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Maternity Matters

Etiquette experts offer advice on pregnancy, gift giving and birth announcements on Facebook


Published May 1, 2011 at 4:00 a.m.

You just gave birth to a baby boy. Do you need to call all of your friends, or can you just post a photo and an announcement on Facebook?

Etiquette expert Emily Post couldn’t even have imagined such a quandary; the author of the 1922 classic Etiquette passed away in 1960. But her descendents continue to dispense advice from the headquarters of The Emily Post Institute, located in the South End of Burlington, and they field questions such as this all the time. For an update on maternity manners in the digital age, I spoke with Emily’s great-granddaughter, Cindy Post Senning, coauthor of Emily Post’s Table Manners for Kids, and Anna Post, Emily’s great-great-granddaughter, an author and spokeswoman for The Emily Post Institute. There are many, many more manners-related resources — including kids’ books — available on the institute’s website.

Kids VT: What is the appropriate time to announce a pregnancy?

Anna Post
  • Anna Post

ANNA POST: Often it’s recommended by doctors that you wait three months, just because it can be a little dicier in the earlier months, and you want to be really sure when you announce.

CINDY POST SENNING: The only time that it might be different is, some women have a lot of nausea and vomiting, so they might want to talk with their supervisor, so people [at a workplace] understand.

It’s also true that if you tell people on day one, nine months is a long time for pregnancy to be the focus of what’s going on in your life. Even if you’re not making it that way, maybe other people are.

KVT: What is the appropriate way to announce a birth?

AP: It’s best to let your close family know first, so that mom doesn’t feel hurt if she finds out from her neighbor, who saw it on Facebook. So think parents, think grandparents, think your own children. Those are the real must-knows, from you, or from your partner. And then, anybody else you might be especially close to, like maybe a best friend, or maybe your aunt who’s like a mother.

CPS: And those should be a personal connection, a phone call or something like that. Not just sending them an email.

AP: There were a lot of questions a year to two years ago about tweeting during the birth and the delivery. I’m of two minds. Maybe mom wants her partner out in the hall, out of her hair. If mom has given her blessing, then sure, go for it, but let people know who might want to opt into that, so they have the option.
But also be aware of TMI [too much information] with this one. Episiotomies might be a little TMI for some people. Even if you’re comfortable talking about some of the intimacies of giving birth, some of the people listening for updates might not be comfortable hearing about it.

In general, I think it’s dicey, though, to be tweeting, and here’s why. It’s not that I don’t understand that, for some people, this is the perfect solution to letting a big, huge family know. I totally get that. Nine times out of 10, though, I think it’s a bad idea, because it’s dividing your attention and your focus. Who’s the person tweeting, and what aren’t they doing while they’re tweeting? That’s the part that concerns me. Not that tweeting is wrong, or sending updates to Facebook from your phone. It’s more what you aren’t doing while you’re doing that, and who you aren’t giving all of your attention and focus to when you’re doing that.

KVT: And birth, as it’s going on — it can be a dicey proposition.

Cindy Post Senning
  • Cindy Post Senning

CPS: You don’t know when something’s going to happen, that’s right.

AP: And I would hate to consider some of the more sobering sides of things, but that’s exactly true. If things did take a turn, it’s not the way that people should hear about any unfortunate news. Or even news where everybody is with us, but maybe not quite healthy at the moment. There are ways that that news should be shared, and I don’t think it should happen over Twitter or Facebook.

CPS: And the other thing that happens sometimes, maybe with Facebook more so than Twitter: pictures. I have heard about people talking about pictures of births.

KVT: Actual pictures of births? I would think you’re not taking a picture as your child is born.

AP: [Laughs] You would think…

CPS: That is exactly what I’m talking about.

AP: Mom holding new, swaddled baby, awesome. Getting weighed, A-OK. Dad holding baby right after baby comes out. Great.

Baby emerging — let’s leave that in Knocked Up with Katherine Heigl.

CPS: That’s part of your TMI, really.

AP: I would definitely vet any photos with both parents. Because, maybe it’s not even the parents taking the pictures. Maybe it’s granddad. Maybe it’s your 11-year-old kid who thinks it’s funny, or whatever. Parents should be the only ones disseminating pictures of their new kids.

And, you know, you’ve got to ask in the moment. You’ve got to show her the photo. [Ask,] “Are you OK with me sending this out?” Not just, “Are you OK with me taking the picture?”

It is a really great thing to talk about with the people who might be at the hospital. That’s definitely a conversation to have in the week or two leading up, so people know both how [the mother] feels about photos and about how information goes out — if you want it to come from you, if you’re OK with having a little phone tree, who should hear, who’s on your must-know list, whether you’re comfortable with this going up on Facebook or Twitter, or if you want that to be embargoed.

KVT: Something I’ve seen happen a lot lately is, someone doesn’t say anything on Facebook about a pregnancy, but one of their “friends” hears about it, or hears that the baby has been born and writes “congratulations” on his or her public Facebook wall.

AP: Facebook faux pas! Don’t do that. Until you see someone talking about it on Facebook themselves — the mom-to-be or the dad-to-be — don’t bring it up. In fact, one of my friends made her wall unwritable because she didn’t want some of her close family who knew about it early to blow it and put it up there until she was ready to share. You don’t have to do that, but it is a good point, that you might get scooped.

KVT: Let’s say you’ve put up an announcement on Facebook: Everyone sees the name, the birth weight, all the details there. Do you still send an announcement in the mail?

AP: Probably to your close friends and family, if you want to. Some people don’t for environmental reasons. Some people do it as an email instead. But I actually still get them from people. I think it’s kind of a sweet thing.

CPS: Know your audience. The grandparents may even have an email address, but they may not. If you sent my father an email to his email address, he wouldn’t see it for six months. The kid would be walking into his room before he knew about it.

KVT: What is the acceptable window for gift giving?

AP: Any old time. From as soon as you find out, to a random date in the middle, to right before or right after the baby’s born. Really, this is completely up to you. And it’s a lovely gesture. It’s a really nice thing to do.

KVT: And then the follow-up question, what is the appropriate window for writing a thank-you note?

AP: As soon as possible.

KVT: There’s this idea that you get, like, a year…

AP: Yeah, that comes from a myth from weddings, and it’s not even true for weddings. If you just had your baby, I would say sometime during maternity leave — the three-month average maternity leave time — whether you’re taking it or not.

We know that new moms and dads are tired, but you need to find a few minutes somewhere during that time to take care of it, preferably as soon as possible, also, so that the person who gave the gift, if they mailed it, knows that it got there.

If we’re talking a gift from a baby shower, you’ve got — at max — a couple weeks. You should really be doing it right after the shower. You haven’t had your baby yet, so you don’t have that excuse.

KVT: Other things that new parents, or their friends and family, should do or definitely avoid?

AP: Don’t touch the belly unless the mom invites you. It’s gotta be mom’s call. And you can’t really ask. I mean, you can, but you can’t. I don’t even know what to tell you on that one. But don’t just run up and touch someone’s belly.

CPS: People seem to think when somebody is pregnant that all of the etiquette associated with not asking really personal questions is out the window, and it’s not. You don’t ask them if they’re late or overdue, because they might only be seven months along.

AP: Or it might be a sensitive topic. There are friends you may know who are struggling to get pregnant. And asking them a lot of questions about, “So, what finally worked?” They can volunteer that information, and you can be supportive without being intrusive, but it really has to come from them.

KVT: So if you begin to suspect a woman you know is pregnant, you don’t say anything?

CPS: You just don’t go there. Wait until she announces it. You don’t go to somebody and say, “My, you’ve gained weight!”

AP: Don’t comment on someone’s physical appearance — “Oh, is that a belly I see? Are you expecting?” No, no, no, no, no.

It also comes up with adoption. Don’t assume that because someone is adopting they couldn’t have children. I have a friend for whom this is a very sensitive topic. She can have children, but she’s really interested in adoption, and people are saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry,” or “What’s wrong that you can’t have kids?”

She had a lot to say to me on that topic. She’s, like, “Where’s the etiquette in that?” Absent, apparently.

KVT: Often, if you’ve adopted or used artificial insemination, as soon as people find out that some other method is involved than the one they’re accustomed to, they have questions. How should people approach those topics, and how should parents respond?

AP: There’s a difference between idle curiosity and educational curiosity. Either way, you have to let the person you’re asking set the boundaries.

If I were interested in a very respectful, curious way, what I don’t do is ask you questions right then. I ask you permission to ask you questions. And there’s a really big difference between those two things.

It’s not that people can’t be curious and interested. I often think that educational interest is a really, really terrific thing when people are willing to share about it. But, you have to ask if you can ask questions.

CPS: And then the response to that, if you don’t want to be talking about it, is to say, “I really appreciate your curiosity about this. And, you know, there’s an organization that has a ton of information, and I’m even glad to give you their number if you want.” Personal questions are personal questions. It’s not good etiquette to be intruding in people’s personal lives.

We didn’t have room to print the entire conversation in the magazine. In this online-only excerpt, the etiquette experts discuss baby showers. Read on…

KIDS VT: Who do you invite to a baby shower?

ANNA POST: Let me actually start with who usually does the inviting, because you don’t really throw a baby shower for yourself — which, believe it or not, some people are not aware of. It’s a little too much of a grab for gifts.

It didn’t usually used to be a mom [of the mom-to-be], but these days sometimes they’re the most convenient person. Often it’s a close friend.

You’re inviting your close friends. In some cases, you might be inviting some aunts, your mom, the dad’s mom, and maybe any of his (usually female) close relatives who live nearby. Maybe the dad’s sister is invited. That kind of thing.

Or the partner’s close family or friends could be included as well.

Sometimes there’s more than one shower. You might do an office baby shower.

CINDY POST SENNING: And that would be a different crew. You don’t then, at an office shower, extend an invite to all the cousins and the moms.

KVT: So you don’t mix the guests?

CPS: You could.

KVT: But you don’t want to invite someone to two baby showers.

CPS and AP: No.

AP: For sure. And if you get invited to two, just pick one and roll with it. You can go to two if you want, but you only need to bring a gift to one. And I think it’s really lovely if the mom mentions that fact. “Oh, and thank you, Cathy, for your beautiful gift! She was at a shower for me last week.” So, now all the other attendees know that Cathy’s not shorting mom-to-be on a gift.

It’s just a little etiquette 2.0 for moms-to-be. But really, you shouldn’t have been invited to two.

KVT: What about partners? Do the guys get invited now?

AP: They can.

CPS: Ask the mom-to-be. She might enjoy a shower that was just the girls.

AP: But you could also do complete “co-ed,” where some of his friends are invited. I think that’s a little less common. It is often sort of a girls’ thing, but just by volition, not because it’s required to be so. If it works for you to go co-ed, have fun.

On saying thank you:

AP: Traditionally, if someone gave you a gift, and you thanked them in their presence for the present, you didn’t need to send a note. Showers are an affair where you’re not focusing so much on just one individual. Even when you say thank you in the moment there, you should send a note afterward as well, thanking them for coming and for their gift.
And, you cannot take your envelopes from your pretty little stationery and put them at the front door and ask everybody to write their name and address on them and then draw door prizes with it. That is not OK.

CPS: It’s one of our few imperatives.

AP: You really can’t ask your guests to do part of your thank-you-note work for you. What you can do is have a guestbook, and ask them to sign it with their address.

On registering for gifts:

AP: You can certainly be registered for a baby shower. Usually one store, maybe two. Draw it at two, though.

I think it’s really nice to have a brick-and-mortar store on there, for people who, for whatever reason, don’t want to shop online, or if you have someone who’s a little bit older who’s not Internet friendly.

And with the registry, have a little bit of a range of gifts. You can’t have just expensive strollers and cribs, or you’re not going to get very much. It’s also always OK to buy off registry. But I do think it’s a good idea to take a look at the registry and get a good idea of what they like, if you can.

You can put registry information right on a shower invitation. It is just really helpful information, since that’s the whole purpose of this shower, to give gifts.

Also, you can have a baby shower for a second, third, fourth child, but you need to make the guest list your close friends. And, to be really honest, the showers are really to get you set up as a parent. Guests are not always as sympathetic to an elaborate baby shower for your third, and I can’t say I blame them entirely. Not saying you can’t do it, but you might scale it back. Or, if you just want to celebrate that you’re having a baby, you might say we’re having a shower, no gifts, just advice, or bring a favorite baby nursery rhyme to put in a book.

CPS: You do showers for adopted babies. And if they adopt an older child, be sure you don’t send a little thing with little duckies. Be sensitive about that.

AP: Also, for shower hosts, check with mom about what she can eat. The list is getting more and more restrictive these days about what moms-to-be can and cannot eat. And whether or not you think those restrictions are reasonable is another question.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.