baby in nappy
This is an article by former Herald reporter James Woodford, published in the Sydney Morning Herald in December 2006.
A couple of months before the birth of my fourth child, my wife made a passing comment that worried me - an old school friend from Adelaide was raising her babies without nappies and she wanted to do the same.
At first I ignored her, made an inane murmur of pacification and hoped she would realise the folly of such a life. I dislike disposables as much as the next person, but I believed I was a pragmatist. One friend had even stopped talking to me because she was appalled that I used disposables for my first son when we went out.
My first three children had been toilet-trained in much the same way as most other Australian kids, making the mental connection between their bottoms and a potty sometime between the ages of two and three. Toilet-training, the conventional wisdom goes, is meant to be undertaken with a spirit of good humour and patience, without stress, otherwise your kids will grow up to be sociopaths.
But Prue's idea did not go away and a few weeks later I appealed to her honed sense of cleanliness.
"What about your new rugs?" I asked. "I bet you'll change your mind the first time bub does a crap on one of them."
Another friend from Adelaide told us how she had seen Mama Nappy-Free hold her kid over the gutter in the CBD and go to the toilet "just like in the Third World". Far from being appalled, Prue's eyes lit up.
Great. Now I was starting to really worry. The friend from Adelaide sent Prue a book on the subject and I felt like accidentally filing it in the recycling bin or phoning the friend to ask her to desist from her sedition.
When baby Mary was born at Moruya Hospital in February, I felt relief to see Prue changing her nappy and apparently putting aside her plans for baby potty training.
Then we came home. Even before the remains of Mary's umbilical cord had fallen off, I saw Prue take off her nappy one morning and walk purposefully to our bathroom. A few minutes later she returned to the lounge room triumphant. "She did a poo in the sink."
For the first week I had my head in the sand and was as suspicious as biologists must have been when platypuses were first discovered. As with the existence of ghosts, a baby going to the toilet before the end of her first week of life required a complete alteration of my world view.
One day I decided to witness such nonsense for myself. Prue explained the theory: she observed the time Mary normally did a number two or looked like pushing, then took her to the bathroom. Mary's knees were held up towards her chest and the dangerous end pointed at the sink with a few words of code for encouragement. Within moments baby Mary performed her party trick.
Prue was sure I would be converted, but I wasn't. "It's a coincidence," I argued.
Despite my scepticism, however, I figured that even if it meant we (in particular me) changed one or two fewer dirty nappies then it had to be a good thing. Also, it meant, for the first time, my family stopped leaving their toothbrushes in the bathroom sink.
I was relieved that Prue decided not to be hardcore about the nappy part - Mary wore a nappy to prevent accidents. But there were virtually none. Once Prue had her system worked out there were no soiled nappies; wet nappies, we discovered, were much harder to catch.
About two or three weeks after she was born, when no one was around, I took Mary into the bathroom and had a go. To my astonishment, as if I had pressed a button, she did one. I could go into detail, but I won't.
By three months of age Mary had outgrown the sink. Prue and I were feeling as though we were mythbusters. Soon the baby was being held over the toilet - our toilet, restaurant toilets, airport toilets, friends' toilets. We even gave the process a name: "Giving Mary a squirt."
Intrigued mothers, friends of Prue, tried the same method with their babies and also discovered it worked. As she explained, "What do you reckon the billions of mothers who can't afford nappies do?"
"Must be messy?" one interested father asked me, man-to-man.
"Not as messy as changing nappies."
And that's the real beauty of it: it's not messy because the mess goes straight into the dunny. It's not time-consuming, because there's no gruesome, nose-pegged wiping of rolls of fat and dimples. It's not complicated and it can't be more stressful for a baby than having daks full of do.
Mary is now nearly nine months old and I can count on one hand the number of times I have changed a dirty nappy.
I don't know where this whole thing is going. I'm fantasising that Mary might be toilet-trained some time next year. At the very least I am one of the few Australian dads who doesn't have to change a dirty nappy. That's got to be a good thing.
There's only one downside: having to admit to my wife she was right.