“Babies are expensive”, “I hope you’ve got savings” and “say goodbye to any disposable income” are some of the encouraging things you hear when you tell people you’re expecting a child. And I’m sure this to be true for many. I’m sure many parents want the best quality things for their babies and themselves as a family. I will not judge the choices other parents make, because they’re not me and I’m not them. This post shares, not why you shouldn’t spend money on new things for your baby, but why it’s not a necessity to do so. The goal here is to help, not to preach.
Money was never something that concerned us when we discovered we were expecting a child. It was the only thing that didn’t. We were shaken up. It actually took us one month to decide whether we would pursue the pregnancy (sorry Koa if you read this when you’re older, we love you). In summary, we were panicking about sacrificing our freedom, not our purses. This was because we knew that we didn’t need an array of products to survive, but this knowing didn’t stem from having experience caring for babies and therefore knowing how little they needed. I actually knew more about building boats than I did about the routines and requirements of a baby (seriously). The calmness came from education. Woody Harrelson explains it generically, in two minutes of great revelation:
“We buy gallons of poisonous household cleaners when one degradable soft soap would do. We are poisoning our homes and wasting our hard-earned, good money for no reason. Why? Because the advertising industry tells us to. They just want you to buy stuff.”
My favourite sentence that leaves his wise lips is ‘…wasting our hard-earned money’. Angrily, this rings the truth to many facets of our life – the cleaning products we use, the food we buy and the beauty products we invest in. We consume because our culture tells us we must. And Woody warns; don’t buy into it.
This over-valuing of ‘stuff’ is a central theme of the parenthood world. In the same way that we’re convinced we need separate cleaning products for cupboards, windows and door knobs; the advertising industry also tells new parents that they need an abundance of different products to be a ‘good mother’, ‘good father’ or ‘good parents’. They target us, because they want our money. And we are one tired, overwhelmed and vulnerable group, us new parents.
I’ll outline my point with an example. ‘The Sleepyhead’ are little sleeping cushions for newborn babies that look like mini clouds. Babies sink into blissful slumbers when they’re placed inside of them. This is a very attractive image for a new parent. And since those early days/weeks/months are characterised by sleep deprivation so intense that I sometimes wished I could die just so that I could sleep (several times); this image bodes well with what new parents need. We need sleep. What we’re really buying then, is not just an extra sleeping vessel, but hope. Hope that this chapter will be easier, less torturous. And it doesn’t stop there. The product also buys an image of me, the parent. I am competent in my role. I am completely in control and I am able to provide superior comfort and care to my baby.
These illusions extend to a huge range of products. For example, an advert for the latest pram doesn’t show a mother or father wearing their stained, comfort clothes for the third day in a row and their coffee spilt all over the handlebar. It conveys a bright-eyed, fresh looking parent pushing a happy baby and it says to us, ‘You can escape the tribulations of all those weary-eyed suckers if you spend a rather large sum of money on me. It’s worth it, you’ll see…’ Each of these products are constructing the type of parent you would like to be seen as embodying, and that is why we buy them.
To provide a little support for my argument, an abundance of studies were completed post-war era which demonstrated that, mothers particularly; were very prudent about the purchases they made and families ‘made do’. My grandma used to cover my Dad and his brothers with coats to keep them warm at night, not Canadian wool blankets from John Lewis. Consumerism has dominated our culture and pervaded its way into the already extremely challenging experience of modern-day motherhood/fatherhood/parenthood. This is strengthened further by research which tells us that two thirds of the things people buy for their newborns are unnecessary.
Perhaps you’re feeling insulted reading this. Good. Because what triggers you, is teaching you. Don’t you think we should be insulted? We should be angry, we should be pissed off. For me, emerging into parenthood was the most thundering challenge I have ever faced. In fact, it slapped me hard in the face and that slap stung for a long time. I have never felt so naked, never doubted myself so much, as when I became a mother. And this makes me fume. Because surely, there is no other time in our lives when we should feel more attuned with our intuition. The thing evolution designed us to do. The thing my body knew how to do, without any instruction, without any teaching. And the greed of the advertising industry and social conditioning deafen those instincts. I can’t hear them. What are they saying? What should I do?
But just because I knew about how the advertising industry worked, it didn’t mean I was impenetrable to it’s ‘charms’. I had to actively resist those messages and make a deliberate effort to say no. And during this refusal process, I absolutely missed some of my natural, maternal instincts because I was distracted. I actually fell pray to the ‘sleep-schedule’ programmes. Admittedly, I didn’t purchase one (I am very prudent with money) and it was sent to me from a kind friend. But nevertheless… they’re no different to the products – they tell us the same messages. ‘If you buy me, your baby will sleep more. Which means you’ll sleep more. Which means you’ll be less hideous.’ I spent HOURS reading them. Daniel would return home from work and I would greet him with a white board that outlined our new sleep schedule for Koa; which he was required to study and then sit an exam on. Whilst I obsessed over what someone else (who had never met me or my baby) was telling me to do, I missed the cues Koa was giving me.
My point is – if what I am writing offends you, know that I am absolutely not saying you’re uneducated if you’ve bought all the new things. What I am saying is, they are not necessary for you to be a kickass parent. We can be safe, competent parents by ensuring the second-hand car seat we’ve been gifted is checked by an expert for $25 (this is what we did). We don’t have to buy a brand new one for $400. We can also be safe and competent parents by sterilising bottles in boiling hot water, we don’t have to spend $150 on a sterilising machine.
So… enough of my putting the world to right. How did we do it? How did we get ‘set up’ for nothing? We used the alternative approach of… asking for help. Note the use of the word ‘alternative’. It’s the truth in this day and age.
Three months from my due date, I posted this message on a Facebook, community platform:
The comments I received included:
“Hi, the Sharing Shed at the mo there is a capsule, play gym, a few clothes both for boys and girls, lots of maternity clothes, lots of reusable nappies, wraps and bottles. Everything is free.”
“I will have heaps by December that you can have! Currently have a 4 week old”
“I‘ve got a cot you can have.”
“I’m having a bit of a clear out at the moment… not sure when you would be looking to take stuff by the time know if you’re interested. We have loads of stuff passed onto us so would love to pass it on again.”
“I’ve just done a big clear out. I have plastic bags full of clothes for 0-6 months. You are welcome to take anything you don’t want please drop off at Plunket. PM me if you are interested.”
“Due early Oct so bound to have some stuff to pass on by Dec.”
“Hawea Playgroup has “Fill a bag for a fiver”. Stuff with clothes, bedding and books. And stop for a cuppa and meet lots of other preggos 🙂 “
“PM me. I have nearly everything and would only ask for a donation.“
The Sharing Shed is a fantastic initiative, set up by an incredibly community-spirited woman. It is a Shed that is open everyday of the week – you take what you don’t want anymore, you put it away in the shed. You are also welcome to take anything else in that shed.
From this Facebook post, I was given all of the clothes, muslin cloths and blankets I would need for Koa for the first year. We were fortunate in that Koa was born at the beginning of the New Zealand Summer; so we only needed body suits. But even when June came around and Koa was 7 months old, we had been gifted socks, booties, hats and cardigans that kept him snug-as-a-bug.
Koa slept in a soft basket that was donated to us, photo below! This was his sleep spot for around 8 weeks. He’d snooze in it either on the floor by my bed or next to me on the bed. When he grew out of it, he slept in a cot that was also donated to us.
We were also gifted a changing table (which, may I add, is definitely unessential – a towel on the floor really does suffice) and a pram. The pram needed a new tyre and the changing table had a few tears in it. They were well used. Well used by other tired mums and dads. They’d used these products, before us, to nurture their own little beings. I imagined them folding a fresh nappy onto their perfect little bottoms, with sunken, sapped eyes but also wearing a smile of satisfaction. I imagined them walking the pram around their block, craving that their bundle of preciousness would drop off into dreamland. When I looked at the ‘wears and tears’ on these things I’d think to myself, ‘This was a gift from another parent. Another inevitably exhausted parent, who in their fog of fatigue, took the time to respond to my outreach of help.’ And that feeling, for us, was more alive than the feeling we would get from changing Koa on a brand new table that matched the decor of his nursery; or from pushing him around in a pristine Bugaboo.
I purchased a set of ‘Real Nappies’, which were re-usable nappies lasting from newborn to potty training. These were second hand from a community facebook page, for $100. I also purchased a second-hand baby carrier for $20. And that was it, my friends. A grand total of $120 (so around £60) and we were ready (in a material sense only, of course) for our Koa to arrive.
So to conclude. You don’t need money to have a baby. What you DO need is coffee though. Forgot to mention that. Usually one, $5 barista made coffee a day (because that’s your treat – you DESERVE that) and two home-made ones ($2?) So say… $7 a day on coffee… multiple by two, for two people… multiple by seven for one week equals… Shit.
Yeah. Babies don’t cost a thing 😉