Ever heard of elimination communication? I hadn’t either, until I Googled “babies without diapers.” This was after I asked villagers in Myanmar what they did when their bare-bottomed babes had to poo or pee.
These remote Burmese women had never heard of diapers. After an entertaining series of hand gestures, I deciphered the villagers’ answer: Hold them out so they go potty in the dirt. And wash their clothes if they miscalculated.
I figured if they could potty train their tiny babies, so could I. That was my first mistake. I should’ve know that tea-picking women living in the mountains of Myanmar are tougher than me.
I got pregnant while my husband and I were traveling abroad for a year. Our last stop was in Southeast Asia, where I was fascinated by all of the naked baby bottoms. This fascination stemmed partly from my idealistic determination to save the world from disposable diapers.
Oblivious to the literal shit-storm about to descend upon me, I researched how to “EC” my incoming bundle of joy. I bought The Diaper-Free Baby and read it cover to cover. I bought the BabyBjörn infant potty seat. I patted myself on the back for all the money we’d save on disposables.
It was actually easy at first. My son peed on command at 3-days-old while I made the carefully rehearsed psss, psss, psss sound and gently pointed his itty-bitty penis at our bathroom sink.
I was ridiculously proud. “Why doesn’t everyone do this?” I asked my husband, smirking at my success. It’s way easier than changing diapers!
Those first few months—as we slogged the hellish transition from free-wheeling, world-traveling adventurers to sleepless, brainless, routine-clad parents—my main joy in life was catching my son’s poo and pee in any vessel but a diaper.
I was obsessed. My favorite pastime was showing off our pee-on-command trick to anyone who came over. The polite ones smiled vaguely, while most of my friends backed away slowly. Although I drew the line at holding him over garbage cans downtown, I didn’t hesitate to cue him in the park, on a trail, or over the toilet at a restaurant bathroom.
Then I went back to work. Strike one for EC. Next, he started crawling, losing all interest in staying still. Strike two. Then he started eating solid food in earnest. Game over.
Once the real food came on, I couldn’t deal with the shit. My son is a champion at digesting, pooping five times per day on average with no noticeable “tells” that he’s passing any food out his butt. I gave up trying to catch them, gave up trying to wash them off cloth diapers, and thanked God and civilization for the fabulous invention of disposable diapers. We bought them by the Costco-load.
Then, recently, a friend casually told me at the park that her 13-month-old son is fully potty-trained after she EC’ed him. My competitive dander up, I dug out that BabyBjörn potty.
I patiently sat my son on the potty and cued him like I used to. He stood up and threw it down the stairs. I tried again later, distracting him with books. He filled the potty with Legos and threw the books down the stairs.
The next morning, I tried a new tactic: holding him over the bathroom sink for old-time’s sake. He flailed and bucked and babbled, and eventually peed all over me and the mirror.
Shaken but not ready to surrender, I tried a third round that evening. (And yes, you should be cringing right now.) He pooped on the kitchen floor while I was doing the dishes. No big deal, I thought calmly, picking up the little turd with a paper towel and swiftly strapping a diaper on him.
Until I started noticing everything smelled like poo. A few minutes later, I saw a smear on a toy. And then on another toy. And then crammed into the cracks of his favorite little wicker chair. And then on his fingers and toes. It was like Nightmare on Elm Street, but with poop instead of blood.
After letting out a little scream, I whisked the contaminated toys to the sink, the baby into the bath, and cordoned off the living room until I had child-free time to find the root cause. (Turns out he’d also pooped on a corner of the carpet—which is conveniently multicolored in shades of brown and tan—and then tracked it all over the place in a matter of minutes.)
Needless to say, I’m back to filling landfills with disposable diapers. And I have a newfound respect for the women in Myanmar, who must have stomachs of steel and the patience of Buddha.