By: Julie Gamberg
I’m what some might call a crunchy mama. A granola girl. An alternative, progressive, don’t-always-follow-the-mainstream-way-of-doing-things kind of parent. But I have to tell you, there are waaaay crunchier mamas than I. Whereas I do selective vaccinations (albeit very few), they do none. Whereas I didn’t do rice cereal as a first food, they do baby-led weaning and give their toothless babes raw carrots to munch on. And, whereas I do cloth diapers, they do elimination communication.
In fact, elimination communication was the example I gave when I was pregnant and folks would chastise my general hippy-dippy ways and tell me that I was doing everything the hardest way possible. “See?” I would tell my detractors, “I’m really not that out there. I may not have a crib, or a stroller, but some people don’t even have diapers!”
And so my mainstream touchstone –not doing elimination communication -has recently eroded. I am now, truly and officially, OUT THERE. I promise you, I really didn’t mean to become an EC-er as they are affectionately called. And truth be told, I’m really doing EC-lite. EC all the way would look like this: Your baby is born. You watch her signals – her scrunched-up face, her funny little sounds, and when you believe you are seeing the signal for peeing, or pooping, you hold her over the toilet, or sink, or little potty, until she goes, often making the ASL sign for “toilet” before, during, or after, as well as a consistent sound or word. You do this all day, and all night until your baby is, I kid you not, “toilet trained” at six months.
Only a true EC-er would be aghast at that last sentence. Because in EC, we don’t “toilet train”, we “potty learn”. And we don’t do it in a goal-oriented way. The purpose of all of that work, all of that watching for signals and holding your baby over the toilet at 3:17 a.m. is not a stretched-out version of the latest Three Days to No Diapers! (Can you imagine? Six Months to No Diapers! That would fly right off the shelves.)
The primary “goal” of EC-ing is better communication with your baby. The idea is that by watching and responding to his signals, your level of bondedness, and your baby’s sense that you really hear him in an empathetic, compassionate, and responsive way, increases. Additionally, EC-ers also believe that no mammal wants to sit in his or her own waste. That we essentially train babies to be willing to sit in their waste for our convenience (diapers) and then when they’re old enough to be able to use a toilet, we untrain them and call that potty training. Phew!
I thought two things about elimination communication when I first heard about it while pregnant: One is that it was a great idea. It made sense. Two was No Fucking Way am I doing that. Uhm, I didn’t know about these EC-ers, but I will have just had a baby! So EC was out. I was curious about the possibilities of gentle “potty learning” later on, and assumed that my kid –both because of some hippy slow approach I would undoubtedly have adopted (and that the words “potty learning” imply) –would probably be ten and still in diapers (and cosleeping and breastfeeding, etc.).
So to my surprise and delight several things happened at once. I saw my friend Sarah doing elimination communication with her little baby, and it actually looked sort-of, kind-of manageable. My baby completely outgrew her colic, turned six-and-a-half-months, learned to crawl, and became much more eager to try new things. And, due to aforementioned crawling, diaper changes became wrestling matches which I often lost. Then, my other friend Sara told me that she was giving her little one – who is in daycare everyday and definitely cannot be hawk-watched for any grunt or scrunch – “pottytunities” which is just what it sounds like and which will be discussed momentarily. And finally, my friend Brandi lent me her book, Diaper Free Before Three, which also outlines a kind of “pottytunity” possibility. So I put one and one and one and one and one together, ordered a Baby Bjorn potty (Note: the smallest, travel potty, not the medium-sized one that looks like it’s so super small anyway, what could be the difference? That one is sitting up on a shelf for when my baby gets older because I couldn’t get it together to return it.) and a’pottying we went.
It is now a couple of months later and the pottytunities are easy, fun, and immensely satisfying. (And I do not say this lightly … for example, I am not a parent who thinks eating is fun. When my baby reaches for the spoon of pureed beets to “do it herself” my first thought is not “Yay – I’m fostering such great independence!” My first thought is “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” followed by “Independence is overrated.”)
Yet, with nearly no effort, I find I am suddenly ECing. Here is what we do, and I will tell you now, it is basically nothing:
Little wakes up in the morning or from a nap. Snuggle-snuggle for two or three minutes. Play-play for two or three minutes. Then I say, in a cheery voice, “Pottytunity!” and make the ASL sign for toilet (thumb between forefinger and middle finger, wiggle the hand). I take off her diaper, bring her to the bathroom, sit on the big toilet, sit her on her little potty right in front of me and say “shhh-shhh, whoooshh, whoooshh.” If I have to pee, I do and that sometimes sets her off. I offer her a couple of books, she picks one, and I read it while she turns the pages. She “gets up” (still crawling, so it’s more like a topple) when she’s ready and I let her, whether she has gone potty or not. And then I rinse her bottom in the sink, set her on a towel, pat her gently, and let her crawl around for a minute or two to finish air drying. Then on with a new diaper. That’s it folks. A two-minute opportunity to use the potty, aka a “pottytunity”, at each diaper change.
And for the $64 million potty question: Does she actually go? She goes about 50% of the time. Which seems astounding to me. She’s nine months old, and for half of our attempts her waste goes into a potty, not into a diaper. Some added benefits have been decreased diaper rash with the air out time, and a little less struggle at diaper changes by splitting them in half (old diaper off and new diaper on being two separate events).
So will all of this result in early toilet training or potty learning? My friend Holly just told me that her two year-old has been fully potty-trained for a while now. Just by doing pottytunities. My hippy-crunchy-mama self tells me not to worry about the month or year when she finishes potty learning. It will happen when it happens. If she’s ten and in diapers, well she’s just going at her own pace. It’s all good. And the part of me that loves me a good all-plastic jumperoo and has BOB stroller envy is ecstatic that we may actually be on our way to circumventing official potty training and all its attendant struggles. I know I’m way too late for the potty-trained-by-six-months-old camp, but I do think, hmmm, we have nine more months until the year-and-a-half mark. Maybe, maybe.
EC-ers, don’t read that last paragraph, okay?