Infant pottying, or elimination communication, has entered the mainstream conversation several times recently. It’s easy to laugh, unless you’ve seen it work.
Every day my children, both teenagers now, come to me to talk about the news. They get their news from Stephen Colbert’s The Colbert Report (which, I tell them often, is only a start. “You could read news online. I could show you how to get news in your Facebook feed.”). Last week, my son was laughing. He wanted me to know how weird it was that some parents didn’t use diapers at all, because they just get their babies to pee in bowls around the house.
“You know,” I told him, “we did that with you. You wore diapers, but I don’t remember you pooping in diapers.”
Yes, that did quiet him. Of course, it became a lesson in not being so quick to judge what is unfamiliar as just weird, and we deconstructed the needs of a comedy news show to exaggerate for effect. We got past the news quickly. He asked why we did it and how it worked. I planted the seeds for my son to look past mainstream pressures to avoid “weird” and look at parenting choices on their own merits.
One of the themes, as my children and I talk every day and call it homeschool, is the need to look beyond the surface of what we read or hear to get to the pattern of facts, the bigger picture, the deeper need. I have been reading a new book by Jennifer Margulis, The Business of Baby. This investigative journalist looks at mainstream cultural practices around birth and babies as they are shaped not by science but by corporate interests. Marketing pushes us to choose actions that serve corporate profits. Ultrasound, ceasarean, formula feeding, vaccinations. These choices are the norm. They are often expected. Parents who do not follow the full mainstream path are pushed or shamed by those around them who have also been conditioned to accept the marketed norms. As my children get closer to their own parenting than to their babyhood, I want to make sure they realize they can get past the pressure to laugh at the weirdos to understand their real choices. So, I’ve been talking to my children about each section of The Business of Baby as I read it. I don’t want them just to know they were born at home and think, “That was the weird choice of my weird mother.” I want them to understand that I looked at the evidence and specifically made that choice because I was confident it would serve them best.
My son isn’t a particularly awkward teen. He asks questions easily. After the laughter, he slows down and thinks through issues. Comedy news gave us a learning moment to push back against the kind of pressures he feels every day to fit tidily into the norm.
For some parents, cloth diapers are too far outside the bounds of their norm. The idea of washing soiled diapers is difficult to process if you have been conditioned to think of diapers as a thing that is thrown away. For many parents, even those who find washing cloth diapers to be perfectly acceptable, the idea of holding a baby over the toilet is too unfamiliar to find a way to fit it into their idea of normal.
One point that I find really disappointing in The Business of Baby is the author’s speculation that perhaps infant pottying isn’t mentioned as a third option in the diaper debate of disposables vs. cloth because no one makes money from parents who choose no diapers at all. On the contrary, most of the cloth diaper retailers and activists I know include a range of possibilities when they teach classes or talk to customers in a store. Many of the cloth diaper professionals I know have used elimination communication with their babies. Few cloth diaper business owners I’ve met are in it for the money. I think the idea that there are discrete choices (disposable diapers, cloth diapers, elimination communication) is a convenient way to draw a comparison without being an accurate description of how parents really choose to deal with a baby’s elimination. It makes each choice weird to those who choose otherwise when the reality of our parenting practices is far more fluid. We cloth diaper; we potty. It isn’t either/or.
Stephen Colbert’s newsie item was based on a New York Times article, which was less unflattering that you might expect. Despite the somewhat dismissive tone of mainstream stories about natural parenting choices, you could learn a lot about infant pottying from reading this New York Times article and watching the Colbert Report. If you haven’t considered going diaper-free at least some of the time, use these pieces to think about it. Don’t be swayed by the peer pressure to join in the laughter. Or, laugh, but try it anyway. You might be surprised how easily you and your baby take to pottying. You might be surprised how close you feel to your baby when you become responsive to needs in this way.
As Jennifer Margulis wrote in The Business of Baby, “Unless you actually try it, it’s easy to dismiss infant pottying as too hard or too messy or simply too weird.”