I sat across from my husband, Dan, noisily adjusting my 20-weeks-pregnant body on the vinyl cushion of the booth as the waiter disappeared with our order. We always ordered the same thing at this restaurant: pulled pork nachos topped with housemade barbecue sauce, heaps of cheese, and plenty of fresh-sliced jalapenos. (I clearly was not suffering from pregnancy-related heartburn.)
As soon as the waiter walked away, my eyes lit up, and I asked, “Can we open it now?” We had our 20-week anatomy scan earlier that day, and the technician sent us off with a sealed envelope containing the sex of our baby. Before Dan could finish saying “yes”, I tore open the envelope, lifted the corner of the card and began to squeal with delight at the first sight of pink.
“We’re having a girl!” I exclaimed. And then the realization washed over me: our sweet girl already had a name. I looked at Dan, lowered my voice and whispered, “We’re having a Selah.”
We had chosen Selah’s name long before I got pregnant. We would talk about possible baby names just for fun, until it stopped being fun because we couldn’t agree. I prefer more classic names and my husband likes... well, I’m still not sure what he likes. But I remember when I brought up Selah as a possibility for a little girl, he gave his enthusiastic approval right away, and the deal was done.
We had also decided in advance to keep our baby’s name a secret. This was partially for the classic reason: we didn’t want to invite criticism. We were certain about our name choice, and we didn’t want to see anyone’s nose wrinkle at this out-of-the-ordinary moniker and cause us to second guess ourselves.
But the other big reason we wanted to keep her name to ourselves was because we wanted to preserve some of the sacredness of this pregnancy just for us.
So much about pregnancy felt public: Everyone could see my growing belly, which invited commentary (not always in a bad way) from family and friends and strangers in the checkout line at Target. We also chose to do a pregnancy announcement on social media to hundreds of online friends. And of course, there were the constant doctor’s appointments. They weren’t exactly public, but they were—ahem— intimate.
In many ways, our very personal event was made public as we chose to invite other people into the story. But by keeping Selah’s name private until she was born, we were able to hold on to a small piece of joy that was only for us to savor. It was a hidden treasure that kept us connected, a shared secret we could whisper about and feel tethered by as we anticipated how our whole world was about to change.
When I was five months pregnant, my husband and I traveled to Colorado to meet up with my college friends and their families for a long weekend of hiking, exploring and cooking meals together in a rented cabin. On our second morning there, I woke up to a surprise baby shower: pink streamers were strung across the antler chandelier, gifts lined the kitchen table, and each place was set with pink plates and baby bottles filled with juice.
As we celebrated together, raising our bottles and toasting to the baby girl I was carrying, I desperately wanted to tell my friends her name. It’s not that I felt I owed them, but more that I wanted to speak her name aloud to the people I cared about, to ground our celebration in this baby who was real and growing and had a name.
I asked my husband what he thought about sharing, and he said that he would prefer not to. He loved having our little secret just between us and said that it was something special for him to enjoy as a dad.
Much of the pregnancy felt real and concrete to me—I was the one growing our baby within my body, feeling the kicks and attending the appointments. Calling our little girl by name was one of the concrete ways he was able to connect to and feel included in the pregnancy, and he was hesitant to give that same sort of access to other people. But he also told me that he would respect whatever I decided to do—to tell or not to tell.
I knew he meant it sincerely when he said I could choose, and ultimately, I did not tell my friends that day. (Instead, one friend’s 4-year-old lovingly named her “Baby Elsa”—this was clearly during the Frozen craze—which was amusingly not far off from our choice. Among these friends, we called Selah “Baby Elsa” until she was born.)
I don’t think the way my husband and I chose to handle the baby name-sharing question is the only way or even the best way. Just as there are a million ways to be a good parent, there are a million ways to experience and share joy in pregnancy.
But in our case, I wonder if there was some virtue I needed to recover in holding back. I literally write about my life on the internet, and to some extent, keeping certain things sacred feels a bit like a lost art.
There was plenty of time for the rest of the world to use her name in all kinds of ways: in frustration, in joy, in disappointment. But for these precious few months, her name was whispered only by her dad and me, only in love.
As we waited on the birth of our little girl, the anticipation built into a crescendo that finally ended with her in my arms as Dan and I breathed out, just for her to hear: Selah.