I knew I had passed the ambiguous "Is she chubby or is she pregnant?" phase when people started posing direct questions about the baby like "When are you due?" or "How far along are you?" Later in the conversation, they'd ask, "Do you have the nursery set up?" or "What colors are you doing your nursery?"

The first few times I was caught off guard. We didn't plan on having a nursery. Over the next few months, I had to develop a standard two-line response, a justification for a decision I didn't expect to be so counter-cultural.

I am one of the first of my friends to have kids, so I didn't realize what a Big Deal nurseries were. Turns out, they are a Big Deal. Pregnancy magazines offer tips for designing the perfect nursery, not to mention the "inspiring" design ideas on the web and Pinterest.

Our decision to forgo a nursery started out as a practical, maybe even slightly selfish one. We live in a two-bedroom condo, with a bedroom and an office/craft room/guest room. Not ready to give up the multipurpose second bedroom, we set up a changing table and Pack 'N Play in our room and felt ready to go.

The more I thought about it, I realized that baby nurseries—like so many other seemingly insignificant aspects of life—symbolize certain cultural values we express and pass along to our children. Then I read Our Babies, Ourselves, by Meredith Small, an anthropologist who studies ethnopediatrics, child-rearing across cultures.

Before my baby was out of the womb I already felt tired of debates over the Right Way to parent. As she looks at cultures around the world, Small asserts that there is no Right Way. Instead, "Every act ...

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