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« White Individuals Who Bridged the Racial Divide | Main | Summer in Review »

Change a Diaper; Change Your Perspective

By Diane Wahto
July 31, 2013

The Wichita Eagle recently ran an article by Eryn Brown of the Los Angeles Times, “Diaper Crisis among Poor Families,” that spelled out the bind poor families are in when they can’t afford diapers for their babies. Reading that article took me back to a day years ago when I attended a meeting of some women at the Episcopal Church I attended in Mexico, Missouri. Under discussion that day was the plight of the poor in our community. Most of the women at the meeting were wealthy. My husband was the county librarian, so we weren’t among the wealthy of the community, but we weren’t poor by any means. What has stayed with me from that meeting was one woman who responded, when another woman complained that the poor were often dirty and smelly, by saying that soap was expensive and some poor people couldn’t afford to keep themselves clean.

Years later, I started volunteering at Episcopal Social Services-Venture House in Wichita, Kansas. I often packed the “survival kits” for the homeless who would seek help at Venture House. We packed grocery sacks of food for families, and we also packed kits containing soap, deodorant, shaving cream, razors, and other necessities for people who needed to get cleaned up for job interviews. We considered these items necessities if people were to get off the street.

When my children were babies, mothers were still using cloth diapers. If the family had a washing machine, the diaper problem was taken care of on laundry day. However, I remember a period of time when my first son was a baby that we didn’t have a washing machine and I often walked a mile or so to the Laundromat located in the tiny town where we lived. I was young and strong then, so I was able to accomplish this with only a minimum of moaning and groaning. Even so, the lesson stayed with me that I shouldn’t take certain necessities for granted.

Reading the Los Angeles Times article brought home to me that we take much for granted nowadays. This is especially true for those of us who don’t have to worry about acquiring the necessities of life. Most of us take for granted that the basic necessities of life include such things as soap, water, clothes, a roof over our head, and food. Given the reluctance of Congress to fund the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), our representatives in Washington must take for granted that we all, including the disabled, the working poor, children and the elderly, have plenty to eat. Why would our representative in Washington think otherwise, given that they probably eat quite well on the government dole?

I once had to use food stamps when my children were young. I was working at the time—in fact, I had three part-time jobs—but I didn’t earn enough money to keep body and soul together. Those food stamps helped when money ran out before the month ran out. I think my situation at that time is typical of the situation of most people who use government assistance to feed their families. I’m white, I was a single mother, and I worked. I saw a statistic recently showing that the highest percentage of people using SNAP are white and do work, even though they work at low-paying jobs. It's a mistake to make assumptions about the poor when it comes to life's necessities.

Brown, in the Los Angeles Times article points out that a poor family’s inability to buy diapers leads to other problems. Wet, dirty diapers make babies cranky, which in turn makes mothers cranky and weary. Also, working mothers have to provide diapers to child care providers, but if the moms can’t afford diapers, they aren’t able to work.

The LA Times article reported on a study in Pediatrics, co-authored by Megan Smith, of the Yale School of Medicine, and Joanne Goldblum, of the National Diaper Bank Network. According to the study, 27.5% of the women the authors talked to said they had “diaper need.”

According to Brown:

In 2011, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D–Conn.) introduced a bill in Congress that would have made it easier for child-care providers to use federal funds to supply diapers to needy families. In a letter to colleagues on Capitol Hill, DeLauro cited research that found that more than 1 in 5 mothers have had to stay home with their child because they didn't have diapers to send to day care.

"Losing out on day care makes it even harder for parents to put in a full day's work," she wrote. "And so they fall further behind."

DeLauro's effort failed, in part because of opposition from critics such as Rush Limbaugh, who told his radio audience that "this gives a new meaning to the term 'pampering the poor.'

Rush Limbaugh has no children, so it is unlikely he has had to deal first-hand with changing a diaper. Also, he has enough money so that the $18 a week or so diapers cost would barely make a dent in his wealth.

A friend remarked, after reading the article, that the mothers could use cloth diapers. I pointed out that the mom would still need soap, water, and a washing machine to wash the diapers. That’s assuming that mothers can still find cloth diapers nowadays.

I understand one new trend among moms is to let the babies’ bottoms go bare. Doing so would take care of the problem of paying for diapers. From my memory of raising three children, however, I’m not sure I see any benefit if the mom has to clean up the mess left by a pooping baby. I’m certain day care providers aren’t anxious to let their small charges go bare-bottomed.

In the overall scheme of things, the diaper problem may seem minor. However, since so many of those who make our laws seem intent on making sure women have babies, they should also be intent on helping those women care for those babies.

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