the baby universe
There is a whole wide world out there — a cosmos we have only glimpsed, but which we are soon about to enter. It is the world of sippy cups and diaper accessories, of nipple butter and snot-suckers, of teethers, pacifiers, and training potties — and navigating it is both exciting and absolutely terrifying. In Kenya, juggling our own safaris and a nearly endless parade of visitors, S felt like a part-time travel agent. With her ever-expanding waistline and the knowledge that soon our little guy will make his entry into this world and forever change ours, S has become a full-time product researcher.
It is easy to get caught up in our consumerist society, especially when one does not know exactly which products are indispensable and which ones will be completely useless. S has queried all of our friends with newborns; she has pored through numerous baby blogs and read endless Amazon reviews; and the only consensus seems to be that every baby is different. There are a handful of products that several of our friends swear by, but by and large everyone has different recommendations.
S visited a couple of stores in London and has sent her mom on a handful of reconnaissance missions, but with no big baby stores in our corner of the world she has relied mostly on internet reviews and instructional videos to make decisions. And because we are unsure whether specific products will be available locally should we realize that we need them later, S is trying to make sure that we cover all our bases before the baby arrives. Not surprisingly, this exercise has led to a general feeling of bewilderment.
In endeavoring to craft a baby registry and a corresponding matrix to track what to ship where, S recalls how different it was putting together our wedding registry. At the time, she was finishing grad school, working part-time, writing two manuscripts, applying for jobs, arranging our move from Chicago to DC and later from DC to Nairobi, and planning our wedding on short notice. The four months between our engagement and wedding flew by and there simply was no time to dither about which brands or styles we should add to the registry. Now, with ample time on her hands, S has found that it is all too easy to pass entire days researching the overwhelming amount of baby gear on the market.
The problem is that most of the time S feels like she is comparing apples to oranges. There are so many factors to consider: best bargain, best value, tried-and-true, portability, longevity, convenience, safety, and friendliness to the environment, to name a few. Usually there is barely enough information to enable a direct product comparison along one of these dimensions. Attempting to evaluate which product is “best” when there are so many variables to consider is pretty much impossible. Even when one knows exactly what one wants, the assortment of products is intimidatingly exhaustive. Take cloth-diapering, for example, which has spawned an entire website with weekly diaper reviews of all the brands and their multitudes of products.
Evaluating the environmental impact of each product, which is important to us, has proved especially difficult. While mounting health studies have pushed nearly every company to declare their products free of lead, BPA, PVC, it is unclear exactly how well these assertions are monitored and safety guidelines enforced. Perhaps, most striking is the dearth of American and European-made products and the realization that almost every baby-ware item today is manufactured in China, even among higher-end “green” companies. As alternatives to plastic baby gear, S has even considered glass bottles, rubber pacifiers, bamboo utensils, wooden bowls, and stainless steel sippy cups.
Sometimes, after spending several hours staring at the screen, S has had to remind herself that while some of this stuff might make daily life easier for us, the baby himself probably won’t notice one way or another and might grow up eschewing his toys for tupperware, cardboard boxes, and keys.