The mother-to-be was at her workplace, waiting for office to disperse so that she could go home. Her friends and colleagues, mostly Arab nationals Americans, Indians and Filipinos hurriedly packed gifts for Bahraini national Fatema, their eight-month pregnant friend, as part of a tradition called ‘Baby Shower’ where friends gather to bless the mother and child.
When gifts and food were laid out and everything was ready, Fatema was ushered into the party room, and they broke the suspense. “Shh… we don’t want to shock a pregnant woman,” said Amal, her long-time friend. “By the way, men are not allowed,” she winked.
Baby shower celebration is usually held after the birth of a child in most part of the Middle East. It is slowly shedding its rigidity, absorbing elements from other cultures. In Kuwait, where expats are free to observe their traditions, an eclectic cultural mix has also impacted customs like baby shower. “It’s like a birthday celebration for us,” said Basmeh, part of Fatema’s baby shower. “It’s an occasion for all of us to share our joy.”
“Some mothers-to-be cover their faces during the baby shower,” said Maha who resides in Jabriya. “This is done to make sure that the baby will not be ‘cursed’ by an ‘evil eye.’ Even if we hold a baby shower after the baby’s birth, we refrain from lavishing praises like ‘Wow! The baby is beautiful!’We whisper, ‘Mashallah, the baby is healthy.’”
In Egypt, Maha said, a custom named ‘Soboo’a’ is practiced where the mother steps over the baby that is laid on the floor. “This is also to emphasize the mother’s protective authority over the baby and to spare it from bad luck,” she said.
Fatema, dressed in an abaya, face uncovered, did not seem to have a stink in the eye to be part of the baby shower organized by friends. She sat in a chair beside her friend Mayada who, unwrapped gifts one by one.
There were teethers, moving toys, baby quilts, among other things. There was an Arabic book about baby care and a DVD containing lullabies. But the most surprising gift was the gender specific baby clothing.
“That’s a big change now,” said Amal who let me in to the room and asked a shy Fatemah to take a photograph. “Many things that were once kept secret are open now,” she said amid while flashes from iPhones and Galaxy phones blinded the room. “You’ll see these photos tonight on Facebook,” she said.
Someone had brought chocolate-covered rice crispy treats. Everyone was about to begin feasting. I asked Fatema if she had anything to say. She glanced towards the door, “I asked my husband to attend the baby shower,” she said. “Probably he doesn’t know men ARE allowed in!”