When it comes to baby keepsakes, how do you decide what to save and what to scrap? Christine Nikiel applies a useful theory to her drawerful of memories.
When I stumbled across my eldest daughter’s first lost tooth that I'd tucked away for safekeeping, my first reaction was to recoil from it. Teeth, especially the front ones, are not that pretty. They're sharp, white-ish and, well, they're body parts! But I obviously hadn’t wanted to throw it away, so followed that powerful instinct universal to mothers, and put it in a drawer. However, this rediscovery made me reflect on the decision process of what baby mementos to keep - and what to biff. English architect/designer/artist William Morris's golden rule seemed appropriate: "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."
Oh well, the tooth was trash.
With Morris peering over my shoulder (metaphorically speaking) I sifted through my other baby keepsakes. The plastic hospital bracelets I've kept (for the novelty value, they're so tiny) would get a cross from Morris, and I'm prepared to throw them away (just not right now!). The curls of baby hair that I snipped off before their first haircuts, are beautiful to me - Morris would approve. The cards and printed-out emails of congratulations we received when each girl was born are lovely too, so they're keepers. I've kept a pretty outfit someone gave my youngest daughter, one she never actually fitted, so it's probably time to give that away. I also have the tiny booties my mother painstakingly knitted and a beautiful woollen shawl hand-knitted by my grandmother: I'll be keeping both.
These days, creating artistic memories from pregnancy and babyhood is a growth industry. You can get a bronze / silver cast of your pregnant belly, your baby’s teeth, hands, feet and fingerprints - even her bottom. You can adorn your child's walls with some bright placenta prints (where a section of the placenta is used as a sort of paintbrush). Or how about screenprinting your ultrasound images onto cushions or cufflinks? You can get bespoke jewellery made from your breastmilk and 3d models of your newborn, or even your unborn, baby...
I’d love to know where those keepsakes end up 30 years from now. After his initial shock on discovering such a thing existed (he was born in 1834) Morris would probably agree that belly casts and breastmilk jewellery have artistic value. But how long do you keep the cushion with the screenprinted ultrasound image of your now-30-year old? Surely even a veteran op-shopper would balk at a cushion with someone else's foetus on it.
Here are some keepsakes that the mums I canvassed have put aside (names withheld for privacy):
- I have a box of memorable outfits that each child wore, that I’m planning to turn into a quilt for them when they go to college.
- A tiny gonad protector from his x-rays, an itsy-bitsy blood pressure cuff, a preemie diaper.
- The baby blankets, socks and hats.
- I used my ultrasound as my screensaver.
- My children were adopted so we made each a life-book telling their story. We kept their green cards and the outfits they wore when they came to us.
- I kept the little piece of fleece that carried my scent from when she was in the NICU.
- The printout of my last couple of contractions.
- An audioclip of their heartbeats on the ultrasound and a printout of them as 8-cell embryos (in a petri-dish – we did IVF).
- A red autumn leaf from our first walk out since getting home from hospital and the one euro the taxi driver gave us when he dropped us home after the hospital.
- The little beanie the hospital gives newborns – my daughter is a Christmas baby and the little hand-knitted red and green cap is a treasure to me.
- The newspaper from the day of and from the day after his birth – to see what was happening in the world, and that newspapers existed!
- The dried umbilical cord stump, in an envelope.
- A necklace with beads of breastmilk in the pendant because I was so emotional about quitting breastfeeding.
- Leftover encapsulated placenta.
- The notepad where we marked his movements per hour in utero and on which we also brainstormed names.
- The first picture the NICU nurses took for me of my son without his tubes attached.