I was eight months pregnant in New York City. My friend Anna had told me, “Show up at this intersection tonight wearing something that makes you feel pretty,” and said nothing else. So I knew that a surprise of some sort was coming my way. I hadn’t planned on a baby shower; I was placing my son for adoption, so I was skipping a lot of the usual expectant-mom stuff because I didn't really understand the point of having a baby shower when you're placing your baby for adoption. But my spide-y senses were tingling.
“You look great!” Anna said; I accused her of being a “sneakypants,” and she laughed. “So, I actually made a big sneakypants fail,” she said, “because I just left my credit card at Jimmy’s 43 where I was seeing if I could have my movie screening party.” (Jimmy’s 43 was a favorite neighborhood haunt and performance venue, where both of us had done shows.) “So we just have to stop at Jimmy’s on our way there,” she continued, very deliberately not telling me where “there” was. So, off we went to collect her credit card.
People also gave me gifts, many of them intended for use after my pregnancy. Bottles of wine. Bath stuff. Fancy makeup, fancy perfume. A journal. Flowers. But mostly, the gift was their presence and the fact of the party. No one had ever thrown me a surprise party before. I spent the night mostly speechless with gratitude.
Anna and I had met at one of the very first performances ever of Hand to God, years before it ended up on Broadway. She was a self-producing actor; I was a self-producing playwright. She was one of the first people I’d told about my pregnancy, and had been there for me consistently throughout. As we stepped down into the basement-level bar, the place was mostly empty. “Is Jimmy here?” Anna asked the bartender. “Yeah, back there,” the bartender replied, pointing to the back room where Anna and I had both done shows. Anna grabbed my hand, which I remember thinking was weird because we were just picking up her card, and walked me into the back room.
I’m sure you’ve already seen what was coming, but somehow, I didn’t. A group of my friends all popped up and yelled, “Surprise!” I almost cried right on the spot. Once I had calmed down, Anna said to me, “So, we know you don’t need, like, strollers. But you made a person. And we thought that you deserved a party.” The best part? “We’re going to do a show that you don’t have to produce yourself,” on Jimmy’s tiny wooden stage. They called it “The Bun in the Oven Cabaret.”
People were actually proud of me. Not just supportive, not just being good friends, but proud of me for making the decisions I'd made. When I looked around and saw such wonderful people surrounding me, I really felt like maybe I had done OK at life.
Some people read me poems. One of my favorite lines was this: “There is no height of glory, love, or flight - no career, no kiss, no genius, that isn’t made better by it being hard won," from Cecilia Copeland. Some people told stories. One friend, Emily, played a song she had written for the party (“Congratulations, you made another human being”). Diana played a song she’d written me earlier in my pregnancy, "Molly Mayfield" (“Molly Mayfield discovered a lie/ No one witnessed the birth of her child/ Oh Molly Mayfield, who’s on your side?”). Then she and Leta made up a song on the spot a la Garth and Kat from Saturday Night Live. Daniel sang me a jazz standard with his shirt off. Christine lip-synced “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” and then I danced onstage with her. Loren beatboxed against my belly.
People also gave me gifts, many of them intended for use after my pregnancy. Bottles of wine. Bath stuff. Fancy makeup, fancy perfume. A journal. Flowers. But mostly, the gift was their presence and the fact of the party. No one had ever thrown me a surprise party before. I spent the night mostly speechless with gratitude. Multiple people had had the idea to throw me a party, Anna told me, “by the way.” She’d just been the one with the time to pull it off. What I realized that night was that people were actually proud of me. Not just supportive, not just being good friends, but proud of me for making the decisions I'd made. When I looked around and saw such wonderful people surrounding me, I really felt like maybe I had done OK at life.
At the end of the night, my friends put me in a taxi with my presents and some cab fare, and sent me home with a beaming smile on my face. A few weeks later, many of those same friends accompanied me to the hospital to camp out and wait for my son to come out; some of them were there when I said goodbye to him and collapsed with grief. These same friends, and many more, came to visit me during my maternity leave, bringing me meals and beer and cookies and laughter. The circumstances of my pregnancy were not ideal, but my friends certainly were. I’ve never forgotten that night, and the generosity of a room full of people who just wanted to congratulate me on making a person.