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Thursday, October 20, 2016

A worrisome trend in this country illustrates in the starkest terms how a mother’s income affects not only her baby’s health but hers, too.

Child Trends — a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center — reported in 2013 that low-income parents, especially single mothers, have higher rates of depression and depressive symptoms than mothers with higher incomes.

What does that mean exactly?

A researcher for the Yale School of Medicine asked women in New Haven, Connecticut, one question: “If you have children in diapers, do you ever feel that you do not have enough diapers to change them as often as you would like?”

About 30 percent of the women said yes.

Keep in mind that these mothers are not allowed to use the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, aka WIC, or food stamps to pay for diapers or baby wipes. This restriction must surely comfort those Republican state legislators around the country who’ve been busy trying to stop these same women from buying such things as steak, seafood, sharp cheddar, and anything organic for their families.

That’s another trend these days: making it easier to pick out poor people in the grocery line. It’s a full-time hobby keeping the lives of those people from resembling ours.

In a story for The Atlantic, Olga Khazan described some of the ways those mothers in New Haven stretched the use of their babies’ diapers:

“Mothers would take the diapers off, dump out the poop, and put the diapers back on. They would air-dry the diapers. They’d let their kids sit in wet diapers for longer than they should — a practice that can lead to UTIs and other infections. Other moms have reported potty training infants who are less than a year old — at least six months earlier than is recommended — in order to save money.”

Under the best of circumstances, motherhood has a way of introducing you to fears and insecurities you didn’t know you had until you laid eyes on your new baby. Surely, those of us who never had to worry about the annual diaper bill — Pediatrics journal currently estimates the cost to be $936 a year for disposables — would be outraged by what those mothers in poverty are going through. I’m certain this is most mothers’ — most parents’ — reaction.

But then there’s that other group of people, and they always seem to have so much time on their hands. These readers’ response was fast in the comments section — and furious in its scolding. Use cloth diapers, many said. After all, it was good enough for them in the 1970s … their mothers in the 1950s … their grandmothers in God only knows when.

Forget that most day care centers require disposable diapers. Forget, too, that you need a washer and dryer to clean them. And forget that if you don’t, you need a car, or else you have to take public transportation to the laundromat, where you’ll spend more money.

Too many readers had another solution: If you can’t afford a baby, don’t have one.

There you go. Let’s add babies to the list of things poor people shouldn’t be allowed to have.

I was so discouraged by the reader comments on The Atlantic‘s website that I posted a link to the story on my public Facebook page. Many readers brainstormed about how to help these mothers. A few shared links to diaper banks in their communities.

To my disappointment, a sub-thread took off lecturing women in poverty to use cloth diapers — and to stop sullying our gene pool with babies they can’t afford.

It’s amazing what can come out of our mouths when we’re convinced of our own superiority and enduring good luck. Nary a word about the need for comprehensive sex education, affordable birth control, and protecting a woman’s constitutional right to safe, legal abortions. I know, I know.

I woke up the next morning thinking about my parents. They certainly could not afford to have a baby when my 19-year-old mother discovered she was pregnant with me. Dad got their marriage license and a union card in the same month. After I was born, they lived with an aunt for a while before they could afford to rent a house. Pictures from that time show a family barely scraping by.

In 1987, my mother stood next to me as I fastened a disposable diaper over the bottom of my new baby girl. “I wish we’d had those when you kids were little,” she said. “I was so tired at the end of the day, but I still had to wash those diapers.”

As I noted in my journal that evening, my mother could afford only so many diapers. She had no clothes dryer and no car to drive to a laundromat. Skipping the laundry was not an option, no matter how exhausted she might be.

“On my worst day, my life is easier than my mother’s,” I wrote, grateful to the woman who couldn’t afford me but had me anyway.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including …and His Lovely Wife, which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

Photo: Gabi Menashe via Flickr

  • Dominick Vila

    Poor families can’t afford to hire Mexican nannies to take care of Junior…

    • tomtype

      A good idea. Maybe we could trade out children to Mexico for cheap gardners. Or we could follow the Victorian model. Hire the lowest class women, with the least education to prepare our young elite to take on world class responsibilities. Of course the advantage of Mexican nannies is that they kid will grow up bilingual. They did so in Victorian London, but I’m not sure how important cockney was on the world stage.

      • Dominick Vila

        Judging by Trump’s comment to Jeb, being bilingual is a liability for some.

  • Kurt CPI

    So what’s the solution? Take more money from the working people who are managing to pay the mortgage and still have enough left over for diapers, and give it to people making a few dollars less? Maybe we should have the “Affordable Diapers Act”, administered by Kimberly Clark and Proctor & Gamble so that all Americans are required to purchase diapers (or face an ever-increasing fine). I’m sure they’d be back after a couple of years with a 40% “premium diaper tax”, making diapers – like healthcare – anything but affordable.

    • pattreid

      How about we make corporations pay their workers a living wage?

    • tomtype

      And we never, ever want to consider having unions to make the employer pay those making a little more. We never, ever want to take money away from those who have so much the flaunt and wast it.
      Because if we paid everyone well, we supported motherhood, like other countries, we might actually be much happier, feel richer, and function better together. So in fear of actually working as a country, we raise the false fear that someone is going to grab my little accumulation, while the super rich laugh at our pettiness all the way to the bank.
      Why is it always the poor are going to take away. Why don’t we all take the excess from the really rich who incite us against each other.

  • 13observer

    Now success equates to “good luck” and failure equates to “bad luck”…. no wonder we have problems! Personal responsibility has much to do with it. Just like fast food jobs were not meant to raise a family……. welfare was not intended to either.

    • pattreid

      And there was a time that corporations were employing people of their own country and NOT forcing them to compete with 3rd world countries on the pay scale, There was a time that workers in this country had some power, when they had unions to fight on their behalf, because the workers were actually too busy working, and too powerless against the corporate owners who wished to abuse them. Fortunately for those corporations, they’ve been able to take their abusive ways directly to those 3rd world countries.

      No, success does not DEPEND on good luck or bad luck. But, good luck and bad luck can have one hell of an impact on the best laid plans of mice and men. Tell me, how many hours of real labor did Donald Trump put in as a worker to make “his” success? Born with a golden spoon in his mouth was a result of exactly what effort on his part? Inheriting money from a father that did in fact build wealth, Donald has done nothing but shoot craps with dad’s money. His father must be very proud to have a son who declared Chapter 13 bankruptcy 4 times. Is he your model of ‘personal responsibility’?

      And what about the personal responsibility of those who father children they refuse to support? Or, are you from the school that everything is ‘mom’s’ fault? SHE should have kept her legs closed… because poor people should not have access to birth control… goodbye Planned Parenthood. So, the dude gets to have 4-hour erections with his precious blue pills, and the woman is supposed to keep her legs closed. Wow, there is some screwed up thinking in America.

    • tomtype

      When factories moved out of the cities, beyond the bus lines, and you can’t afford a car, your choices are fast food or welfare. And of course the new suburbs don’t want any poor people, or people who have to ride Public Transport. So, move the factories back, moves the housing back, and they won’t have to resort to getting by.

      • 13factfinder

        Class envy makes me sick! What good comes from putting poor people with wealthy people? Answer; nothing…….. just more class envy!

        • tomtype

          Poor and rich people have always lived close together in cities. So what it did do was to create understanding. When we separate them, and then take the jobs away it creates hopelessness, which you may be calling class envy. But for most it is the simple wish they could have a job and thus a life, rather than being trapped.
          When rich and poor live together, the soon learn they share so many things. They have to use the same stores, enjoy or gag on the same air. It actually discourages class envy because they see what they have in common. Now both sides know only the exagerated story. The city is all crime, grime, and evil. The suburbs is nothing but class fear, rich and luxurous, and safe, but if you don’t look suburban, they just shoot you legally. At least in the city it is illegal to just shoot someone.

  • janis mcdonald

    Hum. Poor moms aren’t as happy as not-so-poor moms — who would have guessed?! Anybody who grew up in the ’50s with one dad working a factory job KIND OF LIVED LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME — sometimes not as well! We didn’t eat steak or shrimp. We didn’t eat prepared or fast food. We’d sit around in the winter with our coats on to keep the heating bill down. And cloth diapers were used and used and re-used — because that’s all anybody could afford. Why is this shameful now — why is this not seen as what it really is — incentive to do better, or to at least to stop having kids you can’t afford?

    • pattreid

      Right, so kill Planned Parenthood and take away birth control from the poor. That might help the situation. I had a thought last night that would definitely keep unaffordable kids from being born: Sterilize every man who fathers a child he can not or will not support in full.
      BTW, do you remember dunking those cloth diapers in the toilet before putting them in a bucket using Lysol to try to control the maggots? Then washing them in bleach to further ensure they were not breeding something? I sure do. And when my baby was a baby, Pampers came into being. What a god-send. I still could not afford them for any more than ‘special occasions’, but would not have traded that for anything.

    • pattreid

      And where did you get the ‘information’ that poor people are eating steak and shrimp? Goodness, you sure are a condescending wench, aren’t you?

  • Carolyn1520

    There are many people in our great country who are only a couple paychecks away from living on the street. Through no fault of their own, they lose a job to downsizing, they get illnesses, have an accident or there’s the death of a spouse.

    I wish the freaks who are attacking Planned Parent would use their efforts to make life better for children in need. Once born, they then become someone else’s problem and the self righteous lecturing and selfishness begins. They then work hard to make sure they get as little help as possible. But that’s another discussion.

    Unless one is very fortunate, everyone needs some help in some form at sometime in their lives. Maybe we’re lucky enough to have family bail us out.

    The was a recent story in the news where a woman was caught shop lifting diapers from a Walmart. The police officer who answered the call, ended up not only buying her diapers but finding her a place to live as she and her kids were living in a car after her husband had suddenly died. She was able to get a job and things started looking up for her. He could have just done his job and walked away but he didn’t and his effort changed some lives.

    If we don’t want the government helping people and there are people in need, then what is the solution?

    This article could have gone a step further and listed some organization who are working on a solution to this issue.

    Local food banks also provide them.

    • pattreid

      I came here to write something along the lines of what you have written. Thank you for this sensitive and informative response. I do volunteer work for a group who shops with coupons to buy for food pantries, shelters and soup kitchens. We do special fundraisers to provide the things that food stamps can’t cover. Very high on the list are baby and adult diapers, which are very costly and hard to find at affordable prices even for our purchasing power. We have also sent people to the charities that specialize in the diaper project.

      • Carolyn1520

        Thank you for your kind words and for what you do. We’re all in this together.

  • candace.hardison