You discover things about yourself when you become a parent, some more surprising than others. And nappy changing is one of the most educational parenting experiences of all. It occurred to me that in rising to the challenge of a stinky nappy, you attain a certain sense of zen.
Warning: this is not a post for the easily disgusted or anyone wanting to preserve some mystery about parenting.
It begins in the hospital maternity ward, when visitors have gone home, and you are left in the sweltering, semi-dark of your first night alone with your firstborn. After clumsily negotiating initial attempts at breast or bottle feeding, the inevitable nappy check comes, along with the first encounter with meconium. The first poo.
“Wait… I don’t think you want to go in there…”
This thick, black-green and stinky goo which immediately encrusts itself upon your baby’s behind isn’t going anywhere quickly. And you only have cotton wool and water with which to remove the offending material, since you are dutifully following instructions that (more durable) baby wipes are too harsh for newborn skin. There’s nothing for it but to blearily roll up your sleeves and scrub, scrub, scrub away. As gently as possible. All whilst trying not to get the child wet, being totally clueless as to how hard is too hard, resisting the urge to scrape it off with a nail (yuck) and rapidly running out of places to put the dirtied cotton balls. You begin to nurture a quiet determination that you never had before.
Taking baby home, you start to experience new toilet disasters, the likes of which you have never witnessed before. From time to time, newborns all have what I affectionately term, ‘poopslosions’. You learn that their tiny size is no obstacle to enormous messes. Maybe your child ended a monster feed with a wet trump and now their sleep suit is soaked in a yellow liquid from the backs of their knees up to their armpits. Maybe you were too slow to replace the nappy after the bath, or you dared to cuddle your lovely naked baby, and they surprised you with a high power jet of poop which is now all over your upper body, hair and the carpet. These early adventures will have you calling your other half into the room – sending for reinforcements.
“Where’s mummy? I have some fresh enlightenment that needs to be dealt with.”
And things get stinkier the older they get. Real, human food introduced into their diet makes, real, human poo – not just the innocuous waste output from breastfeeding*. I’ve seen some disgusting things and gagged my fair number of times.
But therein lies the Zen. You develop resilience in the face of disgusting adversity.
You might need to take a moment to regroup. Take a step back and process what has just happened. What has happened to you, to your soft furnishings, to the adorable baby wardrobe you picked out in Mothercare.
Then you develop the ability to let your common sense kick in and tackle the situation in front of you. In time, you barely notice the stink and the horror of the situation washes over you, like the ocean over a smooth pebble on the beach. The experience leaves no trace, like lines drawn in sand being erased. Perhaps a particularly unusual or pungent nappy will momentarily take you off guard. But you are back on your stride in no time.
Wipe, wrap, dispose, replace. All done, no harm, no foul. Like a well-oiled machine.
What was there has disappeared
Happy, fresh-smelling baby. Zen-focused mama.** Well. At least on the good days.
I think that there is the potential for many aspects of life to take on this character after you have kids. It’s the grit you develop when there’s no damn alternative than to clean up a huge mess, no matter how long the day was or how little you feel like it. You just get so used to it that you get it over and done with without thinking about it too much – you have less energy to protest. Just bite the bullet and do it, without letting it affect you as much. Life is too short and there’s more fun to be had around the corner.
*FYI – the poop of breastfed babies hardly smells, which is an excellent benefit. Although they do tend to poop more, so it’s swings and roundabouts, really.
**There are other, more pleasant ways to generate a Zenlike approach to life than nappy changing. This is just one example.