It’s Awful That We Don’t Help Low Income Families Afford Diapers
Every now and then, a news piece about a diaper drive kicking off crosses my daily reading, and every time I see that kind of story, I feel conflicted. It makes me happy to know that there are people out there trying to help, and volunteering their time to help take care of tiny, vulnerable people. And at the same time, it makes me incredibly sad to know that this kind of help is needed in the first place. The WIC program is a supplemental nutrition program, and despite the fact that diapers are involved in, shall we say, the “back end” of nutrition, you can’t use WIC to buy them. Without other options, as many as 30% of low income women have admitted to re-using diapers on their babies because they couldn’t afford clean ones, and I have to wonder: how is it that in the year 2014 we still don’t help families to pay for this basic baby necessity?
I remember feeling anxious about how quickly my kids went through diapers in their newborn days. By my calculations, the twins needed about eighteen quadrillion newborn-sized diapers in their first two weeks of life, and the pace has only slightly slowed since then. I can’t imagine not being able to afford the diapers my kids need, and my heart breaks for parents who find themselves in a situation where they have to choose between reusing a diaper and feeding their child, or paying the rent.
But for every person who’s out there organizing diaper drives or donating to them, there’s someone else with an opinion about how the reproductive choices of others are inconveniencing them. There’s the old “don’t have kids you can’t afford” canard:
Of course only rich people should be afforded the privilege of reproduction (as with every other privilege). But how do people justify punishing babies for having inconsiderately poor parents? Don’t we still need to look out for helpless infants even if their moms or dads foolishly lost their jobs or had their hours cut or had a major medical emergency?
Yeah, paying a portion of your yearly tax bill roughly equivalent to the change in your couch in order to keep babies from stewing in their own urine is a horrible punishment that no just, civilized nation would ever inflict on its citizens!
And of course, there are the brigades of people who want to let poor parents know that all of their problems could be solved by cloth diapers.
Unless of course they need to work and can’t find or can’t afford a day care that will use cloth diapers; or they can’t afford the initial investment that cloth diapering entails. I’m also curious how, exactly, these new-fangled cloth diapers don’t require a lot of laundry time (especially for people without the luxury of a washer and dryer in their home); do they come with a self-cleaning switch like ovens do? A fact that a lot of well-off people can’t seem to get through their heads is that being poor is expensive as hell. (Look up the “boots” theory of socioeconomic unfairness when you get a chance.) Cloth diapers are a great option for people with a certain amount of time and money; they’re also a solid fallback choice for people whose main interest in is in hearing and doing something about the problems that low-income families have to deal with.
And so we’re left with diaper drives. Low income families shouldn’t have to rely on the kindness of strangers to diaper their children, but that’s where we’re at as a country: in a place where the suffering of babies is deemed acceptable because of the contents of their parents’ wallets; where children are expected to go without clean diapers so that I don’t have to go without an extra few dollars in my tax refund; where families in need are told their fate is in their own hands if they would just make choices that aren’t really available to them in the first place.