by Georgia Satchel

Image credit: Georgia Satchel

I wasn’t quite expecting to have a baby when I did. It was July, not September. It was too early and everything was going wrong. Even when the helicopter arrived I thought I’d be home in a few days. This was just a setback, I couldn’t possibly be having my baby 11 weeks early. But I was.

The next few weeks were physically and mentally challenging to say the least. But I had a strong partner, dedicated family and wonderful friends who supported me. Having a premature baby is an ordeal, people recognise that and make allowances. The concept of what you have been through is not difficult for most folk to grasp; they expect you to be an emotional wreck. But the one thing that stretched me to breaking point, that made me feel out of control, that I simply could not cope with, was something that people refused to understand.

Straight away teddies began to arrive. Lots of blue teddies, too many blue teddies. It was to be expected though, wasn’t it? You have a baby, people get you stuff, and you are genuinely touched that they bought a gift, even if it’s never going to get used. The problem was that I was inundated with teddies for a 2lb 6oz baby who, at that point, might not live.

More gift bags. Clothes, more teddies, more clothes. And not just single items of clothing, whole outfits. And not just one outfit, three outfits. I was completely floored by the level of generosity which, in some cases, felt disproportionate to how well I knew the donor. People who I thought may possibly send a card were sending all manner of beautiful things, and, at first, it was exciting and frivolous. These gifts were filled with the promise of the next phase of my life, a future that included the baby who was busy ripening in an incubator in Special Care.

Eventually my son was discharged from hospital. We went to my parents-in-law for a couple of nights, where another cache of gifts awaited, then headed home. We live in a small island community which may explain why we got so much from so many. Old friends, new friends, neighbours and casual acquaintances were all rooting for us throughout our entire stay in hospital, the cards and notes I received during that time are testament to that. As are the myriad gifts.

Friends whose babies were now toddlers appeared with bags of barely used and brand new garments. Cardigan after cardigan, sweaters and dungarees, booties and bibs, all in quantities we could never use. My sister knitted a beautifully intricate shawl, there was my husband’s ‘heirloom’ shawl, a friend’s mum gave us another shawl. Thank goodness the neighbour who wanted to knit a shawl didn’t get around to it.

I was starting to get overwhelmed but I was powerless to stop what was happening. Every week I thought the tsunami of tiny clothes would die down but the waves just kept coming. We couldn’t afford to heat our rented house so we downsized into two rooms in my parents’ house. I had to get rid of some stuff. I took two full bin bags of baby clothes that had already been used to the charity shop along with one bin bag full of brand new hand knitted cardigans. I felt absolutely terrible. Various ladies had knitted these things, with love, for my son and I was giving them away unused.

I tried to think of strategies to cope with the influx of things and put a positive spin on the situation. Bundling items together to sell on eBay seemed constructive but £70 worth of clothes raised less than £20. It cost almost £100 to send all the thank you notes.

A couple of times I tried to explain to people that I couldn’t cope but they simply didn’t understand. I was smothered by gifts that I had no room for and I had to smile and thank people for presents that were making my life, and my enjoyment of motherhood, impossible. If I gave in and accepted it, the gifts kept rolling in. If I tried to refuse them I was seen as ungrateful. When I summoned up the courage to say how I felt, I was ignored.

How can you get upset about presents? Presents are good! I really did appreciate every single gift and gesture and was grateful for every pound spent and every stitch stitched. I just had nowhere left to put any of it and felt guilty as hell giving it away unused. It wasn’t until I started to quantify things that anyone would listen to my predicament.

More than 30 pairs of dungarees, 40-odd bibs, the bin bag of cardigans, numerous blankets, multiple shawls, countless hats and socks, 30+ soft toys, even seven money boxes. But the winner by far was the vests. I stopped counting at 160. It took six months for the flow of presents to calm down and then it was Christmas and all hell broke loose again.

It’s hard to tell people not to be so kind. Buying things, especially itsy-bitsy baby things, is fun and I was the Spoiler of Fun. Why buy something practical and prevent someone having a breakdown when there are onesies with rabbit ears to be bought?

When you next buy a gift for a new baby, please, wait a while then ask what is needed. If you want to buy super cute clothes get a bigger size, they’ll have a better chance of being worn. Buy something useful and consumable, buy vouchers, or simply offer your time instead. It’s not as much fun as buying adorable slippers that look like polar bears but it is infinitely kinder.

Author Image: Georgia Satchel

Georgia Satchel

Georgia Satchel is an artist, printmaker and animator who lives on the Isle of Mull off the west coast of Scotland. She lives with her son, husband, two cats and a most remarkable spaniel. She is a recent convert to the craft gin movement.