Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Journey to Minimal Baby

A compostable potty from bEcopotty.
Photo: audrey mei

I have underdone it with my baby.

Our environment has become so toxic that parents today are bombarded by the "-free's": lead-free, mercury-free, smoke-free, pesticide-free, hormone-free, sugar-free, antibiotic-free. A long list, isn't it? Yet it continues with GMO-free, screen-free, paraben-free, aluminum-free, preservative-free. Yes, for the most part, I'm doing all of the above. And more.

As a child of the 80s, I was a sad sufferer of car sickness. So much so that after my family went on a European vacation when I was twelve, I vowed to move to the Old Continent and live car-free when I grew up.

Loathing cars was largely due to the queasiness I got from inhaling the weird air inside my mother's Buick. I was a green-faced and clammy kid, trapped in the the marinade of the car interior's synthetic outgassing. By the time I was a teenager, I was instinctively veering away from petroleum-based materials. In other words, I started going plastic-free.

And besides driving her Buick, my mother also belonged to the post-war Generation Disinfect, scrubbing every surface in the house and inadvertently causing me to be allergic to about fifty foods, plants, and animals. I later spent a small fortune treating these allergies and now, as a member of Generation Grime myself, there is no bleach or chemical antiseptic in my home. Just organic washing liquid, vinegar, and a 99-cent bar of gall soap.

After college, I made good on my promise to move to Europe, settling in Germany. By the time I married my German husband and had a baby last year, I was versed at living car-free and with minimal plastic and chemicals. With baby, that has meant no plastic toys, no swing, no boppy chair, no plastic diaper pail, no plastic bath tub, no plastic dishes or utensils. And by extension, no battery-operated toys, no baby carriage, and no "chariot" bicycle baby-trailer with its plastic parts that degrade in the sun's UV rays. Now that's a long list.

Then, at eight weeks, my baby decided on her own to stop drinking from bottles. Panic surrounding my return to work ensued, but I moulded my appointments around her feedings and we've been bottle- and pump-free ever since. Besides a wooden high chair, there's hardly a trace of baby in our kitchen.

I have a niece who had wetting issues and wore a diaper back-up well past her fifth birthday. She struggled through embarrassing accidents at school and it was disturbing to watch her parents spend enough money on diapers to buy a used Subaru. So, in a mission to save my own daughter from childhood incontinence, save the environment from hundreds of pounds of waste, and save my household cash, I started practicing elimination communication (a.k.a. natural infant hygiene) when my baby was 10 weeks old.

So, add diaper-free to the mix.

But then now what? With no modern inventions to help transport my baby, swing her to sleep, or deal with her pee and poop, where does that leave me?

With a sling, my body, and my intuition.

Minimal, just as nature intended.

I find joy in it, but it's not always easy. Rain or shine, I schlepp my baby with me in a sling. Does my back get tired sometimes? Oh yeah. But that's how I am; I have no patience for maneuvering a baby carriage through the supermarket aisle, not when its passenger is a tiny 15-pound creature that I can strap to my chest. And I won't go back on my promise to live car-free. It's healthier, for me, baby, and the environment; it's the reason why I originally moved to Europe.

Would my baby fall asleep faster with a wind-up swing or a drive around the block? Maybe, but I don't want to know. Instead, I limit myself to my own body: I rock her to sleep with my arms, dance and sing to her to calm her down. Aside from breastfeeding, my husband uses his body the same way. Goodbye to the non-expressive German I married, he's now a versatile song-and-dance guy and I have a feeling that because of this, he's not going to age like our petrified German neighbors. The fact is that parenthood is highly physical, but there is an art and science to it that can benefit both parent and child.

Some parents can leave a baby to her own devices in a bouncer chair or pack & play, giving mom or dad some available time (and hands). This doesn't work quite the same when the baby is going diaper-free. I accept that. I'm okay with watching the clock after feedings and keeping my intuition on high for my baby's signals. For the extra time and presence I give her (which I argue isn't that much), I enter the world of understanding her language. It was a great a-ha discovery that more than half her cries were pee- or poo-related, and starting EC turned her into one very relaxed baby. I'll never go back to ignoring these signs or trying to distract her from this discomfort with a squeaky toy.

Partly it's my history that led me to raise my baby on practically nothing at all. Partly it's that I'm lucky to have gotten one healthy baby (and birth) and a husband who pulls his weight. I don't enjoy the responsibility of owning stuff; I'm not a big shopper. So when I see the plethora of appliances, toys, and vehicles invented for babies – some useful, some not – I feel like somewhere in history, mothering instinct was pushed aside and a shopping catalog was issued in its place.

Minimal is not best, it's just one of many. Mothers are subjected to enough opinions and if I'd been a single mother, had twins, had a c-section, or worked full-time, then going minimal wouldn't have worked. And I do have a great appreciation for our modernity; I'm not so naive to think that everything was better in antiquity. But I do believe that there are hidden politics in the culture of baby consumerism that we can side-step when we decide to do without.

Read on about the Hidden Politics of the Minimal Baby.

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