No Babies, Please!
A video baby monitor! How do you sort through it all? First step back and ask the deeper question: What does a baby need? This is the question from which clarity follows. What a baby needs is to get over being a baby. The having of a baby is so valorized— Aww, look at the baby! It is not. A baby is a transient stage of human development. Yes, it is soft and mostly cuddly and you are wired to find its babyness appealing despite all its shortcomings of brains and personality.
But the baby is trying to move on.
This means that all the baby gear you buy will, by definition, rapidly become obsolete. This will happen fast, faster than you can imagine. When I first proposed writing about this problem, I had a baby around the house. Other things came up. That baby is now a person who reads and writes and plays guitar and has strong opinions about automobiles and branded sportswear.
Unless you have a lot of house and are planning to have a lot of babies, the nursery will soon be a plain old bedroom, occupied by a plain old child. You just need enough equipment to help the baby sleep and eat and defecate and move along to not being a baby anymore. Nor is there any point in making that equipment fancy.
In Finland, they send parents home from the hospital with a cardboard box full of standard-issue baby gear , and when the gear has been unpacked, the baby sleeps in the cardboard box. This is an excellent and enviable solution. There was a story in the New York Times a few years ago—when that last baby of ours was still a baby—about people who were driven by fears of exposure to toxic household chemicals.
It contained this anecdote:. If that large, but not extraordinarily large, baby had been a wholly ordinary 50th percentile baby, the bassinet might have lasted two months instead of one month before becoming useless. Our first baby weighed about five pounds when he came home, and he went straight into a full-sized crib. That baby happened to have been born at the wrong time and in the wrong country, which meant we had acquired absolutely no baby gear for him at all. Having a premature baby in a foreign country is the sort of experience that is serious enough that the actual emotions get filed away in the background, for later reference; during the month the baby spent in the hospital, the only time I remember feeling actively overwhelmed was when I left the hospital and took a trip to the baby-goods floor of a department store.
There were pacifiers and suction bulbs and…bibs? On some level halfway up my brain, I understood that none of it truly mattered, not in any life-or-death way, and trying to think about it locked me up with an anxiety rapidly rising to panic. We did, at some point, buy the crib. A crib is worth getting. The baby needs to sleep somewhere without falling out. I know upper-middle-class people who never bothered buying anything more than a portable travel crib for their infant. But make it simple. Do not be beguiled by heirloom-quality carpentry. You do not want an heirloom, remember?
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In 18 months, this thing will just be in the way. I was partial to the Ikea Gulliver , a case study in adequate design. It is sturdy and lightweight and can be adjusted to half-depth at first and to full depth when the baby gets big enough to haul itself upright and fall out. So I wrapped an old towel around the bottom and the creaking stopped.
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The next thing the baby would sleep in was a bunk bed, because by then he was a child. No, no, no. But it converts into a dresser! Get a dresser, then.
Not enough babies? Not enough state support for families
All a changing table will do is add height and distance when pee or poop or a not-yet-secured baby go flying over the edge. All you need is the changing pad people put on top of their changing tables. Any cheap changing pad, vinyl over foam rubber. Do not buy a pretty cloth cover for it.
It is the worst possible thing to put absorbent cloth onto. You will have plenty of necessary cloth items around that you will have to wash pee and poop out of. As for the diaper—among the products Amazon stuck into the registries was the Diaper Genie. But the reaction of the government to rising living costs — especially housing, childcare and, more recently, social care — plays a bigger part.
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This is why the welfare cuts waved through by chancellor Philip Hammond last week were not just another hit to the incomes of the disabled, shocking though that is. They undermined the confidence of middle- and low-income families, most of whom are supported by the state in some way, in the affordability of having children. But a string of austerity budgets have meant that it is more limited in scope and less generous than planned.
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As it is rolled out, the picture emerges of a British state slowly withdrawing from family support. Countries with spare cash have attempted to reverse the slide. About three years ago, Germany began to throw serious amounts of money at family support and childcare.
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Maybe it is early days, but it has had only a marginal effect. State support is about more than just money. Again, there has been some limited action, but not nearly enough for women to stop thinking that having a family will bring financial penury, a juddering halt to their career, or both. In Britain, as elsewhere, one of the emerging barriers is an ageing population that needs extra care. If parents are left to look after the old as well as the young, it is clear they will seek to limit their responsibilities to both.
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The old, of course, have only themselves to blame. They voted in their hordes for Tory administrations to maintain austerity, and then wonder why social care means virtually no care at all. Successive governments have sponsored reports into ways of privately funding social care. All have foundered on the rocks of voter rebellions.
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