Doing Away With Diapers (I Wish)

The Diaper Free Baby by Christine Gross-Loh
Grade: C+

When I was expecting my first child, I had this notion that I was going to use cloth diapers for my son. Well, that was a great idea, except that the “hot” water going into our washing machine barely qualified as warm, and we can’t use bleach because it reacts with the metals in our well water (not to mention that it’s bad for the septic system). How do you get soiled diapers clean without hot water or bleach? I don’t think you can.

My next thought was that we’d get a diaper service. That was also a great idea, except that there’s not a single diaper service in the whole state of Rhode Island. Apparently, everyone here uses disposable diapers now. Everyone. Good for them, bad for the planet. Oh, well.

The lack of hot water for the wash was a serious problem, though. We couldn’t even get our towels clean without it, so we bought a special water heater. To use the heater, we had to upgrade our electrical service, and that was expensive. So it was a good thing that we were going to use cloth diapers for our second child, and thereby save some money, right? Except that we’d gotten used to the disposables. It was painful just to contemplate switching to cloth. We already had enough laundry to do without adding piles of reeking diapers. Even if I could have guilted myself into it, I knew there was no way I’d convince my husband. Sorry, planet.

But then one day it hit me: what do they do in Asia? I mean, they can’t afford disposables, and they don’t have the water resources to handle all the laundering. So what do they do? I looked it up on the Internet and it turns out that they toilet train their babies. They literally teach their kids to pee and poop on command. Supposedly everyone on earth used to train their kids that way, but we in the West have lost the technique.

“Awesome,” I thought to myself. “I want to do that! Imagine if I could get both kids toilet trained right now! Fantastic!”

And that is the story of why I borrowed The Diaper Free Baby from the library. It was supposed to solve my problem by giving me an environmentally friendly and relatively easy alternative to disposable diapers. I hoped it would eliminate my guilt, save the planet, and keep a little bit more of my paycheck in my pocket.

But it didn’t.

There are so many problems with this book, I barely know where to start. First, I guess, is the premise. The author tells us that babies have a natural disinclination to soil themselves. Supposedly, babies naturally communicate their wish to eliminate, and we, the parents, can learn to recognize those signals. If we then take our children to a place where they can eliminate comfortably, such as a toilet, and let them do their business while we make a sound, such as a “Psssssst,” the child will associate that sound with the activity. They will then know that hearing “Psssssst” means it’s time to eliminate. This technique is known in America as EC (short for “Elimination Communication”). This sounds reasonable, I think.

But the next part is not so reasonable. EC is an awkward name, and I would actually prefer “toilet training,” but the author insists that the goal is not to toilet train your child, but rather to communicate with your child. That’s so nice and touchy-feely, but not realistic. Parents communicate with their children in a multitude of ways. They don’t need ECĀ  for its communication potential. They need it because their children have to pee and poop somewhere, and they’d rather it was in the toilet!

But let’s accept the author’s premise and the idea that this technique is about communicating with your child, at least while we consider the second major flaw of the book. Another big point that the author makes is that the EC technique can be practiced part-time. She say that you don’t need to EC all day, or at night, or even more than onceĀ  per day. So if you’re too busy, or have other things on your mind, or just can’t be bothered, it’s OK.

This is the problem with being inclusive and trying to make everyone feel good, even when they fail. Because if the author is right, and your baby wants you to take her to the potty rather than letting her soil herself, then to ignore her communication signals because you don’t feel like practicing EC right then is downright cruel. And how can you expect her to continue communicating with you if you ignore her half of the time? Talk about a breach of trust!

The third major flaw with the book is the content. I borrowed the book because I had heard of the concept and I wanted someone to teach me the technique. Consequently, I didn’t need to read page after page of reasons why I should try it, but I expected the author to lay out the technique in detailed and orderly steps, something like this:

“First you do this, then you do that, then you do the next thing, and ta-da! You’re baby is now environmentally friendly. Enjoy!”

The author gave information and I got the gist, but she didn’t lay it out in a way that was memorable or easy to follow. She was so concerned with convincing the world to try EC and making the part-timers feel good about their lazy approach that some of the details were either lacking or buried under pages of filler.

This book is due back at the library in a few days. I should have returned it earlier, but I kept thinking I’d go back and look for the steps which must be hidden in there somewhere. Then I could write them down for myself and consider whether the technique could really work for my family. I think it could, and I haven’t completely given up on the idea yet, but I can’t face reading the book again. It’s a shame. I think the people of this country need to relearn this technique, but they need a better resource than this book.

P.S. The subject matter of this book offered many opportunities for cheap, vulgar jokes. I resisted the temptation, but please feel free to make up your own and laugh over them as you please.

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