What To Expect When You’re Not Expecting

So I got a fun present hand-delivered to my door today! I got out of the shower to fetch it and everything because everyone loves an unexpected package.

Or err, usually I do…

Sadly, even this wasn’t all it seemed to be.


So after enjoying some lighthearted Twitter banter about breastmilk and formula cocktails (WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY), I got my big girl feminist underpants on and decided to investigate why I got this lovely package of baby feed mailed to me.

To start, I called Enfamil’s parent company, Mead Johnson Nutrition. I am pleased to say the representative I spoke to on the phone was very helpful. She removed my name from their database and gave me a little bit of a backstory.

Enfamil received my name from a company called West List, which apparently maintains a “new parent list” which, presumably, was the one my name was on. Enfamil, the Mead Johnson Nutrition rep said, “does not know if there’s a baby or not” when it buys the lists. It just ships the stuff out.

Let me make something crystal clear, because this is a little weird.

I do not have a baby. I am not going to be having a baby. I have not purchased anything, online or at a retailer, that could be remotely construed to indicate that I might be having a baby, unless vodka and cat food are now interpreted as signs of impending uterine occupation. I haven’t bought anyone baby gifts. I have not visited websites that are in any way related to making or adopting human beings. I don’t enter contests, I don’t fill out forms for free stuff. I don’t Google babies. I don’t even look at baby calendars.

Then again, these new-fangled marketing metrics are pretty wild, I hear… but still, I don’t buy vitamins or unscented lotion or whatevs either.

I’m just 31 years old and female.

Now, to be fair to West List and Enfamil, at any given time there is a meaningful chance a woman in her early 30s could be hoping for, preparing for or enjoying a new baby.

But there is also a meaningful chance that she is:

  • Struggling with infertility;
  • Dealing with the aftermath of losing a wanted pregnancy;
  • Dealing with the aftermath of losing a wanted infant;
  • Contemplating an abortion;
  • Recently recovering from an abortion;
  • Fully not interested in having children and completely unimpressed by the assumption that she is a target audience for gestational gift-giving.

I shudder to think how a surprise delivery like this would impact those women. How hurtful that could be, when things are raw and real or just so very much unwanted.

Here’s the thing: this isn’t free toothpaste, or free toilet paper, and it’s not walking past an ad in the store: it’s free baby formula, with a nice guide to Your New Baby, delivered personally to your door. But having babies (or not, as circumstances may be) is never a neutral subject. It’s a complicated, sometimes painful, sometimes political but always deeply personal topic that really doesn’t make well for a mailbox surprise.

Really, I understand this is how marketing works, now. But you would think a company that makes and sells products that are inextricably bound with life events that can be intensely emotional, personal and private would be more cautious about to whom it sends uninvited gifts, rather than just shipping willy-nilly to any women on some mysteriously begotten list.

Basically, this goes beyond the potential for awkward parental conversations.

I know, at the end of the day, none of this is a big deal, but it’s just a little thing. Just one of a million little things where it’s exhausting, sometimes, to realize that certain companies link your gender and biology in such a highly specific way. And just one of a million little things where it feels like the marketing of mothering trumps all the beautiful and sad and imperfect complexities inherent in that choice, or lack thereof.

Weird stuff, man.

Oh, as for the formula: after trying and failing to entice my cat, I will be donating it to a family shelter today.