Capitalist Baby Propaganda is Patronizing and Wasteful
Distrust of Pregnant People
It has become clear to me that people have a tendency not to trust women. And, this has only become clearer and clearer as my pregnancy progresses.
Is pregnancy brain a thing? Probably. Does that mean I have lost all ability to make a decision? No. Yes, there are hormones in my body that affect my brain in the sense that the way I read facial expressions is more intense, and from time to time I forget where I put my house keys. But it does not mean that I am helpless. I am fully capable of researching and coming to an informed decision. Been doing it all my life and plan to continue. Adding to this insulting view that I am not to be trusted, is the reason I'm being told to feel this way is to drain me of my finances. I am a hot commodity as a pregnant person. I am now in the market for an infinite amount of products that I previously had absolutely no use for, but now I NEED them all.
There is a massive industry, not unlike the wedding industry, that profits on women feeling inadequate, and bowing to pressure. They create a very specific persona, which is formed out of what society / the collective has deemed appropriate and beautiful. These industries are patriarchal. They are financially profiting by ever-so-subtly herding women into the strict roles of non-threatening wife and mother, all with beautiful marketing, messaging and lighting.
Lately, I’ve reached my breaking point of knowing how to cope with all my anger and frustration that has been building with each ad on my social media feeds. With every book, article, or advertisement I see, I am being made to feel untrustworthy. I'm well aware that this is my singular, personal experience. But, I know that I’m not the only pregnant person ruminating on this. This adorable Mother’s day musing is for me, other moms losing their chill, and anyone else interested in economics, health, the environment, and really just humanity in general.
Here are the things that need to be discussed more. The obscene amount of waste that a baby produces and how to limit the carbon footprint of this new tiny human. Why there isn’t more outrage over maternal healthcare for women of color and the healthcare system in general. Let's talk about the lack of mandated postpartum support for mothers and infants or the lack of governmentally funded childcare. And a big one for me is the connection between hormones and mental health.
I know I can find informative discussions and articles on these topics if I go digging for them. I have and will continue to. I've linked to some of them below this rant. But, what pisses me off so much is that I have to DIG for discussions on these topics. I suppose the upsetting thing to me at the moment is that these things, which seem to be important conversations, are not what the general population thinks pregnant people want to talk about. It is assumed that my primary concerns at the moment are getting into a good preschool (but they fill up so fast in LA!). Or that I'm as obsessed as everyone else is about what gender this baby is. For your sake, I will save my waxing and waning about the many issues I take with all this gender obsession for another day.
Rather than poorly attempt to address all of the above, I will now restrict myself writing about the way capitalism creates untold waste and how this is strengthened by an inherent distrust of the pregnant person.
Second Hand Shaming
Baby propaganda is real and annoying as all get out. I am beyond ready for this fetus to make its exit from my body if for no other reason than to escape the daily emails, ads, and pop-ups letting me know the most important “must-haves” for a new baby. Though, let’s be honest, this isn’t going to stop. There will always be more that we need.
I will certainly not claim that one does not need a significant amount of “things” when one brings a new child into their home. But, let's take a tour, shall we? Below are all of the absolutely, completely essential items I need to be a mother in 2019.
Trendy labor kit from Target - $70
Um, I think I can find my own matching headband and eye-mask for my luxurious hospital stay, thank-you-very-much.
A bassinet that vibrates and sings - $1,150
Useful for approximately 3-4 months. Also, what is it singing?
A single-piece infant clothing item with magnetic closures - $40
Useful for approximately 1-2 days.
A teething toy - $24
I've worked in a toy store, so I know how dedicated a following Sophie the giraffe has. My baby, however, does not.
Stacks on stacks of books.
Do the people compiling these lists not know about libraries?
Dock-a-tot - $195
Not gonna lie, this is super cute. But it’s a pillow. For $200.
Leather moccasins for baby - $60
This is for a tiny human that does not have any use for shoes. Or leather. Or cultural appropriation.
What is probably worse than this onslaught of unnecessary necessities marketed to pregnant people, are the many articles that discourage us from getting baby-related items second-hand
Here is the list of things that The Bump (a very popular pregnancy/parenting website and app) recommends that all parents avoid getting second hand from an article titled “When Borrowing Baby Gear is a Bad Idea”. I will now take a moment to step onto the snarky side of my soap-box to tell you why I take personal offense at not being trusted to find used items that will work for my family.
Crib / Reasons to avoid used cribs: Changing safety regulations and splinters
I will address cribs a bit more later, but just to start… do I not have fingers to type into a search engine? Do I not have eyes and hands to find splinters?
Car Seat / Reasons to avoid used car seats: Expiration date and changing safety regulations.
Safety is the primary function of a carseat so I completely understand the extra care that is needed in finding one that is, in fact, safe. Good thing there is an expiration date, and I can read! And let’s say I get a used one from someone that is well within its expiration, can I not just ask if it was in any previous car accidents and diligently look to make sure it has all the parts?
Stroller / Reasons to avoid used strollers: It might have been recalled and the wheels might not work right.
Again, can I not just look this up? Can I not just take it for a test walk and see if the wheels work? This is the point in the article where I start to notice the advertisements for new strollers on the side of the screen.
Breast Pump / Reasons to avoid used breast pumps: The lack of ability to remove and clean certain parts.
This is a part of a much larger conversation about products being designed to be single-use with a limited lifespan. Considering all the brilliant minds at work in the world, let's use them to make a better, more efficient design. Unless they design them to be used by just one person to sell more and more of these... wait a minute!
Toys / Reasons to avoid used toys: May contain bacteria.
Really? Can I not disinfect? Can I not wash? Can I not exercise common sense and avoid the stuffed animal I see on the sidewalk?
Reading all this, I'm struck that what I'm actually being sold is, shame. It’s on such a low burn so as not to out right scorch us soon-to-be mothers. But, the message that we are being told constantly is how much you love your baby is correlated to how much you spend on your baby. Love = money. There is a through line in all of these articles and ads promoting the newest item that screams “you don’t care about your baby’s life if you don’t buy brand new!”. That feels really shitty. When you’re pregnant, the shame-based ads about your body no longer have a place, so marketing teams have to shift to shame-based ads about your baby’s body.
Would you like to know how much money the average (privileged) American spends on a new baby? The US Department of Agriculture gives an estimate of $1,600 a year per child. This little tid-bit of information is given in that article from The Bump, as a way to educate you on what is unacceptable to use second hand.
Completely unrelated, here are some of the advertising and retail partners of The Bump:
Crate and Barrel Kids
Pottery Barn Baby
Buy Buy Baby
Hundreds of other companies that will *literally* profit from The Bump discouraging use of second hand baby items.
Oh! Another fun fact to tie this back to the good ol' patriarchy and it's desire to keep women in their antiquated and predictable roles of wife/mother. The Bump is a sister company of The Knot (wedding planning site) and The Nest (home decorating site, for those new wives who just used The Knot to plan their wedding).
I’d like to take a moment to note I am not judging any person who uses these websites and apps, I myself am clearly one of them. The full weight of my disdain falls upon the industry leaders and their marketing strategies that create a system which profits off of exploiting women's bodies and minds and how deeply this is part of everyday life. I say, shame on them, not shame on me.
If the conversation around waste and babies makes you think of diapers, well done you. Babies create a pretty icky amount of waste in diapers.
There are countless articles on the topic of disposable vs. cloth diapers and which one actually creates more waste. Honestly, I feel pretty disillusioned by these articles. As with all consumer products when I discover who funds these studies, I find it difficult to trust anything because these are funded by the very companies that create these products and want you to buy them. This is why I want to have more conversations about this! With real people! This is one of the problems that has arisen from a capitalist system! Profits are driving research (le sigh).
Despite the range of “takes” on this situation, here is some data that is pretty similar across various sources:
Disposable diapers make up the third largest single-consumer product in American landfills.
Disposable diapers can take 250-500 years to decompose in a landfill.
90-95% of Americans use disposable over cloth diapers.
Around 90% of disposable diapers end up in landfills. (Despite many being marketed as compostable… you actually have to compost them, which clearly those parents are not doing)
An individual baby that uses disposable diapers will create about 2,000 pounds of waste over the course of 2 years.
American babies collectively create 7.6 billion pounds of waste each year (apparently this is enough to stretch to the moon and back 9 times).
Waste, landfills, and CO2 emissions aside, disposable diapers contain so many chemicals that I don't want to see in a tampon, but less in a garment that my baby will live in for years of its life. Can I protect this kid from all of the chemicals in the world? Absolutely not. I know this baby will be growing up in a world dealing with far more harmful toxins than any generation has had to deal with previously. This offspring of mine will be living in a world that contains the waste that I, my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents have all produced to live more convenient lives.
Just so we’re on the same page, here’s some of the chemicals involved in a disposable diaper. These delightfully convenient waste catchers contain Dioxin (a carcinogenic chemical banned in many countries), Tributyltin (a toxic pollutant known to cause hormonal issues), and Sodium polyacrylate (the absorbent polymer once used in tampons until it was linked to increasing the risk of toxic shock syndrome).
Diapers alone are a hugely profitable industry in America. In 2018 the profit of diaper sales was over double the profit from the sale of the next highest category of baby-related items (feeding and travel accessories combined). Who is making that profit?
All of this shit has led me into a deep dive of looking at the profit projections for Procter & Gamble, specifically their diaper department. I won’t bore you with the statistics, but I will inform you that there is an intense price war going on between P&G’s brand diapers (Pampers and Luvs) and their biggest competitor, Kimberly Clarke (who produces Huggies diapers). Because of their aggressive marketing and competitive price fluctuations, one of the other biggest baby product companies, Johnson & Johnson, is looking at a steep decline in the coming years. Poor them. I bring this up to illustrate the fact that billions in profits from this industry are going to massive corporations. More accurately, the billionaires that run these companies. Make no mistake, it is not the quality of their products or the impact the creation of these products have on our precious environment that drives them, it is their profit.
And I haven’t even covered wipes!
I don’t want to be that stereotypical mother who is a hyper-organic anxious mess of a human who won’t let her kid taste sugar until they fall off the wagon at a birthday party in their pre-pubescent years. (Though, obviously, sugar is the devil). I crave these conversations so I don't lose myself in anxiety and paranoia. We need to talk about these things.I don’t even have this kid yet and I’m already losing my sanity and chill.
Handcrafted. Swedish. Mid-century. Convertible. Bassinet. Vibrating. Trying to distance myself from diapers here…
These are all basic offerings that are being marketed to me for baby sleep options. The average cost of a new crib is a pretty big range, $150-$500, with some designer cribs reaching up to $2,000. I mean, really? From what I'm told, every time someone encounters my ever-expanding body, this baby isn't going to sleep at all for years. And even if they are a good sleeper, that crib is not going to be useful at all in about 2 years. Good thing I can pass it on right?
Where do all the used cribs go? You can sell them, or donate them. But with the majority of websites recommending that families avoid purchasing used cribs this leads to some issues. Expectant parents are already fearful of the safety of their baby. Remember Love = money? Safety also equals money then right? You better spend if you want a safe baby. Many second-hand stores will not accept items that hold infants for liability purposes. If you can’t donate an item, and you can’t sell an item, what do you do with this item? You can either give it to someone you know, assuming they’ll accept it, or it will end up in a landfill. Even if its handmade, swedish and singing. Yet more waste produced by the baby industry.
Which brings me back to the trust issue. I understand the safety concerns and the reasons many websites, forums, and well-meaning strangers advise against going second-hand with cribs (and other baby holding items) but can we not use common sense? I’m not going to pick up a broken crib with glass shards and unknown substances smeared across its mattress from the side of the road. Although, to be fair, my partner probably assumes that I would do this, as the scavenger/hoarder that I am.
This discouragement against second hand items for “the nursery” harkens back to the patronizing concern that a woman cannot possibly be trusted to make decisions for herself about what she should or should not consume during pregnancy. And I can certainly fill pages with my thoughts on those what-not-to-eat/drink advisories for pregnant people, but I shall save that for another day. Suffice it to say, that it is yet another example of distrust in my decision making abilities.
I’m angry. I am a boiling vat of blood with an increased ability to access the full range of human emotion at a moment’s notice. Do I feel like punching the billionaire executives at corporations for preying on vulnerable people going through life-changing transitions, hell yes. Will I cry at their commercial for a $200 baby carrier because the two gay dads are so loving with their new baby, hell yes. Fuck you for your snake-like marketing tactics that play to profit off my heightened emotional state. Someone needs to add economic paranoia to the laundry list of prenatal symptoms in the second trimester.
Where are the forums filled with thousands of women’s perspectives on how capitalism has completely hijacked the prenatal experience? Let me rephrase. Why are they buried? Why aren't they right there within my grasp like a personalized diaper bag? Instead of the thoughtful, intellectual exchange of ideas and experience, I'm bombarded with the best baby registry app, or what won Cutest Crib 2019. Frankly, I’m offended. We have far more important things on our minds! Why am I scrolling through article after article about the best new stroller, without seeing a single case made for sharing baby and parenting resources? I believe the answer lies deeply embedded into the capitalist system of commerce that is so essential to the American experience.
As someone with a bitter-sweet relationship with my body it is nice to hear people telling me I look beautiful with a big belly. But here’s the thing, I'd rather hear something else than that my body reminds you of the beauty and power of new life. What if, instead of complimenting my expanding uterus, you started researching and advocating for ways to actually support expanding uteri with helpful changes in the realms of economy, politics and healthcare? If you support telling a woman she is beautiful, but don't work for ways that actually support her financially and politically I would suggest that you take a moment to think about why that is.
Yeah, I’m feeling a bit moody about it. These are things I’ve been aware of for some time, but because of the changes going on in my body, and the way those changes present themselves to the world around me, I am now one of the countless maternal poster girls. I am now a human being that others feel comfortable projecting their own ideas of pregnancy, motherhood, and parenting onto. I haven't enjoyed being this source of projection so far, but on this Mother’s Day, I’m choosing to embrace what it means to be a mother for me. Apparently that means I’m gonna start calling out some bullshit.
Mother - Related Topics
“I Was Pregnant and in Crisis.
All The Doctors and Nurses Saw Was an Incompetent Black Woman”
Tressie McMillan Cottom - Time - January 8, 2019
“Serious Work: Jacqueline Rose and the Politics of Motherhood”
Merve Emre - The Nation - May 3, 2018
“Pregnancy, Parenting, and Capitalism”
Ruth Colker - Ohio State Law Journal - 1997
“Reproductive Surveillance: The Making of Pregnant Docile Bodies”
Molly Wiant Cummins - Kaleidoscope Research Journal - 2014
“Does ‘Pregnancy Brain’ Exist”
“When Borrowing Baby Gear is a Bad Idea”
“The Dangers of Disposable Diapers”
“Leading US Baby Products by Category”