Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Planning for Peanut: Consumer, Know Thyself!

If hell is real, I will spend eternity roaming the aisles of this place.

I was so tired. It was around 11pm at Dan's birthday party and our guests were having too much fun. Most had yet to approach their peak levels of drunkenness; I estimated at least two hours of celebratory verve in their systems. After a long day of work and party-prep, I could have gone to bed at 9:00. I'd have been fine if it were someone else's shindig, but hosting involves too much conversation and not enough eating. "Why do I suggest these exhausting social affairs when I'm seven months pregnant?" I thought to myself. As I stood in the dining room, listening to another mother tell me how I should go about hiring a doula, I actually considered swiping all the food off the table, climbing atop and going to sleep. Instead, I took her chattiness as an opportunity to shove cheese in my face.

"And don't just settle for the first doula you meet. You'll definitely want to interview three or four candidates. And be sure to ask them lots of questions. And if you need help interviewing them, just call me and I can help you come up with a list of questions. It's really important that you find the person who is just right for you."

Between mouthfuls of cheese and pulled pork, I muttered, "Oh, yeah. Uh huh. For sure," but even in my half-conscious state, I knew that would never happen. That isn't how I shop for anything. It would play out just like the obstetrician search - do lots of advance online research (to eliminate anyone who is a definite "no" - doctors with creepy photos, those who are explicitly pro-life, etc.), come up with a short list of "maybes", call the person at the top of the list, schedule an appointment, hope they're cool so I can hire them immediately but give myself the option of backing out if they seem weird. And since I really, really hate shopping, I always have strong hopes that candidate #1 will be great, which may give that person an advantage they don't deserve.

Yeah, that's almost exactly what happened with the doula, except the first person I called wasn't available. So I called the first person she recommended, set up an appointment and met her the following week. We all got along great, so we hired her. And I fully expect that she'll do an excellent job assisting me through my natural birth, just as my OB has been the sort of calm, easy-going but thorough medical professional that I wanted. I guess I've been lucky. So why do I feel guilty for not comparison shopping as that mother had suggested?

I think of myself as a responsible consumer. I try to avoid purchasing products that are toxic to our planet or to the people making or using those goods. And I try to be thrifty. Often, those two endeavors combine in such a way that I ultimately decide, "I don't need that," which is my favorite consumer choice of all. But then there are the things you really must have - a bed, clothes, food - and when you decide to have a baby, the "need" list gets way longer. Even eliminating things that won't be immediately necessary (like baby-proofing gear or a high chair), the stuff we need to be ready for Peanut's arrival include:

A crib with a mattress
A car seat
Diapers and wipes
Baby clothes
Maternity clothes
Bottles (in case of a nursing emergency)

Then there's the Strong Want/Almost Need list:

Nursing pillow
Reference books
Bouncy thing to mellow out the baby

I never required any of this stuff before I got pregnant. Researching and registering/purchasing each of these items represents a massive increase in the amount of time I spend shopping. That doesn't even account for the hours I've spent delineating "necessary" from "desirable" and "absurd". I've found this spree a dreadful experience and I admit that my primary goal is to just get it over with.

But it never really ends, especially since we recently decided that I'm going to stay at home for the first six months. Mostly, I'm thrilled about this decision. I'd been trying to figure out a way to go back to my part-time job after one month. Instead, Dan had the brilliant thought that I could just not work until he's done teaching at the end of April, he can switch to being at-home parent and I can (hopefully) find work beginning in May. Initially, my biggest concern was that we will likely accrue debt when I'm not working. Having been a very irresponsible consumer in the past, I look at debt the way a recovering person looks at alcohol - I just don't let myself go there. But when I consider it as a long-term investment (especially because I can keep Peanut out of daycare for the first ten months and nurse her without breast-pumping for the first six), I realize that it's totally worthwhile. The other advantage to having a parent with the baby at all times is that cloth diapering becomes a more convenient option, and no matter how high-end you go, cloth diapers will always be more economical than disposable. So given this change in circumstances, switching to cloth seems like an easy choice. Right?

Wrong. Of all the baby items we've researched, cloth diapers come with the greatest number of choices. Ah, choices - the bricks and mortar of capitalism's pretty prison. Isn't great to have so many options? If you love shopping, then the answer is a resounding YES! But if you're like me, sorting through the possibilities is pure drudgery. Fortunately, I have several friends who've gone the cloth route, so I contacted three sets of parents who've used them in the past year (just like cell phones and computers, the models change and upgrade frequently). They were able to give me some good starting tips, which made the task less overwhelming. I accidentally revealed my search on Facebook, leading to lots more advice. I think the most common tip was, "Try a few different models and see what works for you," which is a really smart idea. And yet, I know I'm definitely not going to do that.

And again, I feel guilty. If I were truly a responsible consumer and a good mother, shouldn't I make the effort to comparison shop? Isn't it important that I find the type of diaper that is just right for little Peanut? Ridiculous as it sounds, this was really wearing on me until it occurred to me a few days ago - even trying two or three options with the expectation that you'll find "just right" is like going on dates with two or three different people and expecting one of them to be your soul mate. Even if "just right" exists, who's to say you'll stumble upon it when there are so many choices available? So, I'm going to stick with my trial and error approach. If one type of cloth diaper (or bottle, or sling, or whatever) doesn't work out, then I'll try a different one. But knowing myself and how much I hate to shop, I imagine I'll often compromise and adapt. Poor people do that all the time, and some of them make awesome parents.

I'm really excited to have resolved this issue, if only in my brain. As I get ready for life with a newborn, one of my goals is to make those first couple weeks of sleep-deprived zombie mode as pleasant as possible. I want to give Peanut and us a great head start on our new life together, which is why I'm so focused on natural birth. I also have my sister M on call when I go into labor (I've never been so grateful for a mere six hour drive from Greensboro, NC to here!) and some local friends lined up for dog-walking and food-bringing. The last thing I want to be doing when all of my efforts will be focused on feeding and caring for my baby is comparing consumer goods. If taking a shower, cleaning the house or socializing can wait, so can the shopping.

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