I left the big-box baby store with tears streaming down my face. I had shown up that morning at 10 am, equipped with my five-months-pregnant belly, a spreadsheet of my most-coveted baby items (and second- and third-place picks for each category), and an unshakeable sense of optimism. I was going to crush this baby registry.

The trouble started when the registry assistant told me no one would be able to walk me around the store to guide me. Unexpected, but fine—after all, I had come prepared. (See: the above-mentioned spreadsheets.)

I marched over to the stroller department, with my husband trailing behind.

Twenty minutes later, we hadn't found the models I was looking for and instead were pulling out random strollers and testing them. Not a single one worked intuitively—we even had to leave a few models folded up because we couldn't figure out how to pop them back open.


We had only two hours available that morning, so I hustled us along to something that seemed easier: selecting a diaper bag. Again, I couldn't find the exact bags on my list, so I started picking up bags that caught my eye, unzipping pouch after pouch and imagining what I might need to place inside each one.

We examined at least a dozen diaper bags, which were just a fraction of the bags on display, stacked on shelves higher than we could reach. The interior pockets in each model were set in slightly different places, this one offering an insulated bottle pouch but that other one boasting a cell phone pocket. Some were messenger style, some backpack style, some hybrid. Most had fold-out changing pads, but a few didn't, and there were portable changing pads available for purchase separate from the bags.

Fifteen more minutes had gone by, and I felt no closer to making a decision as the options began to run together in one murky current through my mind. We agreed to move on to something even less expensive and more basic: crib sheets and mattress pads. They all function essentially the same way and picking out sheets was just a matter of taste. Easy.

Until I realized the bedding took up the entire back wall of the store.

Insert here: a husband checking his phone, a snappy comment from his wife, a tense argument and the wife huffing out of the store in tears.

I felt silly for being so upset over a baby registry—but I also felt an undeniable pressure to get it "right." These strollers, car seats and carriers were the devices I would rely on to keep my child safe. The bottles I chose would either support my breastfeeding goals or work against them. The toys I picked would either be safe or unsafe, helpful or harmful to my baby's brain development. Some crib mattresses were linked to greater rates of sudden infant death syndrome, but those that weren't cost three times as much.

Every decision felt like a matter of life or death, or least of safety or danger. If I couldn't choose the right baby items for my registry, what hope would I have of being a mom who could actually use these items to care for her baby? Really, what kind of mom can't even fold and unfold a stroller?

I had wanted to pick exactly the right items that would guarantee my baby's safety and happiness. I've always hated the process of trial and error—I prefer to get it right the first time, and if I don't, I'm embarrassingly quick to give up. But these messages were the permission slip I needed both to be overwhelmed and to stop taking this baby registry thing so seriously.

So what if I didn't know how to use a NoseFrida? So what if I changed my mind about a diaper bag a few months into parenting? So what if my baby hated the swaddle blankets I chose—blankets that were just the right intersection of breathable and cute?

None of it would have any bearing on my ability to be a good mom—that's what.

None of it has any bearing on your ability to be a good mom either. Our baby registry skills say nothing about our moral character or maternal instincts.

We know that adding babies to our families and becoming moms for the first time will change our lives completely—but it's impossible to know what the change will be like until we experience it. We can try to be as prepared as possible, which is not a bad impulse, but it can lead us to put pressure on things that aren't terribly important, simply because they are things we can plan for now and take with us into the next phase. The bottles we buy now will accompany us into new motherhood, as will the crib and the diapers and the stroller.

But that stuff is not what makes us mothers.

We will hold those bottles. We will gently lay our babies in their cribs. We will tirelessly wipe their bottoms seventeen times a day or push them around in their strollers. The fact that we want to choose all the "right" products reveals that our hearts are in the right place, even if our actions are a bit misguided. We already want to do what's best for our kids.

But here's the thing: Our babies will have needs and desires and preferences we can't predict. They don't come to us as blank slates, ready to enjoy the pacifiers we painstakingly picked or the diapers we thought would prevent both leaks and rashes. Perhaps we can't anticipate their needs now, but we can trust that we'll recognize them when our babies present them. And for the things we can't quite figure out—when he has leaked through three kinds of diapers or she seems to hate every pacifier ever made—we can lean on friends who have done this before, and then someday, we can share our hard-earned wisdom with other new moms.

We'll make plenty of mistakes, of course—on our registries and in the day-to-day of mothering. Taking risks and making mistakes and learning lessons again and again are part of the deal with parenting, even for those of us who would rather get everything right the first time.

So whichever products you pick, remember that each item is simply a tool in your loving hands. You can let go of the goal to nail the perfect registry because ultimately, what's best for your baby is you.

From Expecting Wonder: The Transformative Experience of Becoming a Mother by Brittany L. Bergman copyright © 2020 Broadleaf Books. Reproduced by permission.

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