Over the decades, the definition of "mother" has gradually expanded, and not everyone knows exactly where that definition falls, or when the “mama” acknowledgement begins. Is it when the lines turn pink? When you sign the adoption papers? And when do you get to celebrate Mother’s Day if you’re pregnant?
I personally was super pregnant during Mother’s Day in 2018 — and gave birth 19 days later — and my husband and I celebrated the holiday. I mean, in our opinion, I was a mom even though the baby was still in utero. I was still making sure I ate all the right foods, stayed away from unhealthy substances, exercised to make sure I was healthy enough to deliver our baby, and I went to all of his check-ups and ultrasounds. I had his best interests in mind at all times. That’s work, y’all. Not the same kind of work as it is now, obviously, but it totally counts.
But was that celebration appropriate? Experts answer with a resounding yes. "It's never inappropriate to celebrate motherhood, and being a mom-to-be is certainly appropriate," declares national etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life, and founder of The Protocol School of Texas. So booyah.
"She's still a mother, even if she's not physically holding the baby in her arms,” adds Jacqueline Whitmore, etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach. But apparently how to celebrate an expectant mom is another matter. "Etiquette is situational," Whitmore says. "A partner giving the mother a gift because she's going to be the mother of their child is appropriate. But every family has their own gift-giving style, and it all depends on your family and your traditions."
Gottsman adds that close family members, such as sisters, mothers, and mothers-in-law, might opt to give the mom-to-be a card or small present. For other cases, like friends or coworkers, it's a judgment call. "[For gift-giving], there has to be some kind of relationship between the two of you," she says. "If you wouldn't normally give a gift to that person — for instance, a neighbor — I'd pass."
A word to spouses and partners, however: When in doubt, go with the gift. A survey conducted by a branch of Eric Mower & Associates found that almost 60% of first-time expectant moms anticipated getting a Mother's Day present, presumably from the one who helped them become parents in the first place. For example, after my husband and I discussed if we both agreed that I was technically a “mom” even though the baby wasn’t out yet, he surprised me by taking us to a really fancy restaurant we’d never ever go to otherwise — and never be able to go to again now that we have a toddler.
If you’re looking for ways to celebrate at home, making a special brunch for the mom-to-be will ensure she feels loved. Or, since wine tastings are out, you could prep a charcuterie tasting with lots of fun meats and cheeses, or a dessert flight from her favorite bakery. If the mama in question loves keepsakes, doing a belly cast together is a great way to celebrate her motherhood in this stage and remember it forever.
Another factor to keep in mind, say the experts, is whether the expectant mom is barely past the plus-sign-on-the-stick stage or in the any-day-now countdown. "If there's a large family celebration, it puts the couple in an awkward situation if they don't want to tell everyone yet," explains Gottsman. So if you're a friend or family member who's been sworn to secrecy, hold off on offering cards and congratulations until the couple makes the news public.
The same goes for first-time moms with difficult pregnancies, or who are going through adoption proceedings that aren't yet finalized. For them, Mother's Day may be bringing up mixed emotions. "You want to tread carefully," says Gottsman. "Be thoughtful without going over the top."
The background of the mom-to-be plays an important role, too. "A lot of cultures don't celebrate Mother's Day, but they celebrate mothers in other ways," explains Whitmore. In some religious and global cultures, it's considered bad luck to have baby showers or announce the pregnancy too soon, lest something happen to the child before birth.
Say you do want to give a little something to the expectant mom: What kind of present would be appropriate? "It's a day for mothers, so it doesn't have to be a baby gift," says Whitmore. "It could be a gift certificate for a restaurant or a bookstore. At this stage in her life, she could use a massage or a day of pampering." Gottsman agrees: "A mother or mother-in-law could give a card saying 'We're looking forward to meeting our grandchild,' along with a gift card for a manicure."
Remember, too, that Mother's Day won't be your only opportunity to honor the mom-to-be. "Pregnant women have celebrations of their own: the baby showers," says Gottsman. "But if you have a relationship with them, a maternal bond, you can honor them on Mother's Day because they're pregnant."
Jacqueline Whitmore, etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach
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