and Wales continues to fall. In 2012, there were just 4.0 infant deaths per 1,000 live births – the lowest rate ever. In historical perspective, 95 out of every 1,000 children born in 1912, in England and Wales, died before their first birthday.
A Vintage "Baby's Book" Shower

Rachel North and daughter Victoria Rose North ~

British Etiquipedia© contributor, Rachel North, is currently enjoying being a new Mum to the absolutely beautiful, Victoria Rose. Rachel is an etiquette and afternoon tea enthusiast with a love for anything ancient and historic.

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia © Etiquette Encyclopedia