Preparing for a new baby – even the second time around - it’s easy to get simultaneously seduced and overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff you’re made to think you need. There’s all the gear that you know from friends and experience can become a lifesaver with a new born: the babywrap that’s both soothing to baby and comfortable to wear, the vibrating bouncy seat that works to lull the little crier when nothing else will, the mobile designed by developmental psychologists to hold attention of a newborn, the white noise machine – that godsend of a sleep inducer.
I remember thinking it was ergonomically impossible to nurse without a boppy and l seriously entertained the thought I might be housebound unless my stroller had a cup holder. With Caleb all of these gadgets seemed absolutely essential.
And then there’s just the stuff made to appeal to new moms who want to “mother in style.” Couture diaper bags, brightly colored nursery decals, clever and shape flattering nursing tops. And that stuff is just like candy. You don’t mind indulging in a little something purely for the aesthetic joy it brings because, hell, you just endured months of heartburn and backaches followed by nerve-destroying sleep deprivation.
And don’t get me started on all the eco-options you feel you need to have. Cloth or (if you have to do disposable) chlorine and dye-free diapers, organic cotton clothes from sustainably-raised grass-fed sheep, baby food you puree yourself from vegetables you grow yourself, chemical-free just about everything. If you don’t buy these things, you are helping to destroy the planet and the new life you just introduced it to. You’re evil.
At the end of the day it’s a bacchanal of consumerism cleverly engineered to feed on all your new mom insecurities. But it’s disturbingly seductive all the same when you are surrounded by it.
This time around, all of this is off the table. It’s not available, and none of our friends and neighbors have any of it. In so many ways, it’s liberating. We’re forced to think of what is absolutely essential and taught, by looking at our Kenyan neighbors, that pretty much none of it is. What is essential is a cloth for carrying the baby, diapers (or cloth) for changing the baby and a boob for feeding the baby.
Well, and lots of hands to help with the baby seem pretty vital too. Maybe that’s what all those gadgets are really replacing -- the ready supply of friends and neighbors to interact with and soothe your baby, so you can do things like bathe and feed yourself are replaced by sound and light show mobiles and vibrating bouncy seats.
The problem is that we are somewhere between the two extremes. We don’t live near extended families or have lifelong neighbors and friends who can be counted on to help, but we live in a culture where you can trust strangers who offer to hold your baby. We are no longer in a culture of parent-helping gadgets, but have the means to obtain the ones we think are most indispensable. Hopefully we’ll be able to strike some kind of happy balance.