Published June 20, 2011
NEW YORK – Rachel Zoe has a beautiful baby boy. To celebrate, husband Rodger Berman gave her a "push present" in the form of a 10-carat diamond ring that cost $250,000.
Mariah Carey got a push present, too — a $12,000 pink diamond and sapphire necklace from husband Nick Cannon with the names of their twins, Moroccan and Monroe. Peggy Tanous of "The Real Housewives of Orange County" turned her mega-mommy gift into a tagline:
"Soccer moms drive a minivan, but this girl drives a Bentley."
Back here on earth, where the rest of us live and spend, can new dads get away with a simple bouquet of flowers, a token bauble with the new arrival's birthstone or — as one father suggested — a kiss and a smile? And what do feminists make of the arguably medieval notion of rewarding a woman for producing an heir?
Gina Crosley-Corcoran, who writes The Feminist Breeder blog, was pregnant with her third child in April when she found herself ruminating on the subject, in response to some doubters on her Facebook page:
"As I sit here in my hugely pregnant state, suffering from heartburn, gas, leg pain, hip pain, insomnia, fatigue, irritability, anxiety, heat flashes, gastric upset, swelling, and everything else that comes with having an entirely formed human being kicking around in my womb, who will soon demand on coming OUT of my womb through a relatively small orifice in a not-at-all-pleasant feeling manner, I cannot help but think Seriously?!?! Seriously. A freaking diamond is the LEAST he can do."
It was a girl for the 33-year-old pre-law student, women's rights advocate, doula and former rock chick in a band. She live-blogged the birth, her first at home, and received a tiny diamond (her baby girl's birthstone) for a pendant she and her husband had begun with the birthstones of their two boys.
"I was surprised that people equated push presents to, like, giving a horse a prize at the end of the race," Crosley-Corcoran said. "I agree the term push present could be changed. Let's just call them birth presents."
There's no official history of push presents, a term some object to on grounds that it cheapens the occasion. By some accounts, post-partum bling seems to have made its way to the United States over the last decade or so from England, where a ring was in order, and from India, where gold jewelry was the way to go (boys apparently meant more gold than girls, traditionally speaking).
The idea wasn't lost on jewelers. The retailer Mayors took on the tradition in a 2005 ad campaign for diamond studs: "She delivered your first born, now give her twins." Fortunoff thought up a push present registry in 2007. That was the year BabyCenter.com surveyed 30,000 women and found 38 percent of new moms got a push present — and 55 percent of the still-pregnant wanted one.
In fact, it's hard to find a naysayer.
"Giving birth is hard work and I am not going to quibble with anyone piling any kind of gift at any woman's feet," said Naomi Wolf, the third-wave feminist author of "The Beauty Myth" and — more to the point — "Misconceptions." In that book, she chronicled the not-so-smooth experience of having her first child and her angsty start on motherhood.
"I think women do expect more than flowers because of what our society and media have told them they should expect," said Jessica LeRoy, founder and clinical director of the Center for the Psychology of Women, a feminist-based psychotherapy practice in Los Angeles. "It is a status symbol, and women feel this need to measure up, their child to measure up and their partner. This is an actual outward expression of their status and family."
Kristen Burris in Eagle, Idaho, used to be a push present skeptic. The acupuncturist and herbalist thought the idea was "self-indulgent and ridiculous," yet another way to turn childbirth into an over-the-top outgrowth of a consumer-driven culture.
Then she got pregnant. While attempting natural childbirth, Burris pushed for 12 hours without success and was treated to an emergency C-section, done, she said, without adequate anesthesia. After, her husband's grandmother gave her a pair of diamond studs she had previously borrowed for seven hours to wear at her wedding.
Her second baby came with an upgrade of the center stone in her engagement ring.
"In my heart I feel these pieces of jewelry already belong to my two sons, honoring who they are and where they came from," Burris said.
Emily Loen is single without children, but she hopes to become a mother eventually. She's also an organizer for the Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights in San Francisco.
To follow up childbirth with a "trivial trinket" seems "very shallow, stupid and insipid," Loen said. But, in the end, she added, "Feminism is about choice. It comes down to whatever floats your boat."
Does Gloria Steinem approve of push presents?
"Unfortunately Gloria doesn't have a comment on this — not having much personal experience with it nor the experiences of friends to go off of," her office said in an email.
Loen is 29. Steinem is 77, so maybe there's a generational shift. "Marriage is socialism among two people," women's rights thinker Barbara Ehrenreich once said. Nearly a decade Steinem's junior, she, too, had never heard of push presents.
"I mean, the baby used to be enough of a reward," Ehrenreich said. "But I suppose that if you're not really into babies, you might need a little more 'incentivization.'"