A clean baby butt is a basic need that is hard to meet for many. Can you imagine how much you can lighten the burden of one hardworking family by solving this one problem? I’m a little obsessed with it now. And the image of that family struggling to keep that adorable little boy’s bottom clean hasn’t left me.
When your basic life and limb-scale needs are accommodated, new needs and then “needs” will swiftly sprout to fill the void. I have a solid roof over my head and the means to maintain it. I have a healthy, thriving family (and have just enthusiastically knocked on wood), and a good job. We are not currently incented to flee anything that would kill us, traveling at great risk of life and limb, if you catch my geopolitical drift. And no one conducted an act of religiously and/or politically motivated terrorism against my doctor’s office in, say, the last week. Among these many things – great and small – for which I am grateful, is the occasional thud-whomping reminder of my tremendous good fortune.
Eons ago (approximately), I was in the act of acquiring a cartload of Costco bulk treasures including a bale of diapers for my own daughter. In front of me in line was a couple with a young boy in a stroller. The only item they had on the belt was a box of Huggies. It’s frankly one of the reasons I picked that line – I figured they’d be quick. When it came time to pay, their debit card was declined. And time seemed to slow down.
I thought of buying the diapers for them, really I did. But I hesitated – maybe they would be offended, I thought. Maybe they have the cash. I didn’t want to embarrass them. And in that moment when I paused, they put their card away, left the diapers, and wheeled their little boy out.
Some time later I discovered the DC Diaper Bank, and the concept of “diaper need” really clicked. Diapers, as anyone who has diapered a baby knows, are imperative. They are also expensive. For many families, prohibitively so. A 2013 study found that 30% of mothers reported diaper need.
A recent study from the Center for Economic Policy and Research breaks it down: A standard-issue baby can go through 240 diapers a month, though I’ll admit it sometimes feels like more. The diapers I saw that family try to buy cost 36 cents per diaper, which means that it can easily cost $1,000 a year to diaper your nipper, a figure that many can ill afford. In fact, the poorest 20% of Americans spend an average of 14% of their incomes on diapers. Don’t believe me – check out the snazzy chart from people who know the maths.
Rationing or reusing disposable diapers – as many families must – means wet babies. Spending too much time in a soiled diaper can be unhealthy for the child, causing rashes, urinary infections or other complications. And that, in turn, causes stress for the whole family. Stressed families are not healthy families.
Try cloth, you say? It’s true – they’re reusable and could work out to less of a recurrent expense, in addition to the valid “save the planet” and “don’t swaddle your baby in plastics” arguments. It’s a good thought, but may not work for a couple of reasons. Reusable diapers require time, energy and either a diaper service or reliable, accessible laundry facilities. Besides, many daycares (including the one my girls attended) require parents to provide an adequate supply of disposable diapers. A parent that comes up short may have to miss work, adding to an already high stress load.
A clean butt is a basic need that is hard to meet for many. Can you imagine how much you can lighten the burden of one hardworking family by solving this one problem? I’m a little obsessed with it now. And the image of that family struggling to keep that adorable little boy’s bottom clean hasn’t left me.
More than 2,880 diapers have passed since that day in Costco (that’s one diaper-year, by my calculations). And the DC Diaper Bank has distributed 866,675 diapers in 2015 alone to agencies in our region. I’m going to help them with the next batch.
I can’t fix the sideshow that is the 2016 presidential campaign, and I can’t single-handedly heal the violent gun culture in which so few Americans hold so much of America hostage. But I could have and should have bought that family the damn diapers.
Thea Joselow is a digital media writer, editor and social media director based in Bethesda, Maryland. She has worked for such illustrious institutions as National Public Radio, Smithsonian Magazine, and at a strategic communications firm in Washington, D.C., but please don’t hold that against them. Thea likes to think she has a good sense of humor. All opinions, omissions and offenses are entirely her own. She can be found on Twitter at @tjoselow.