Changing Tables, Diapers, and the World (Part 2 of 3)

As a new family, outings are going to be inevitable. I would imagine that outings are an opportunity to do something different for a change.  Of course, the initial outing one takes with a newborn is different just on its own. In my previous article, the normalcy of going to a retail store was novel in of itself.  My introduction to the lack of access to changing tables at a busy, national retail chain seemed surprising. Although the family restroom was closed, the lack of access in the men’s room was additionally difficult.  The following day proved to have even more interesting and new revelations about what it would mean to be an active father of a newborn.

Our second day going out with our brand new, fresh-from-the-package daughter was for a specific and celebratory event. A co-worker of my wife was celebrating their newborn at a baby naming. The trip to my wife’s work was already charged with anticipation. Namely, we were concerned about my wife, a nursing mother, visiting her work during maternity leave and her co-workers respecting her “non” work mentality. At any rate, we were going to support another new family in our community, and were happy to go out.  The fact that our outing was for an event, as opposed to going to the grocery store, was a bit different than our previous experience.

Prior to our departure, we planned intricately for the day. We had our diaper bag and back-up supply of clothes. We felt as prepared as anyone could possibly be, for new parents that had very little clue as to what we were doing. In fact, I spent some time dressing my daughter. I picked a cute white outfit that would fit the climate. I insisted in dressing her in something other than the obligatory onesie, as I felt the occasion warranted something other than pajamas.  My wife and I proudly packed our daughter up, and off we went.

Our daughter slept the entire ride to the event, which was about a thirty minute drive. It was a beautiful day, sunny, a bit cool; but, overall entirely pleasant. We arrived a bit late, but at the same time as another couple with an infant. So, we felt comfortable knowing that when you have a baby, it’s okay to be late. It was even better that there were companions to walk in with, as if it were planned. We walked in to the room. The family of honor was reciting family notes to the group, family members that had traveled from afar were on the edge of their seats. Co-workers were equally engaged with the ceremonial aspects of a baby naming. Without warning, our daughter let one go so large that my wife and I swore she lifted herself out of her car seat. My wife aptly took her to change her.

After about ten minutes, there was no sign of my wife and daughter. I went off to search them out. I found them in a room, my wife on the floor with my baby. My baby’s clothes were spread all around. She was laying, giggling mind you, naked, on the portable changing matt. She had given a “blow out” as my wife refers to them. The kind of poop that somehow seeps out of the rim of the baby’s diaper and actually goes up the back. With white clothes, this is apparently a bad idea, and they had to be removed. I jumped in to get some paper towels, and do what I could to assist my wife with the cleanup.  Since this was not a typical office, rather an educational institution, the lack of a changing area wasn’t surprising. Furthermore, the having to juggle this situation was more comical as it appeared our baby had a few things to think about her mother potentially going back to work. Lastly, Murphy’s Law always seems to play into these kinds of things, and will likely play into parenthood for the rest of our lives.

Cleaned and redressed in our back up onesie, we ventured back to the party. No one knew the difference and it was a very pleasant time. My wife and I simply shrugged our shoulders and realized that “blow outs” happen, and we were thankful we were both there to help out with such a mess. However, this is at a very controlled environment. In fact, soon after we cleaned our daughter up, she needed to be filled again. So, my wife retreated to her office, which had been unseen by her for several months, and fed our baby. It was obvious; the baby is going to be a baby wherever the baby is!

Once and for all we are in the car. We still had a large part of the day ahead of us. So, we decided to venture down to the 3rd Street Promenade. A cavalcade of entertainment, retail stores, restaurants and people of all types. It seemed like the appropriate place to walk around and enjoy the beautiful day. Also, there was a new mall there we had not visited, and figured it would be another adventure.

Overall, the day was great. We met a friend for coffee, walked the street, saw several young women with guitars and dance troupes. Eventually, we made our way down to the new, outside mall at the end of the 3rd Street Promenade. It was obviously a high end mall. This mall was intended for the elite of Santa Monica, and for those who can afford to pay retail on their clothes. This was not the kind of retail store we had visited the day before; in fact, it missed the target completely in comparison. Nevertheless, it was fun to walk around and look at the interesting things they had to offer.

Now, with all this being said, the eventual need to relieve one’s self is going to arise. We all have to at one point or another. Yet, it wasn’t until I became a father that I was so very aware of the inequality in this area between women and men. Yes, I was familiar with the differences in facilities; and, yes, I was familiar with the occasional women’s lounge (or so I had heard). On the other hand, I was not so aware of the striking differences of facilities for babies. Don’t all babies need the same facilities? A changing table, diaper and wet towel seemed to be at least the minimum needs for a baby. In fact, in the corner of my eye I noticed a designated area for babies to be changed in the men’s room. This was a big deal for me, especially after my disappointing experience at the store the day before.

Upon my exit from the men’s room, my wife left me in charge of the baby while she attended to her own needs. The baby did not need a change, and was napping in the stroller; so, no need to bother her. When my wife returned she looked at me and said, “so, did the changing table in men’s room have changing pads and diapers available?” I squinted with disgusted inquisitiveness and said, “no!” I wanted her to clarify what she meant. She went on to explain that they had all these things available for the changing station, just sitting there for the use of mothers changing their babies’ diaper.  I was shocked, again another case where the differences were very apparent. However, the most striking difference was to come up.

We continued to walk around the mall. Eventually, we came to the mecca of retail and high end clothing. Personally, I had never purchased anything there, but my mother was always enthralled with this place. At times when I was a teenager I would sit and listen to the piano players while my mother shopped. My mother, who lives on the east coast, obviously does not get to see her grandchild that often. So, we took a picture of the baby and me in front of the sign. It was cute, and was approved very much by my mother. When we tried to put the baby back in the car seat, she began to fidget. My wife and I figured she needed a diaper change; after all it couldn’t be worse than earlier that day.  We entered into the department store, blinded by the bright lights and price tags. We found the restroom area on that floor very close to the entrance. There was a family room, but was in use by men, as there was no men’s room. The men’s room was a floor or two down. Since, again, the family restroom was occupied, we could not use it. So, my wife grabbed the baby and went into the women’s lounge. I patiently waited outside and contemplated the true value of silk and designer clothing.  Several minutes later my wife emerged with our child and ready to place her in her seat. My wife exclaimed that it was the largest women’s lounge she had ever seen. She went on to describe that there was a long area for changing babies, several at a time if necessary. Couches and hand towels that made ours at home look like roadside donations after a rainstorm. She described this lounge as if it were a secret hide-a-way from the ridiculous prices on the racks. Again, I found myself struck with a bit of changing table jealousy. If the women have that, did the men have a sports bar in theirs. Moreover, if they did have a sports bar, it’s not likely they would have beer nuts next to the changing tables. I am not even sure they would have a changing table!

I try to think of myself as someone who is pragmatic. I definitely do not see myself as chauvinistic, or one who plays heavily into stereotypes. Although, I do recognize that stereotypes exist for the reason that things fit easily into the stereotypes.  Then again, I did not understand why something that was so natural, necessary and equilateral as changing a baby’s diaper needed to be stereotyped as only the mother’s responsibility. I mean, don’t the retailers want fathers to shop for their wives, daughters or mothers in these areas of the department store. Shouldn’t they make it as inviting for them to come in and shop? Oh, and wait, perhaps take care of their infant in an environment that is welcoming and luxurious.  The reality is, as I mentioned previously, as men I don’t think we are taught to care about these things. What’s more, the idea of “changing table” jealousy is in its own right ridiculous.   Yet, this was another experience that emphasized the differences between mothers and fathers, and their access to suitable tools to assist their babies in being clean.

Life might be unfair, marginalizing and downright unparalleled in discrimination, but I thought we had culturally moved beyond bathroom discrimination: At least, discrimination of babies and their parents.  In no way would I make light of discrimination, but it seems that fathers are in fact being stereotyped. Mostly, fathers are being stereotyped as a group that does not change their babies’ diapers enough to warrant high end changing accommodations at high end locations. This, I feel is the heart of the matter. I am all for the luxuries women get in this area, they certainly earned it by carrying the child. I do feel, on the other hand, that men are not stepping up enough to make the change. If we were, the stores we visit would make sure we were equally as happy changing our baby’s diaper as their mothers.  If anyone deserves it, it’s our baby. They have plenty of time to struggle in life, I don’t think getting a diaper changed should be the start of those struggles. Overall, shouldn’t it be the easiest for them. If they have to wait for a father to ingeniously come up with an alternative during a “blow out”, that baby is just going to cry out of discomfort. This in turn, of course, makes everyone else uncomfortable.

by Jon Abelson

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Photo graciously provided by Julien Haler , through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved