Vulgar American import offering the worst of Hallmark consumerism, or an enriching ritual at a time of great joy and demand for free nappies and stuff? Wherever you stand, Britain is facing a deluge of gift giving as royals and celebrities join more than a quarter of mothers now throwing American-style baby showers.
The Queen has reportedly authorised (but is unlikely to attend) a bash for the Duchess of Cambridge at the Middleton home, where helium elephant balloons from the family firm’s Party Pieces “baby shower” range may or may not feature.
A survey this week of thousands of mothers by Mothercare, meanwhile, suggests 28 per cent of British women now have showers and attend 23 others over a lifetime, spending £560 on gifts.
But the Middletons will need to spend more to keep up with the Kardashians. The US reality star Kim Kardashian, partner of Kanye West, invited friends to her shower last weekend with a satin-lined music box. It opened to reveal the RSVP (“attire: garden chic”) and a model ballerina pirouetting to a lullaby remix of Kanye’s “Hey Mama”.
As showers of varying budgets take hold here, how many women even enjoy them? Few, according to a smaller survey conducted by The Independent. “All that oestrogen [or is it progesterone by that point?] in one room makes them almost as awful as hen nights,” one respondent says. A new mother “bullied” by a friend into having a shower on a day she wanted to hide received “horrific pink trainers that wouldn’t fit my daughter’s big toe”.
Games and gifts are a popular feature but another respondent recalls gagging at “the worst party ever” when guests were asked to play “sniff the brown stuff smeared on the nappy”. Points were awarded for the correct identification of poo substitutes such as Nutella or Marmite. More palatable food is common at “gender reveal” ceremonies, a baby shower spin-off at which a cake is cut to show sponge in blue or pink.
The biggest complaint? The “grasping consumerism” of the shower, encouraged by a burgeoning industry. John Lewis now offers a baby shower gift list and – no surprise here – Mothercare’s survey coincides with the launch of its royal range, including a romper suit bearing the words “Prince in Training”.
Siobhan Freegard, founder of Netmums.com, says a new generation of less-cynical mothers is fuelling the boom. She laments their “over-commercialisation and sabotage by industry” and offers a tip to Pippa, who is hosting the Middleton shower: “It’s important to keep the spirit of mums and women coming together to celebrate. One of our members asked everyone to bring a children’s book that was special to them and write an inscription. A lovely, simple idea.”