Ever willing to try out new theories, and usually stupid enough to risk endangering the hygiene of my sofa, floor and person in the process, I have lately been toying with the potential of EC, a nappy-free technique with the cringingly dorky full name of Elimination Communication.
The basic premise is that just as you tune into your baby’s signals that she wants to feed or sleep, you also tune into their sensation of a full bladder or a desire to void their bowels. You race forthwith to a potty or toilet, hold baby in an appropriate squatting position and – squirt! Guck securely caught and no horrible plasticky nappy to throw away, poo to get your hands dirty on, or cloth nappy to have to wash.
EC appeals to my fantasies of instinctual, primordial mothering – attempting to be with my children in a way that has worked for millennia of mothers before, in what conveniently seems to be the laziest way possible (breastfeeding, co-sleeping, babywearing)…in short, the Attachment Parenting bandwagon.
It’s not actually such a barmy idea, either. Most parts of the world have not yet been hooked onto the heady opiate of Pampers, and in places where water is scarce, scrubbing poopy cloth diapers with water carried laboriously from miles away would be insane. Imagine the mountains of soiled disposables that would result if everyone used them; in the UK alone, about 3 billion are thrown away every year. Just as Blackheath in London was built up out of the corpses of Black Death victims, we’ll soon be living in cities built upon mounds of decomposing poo.
However, in practice, EC is quite a revealing experiment. For one thing, a newborn might pee every twenty minutes or so, as Rosa Nour (now six weeks old) seems to do. If it was that predictable, of course, I could just set an alarm to go off, but to catch every pee I’d have to have a potty strapped to my hip at all times and never do anything else. In my tentative experiments, though, I’ve caught a couple of pees every day for a week now, and last night even caught – drum roll – a poop!
The other thing EC exposes is the ease with which I am distracted. My cave has – like all up-to-the-minute caves – a broadband internet connection, the seat of all evils for easily distractable folk like myself. Ideas for stories pop into my head, emails that must be sent, and before I know it there’s a puddle on my lap and another load of laundry to do. And then, of course, there’s 2 year old Shamsie, aka Smashie, Caveboy, and General Havoc.
How does one dedicate enough mental energy to one’s offspring’s bowel and bladder activities to do the nappy-free method, whilst also making lunch, putting on said load of wash, and running around after a toddler who’s done a felt pen dot-to-dot on the kitchen wall/fridge/his face? How do women tune into it all succesfully – do they sprout antennae?
This line of thinking has taken me on a strange tangent: how the toilet habits of children have shaped cultural and even religious standards around the world. Growing up as a Muslim, I was always outraged that more women didn’t go to mosques. Now, it’s obvious to me that women in medieval Arabia were mostly concerned with being near to a suitable place for their babies to pee, which didn’t include prayer rugs.
Islam, however, places just as much importance on service to others as it does to outward manifestations of religion such as prayer. Why else did Muhammad (s.) say that “Paradise lies at the foot of the mother”? Running the gauntlet of pregnancy, childbirth and parenting has given me abundant proof that the spiritual path of a woman does not need hours spent in prayer, the study of heavy tomes by Sufi masters, or weeks spent in retreats repeating the names of God. What better exercise in humility is there than being pood on by a small child?
The very act of bringing new life into the world, witnessing first hand that mind-blowing coming-into-being so glibly called ‘creation’, is surely the ultimate spiritual priviledge: collaborating in the Divine work of blowing spirit into matter, opening a new window in the world for the Infinite to shine out through. The challenge is to maintain that sense of wonder despite – and throughout – the physical awkwardness, the midnight burpings, the umpteenth puddle on the floor.
But it must be in our nature to do so. Women around the world bear far greater loads than I for one would be prepared to, and seem to grumble far less about it. In Ladakh, I saw a woman walking stooped over with the weight of a basket on her back containing a small child and food from the veggie plot. In her hands she had a pair of knitting needles, supplied by a ball of wool in her pocket. Not only was she carrying her baby as well as food for dinner, she was simultaneously making a jumper for the baby on her back. And she was smiling!
Of course, I’m romanticising the ‘other’ and undervaluing my own kind, with all its irksome familiarity. Still, I’m sure that somewhere along the line, the gleaming allure of a better, easier life in the West has meant that the least suffering has morphed into an exhausting, outrageous imposition. The urge to secure our own safety, livelihood, and happiness means that giving our time to others without expectation of reward is deemed the most unbearable humiliation.
Most of us (and I speak for myself here) feel a nagging resistance towards that kind of service, demanding a wage or at least a pat on the back for our troubles. The ones who lose out in this equation are us, with the greatest riches imaginable – our children – and so many opportunities to forget how lucky we are.
Cleaning up poo has never seemed so holy.