To the diaper man, with love

Hamish was there for the thrills and the spills, a devoted d-man until the end.

By Carol Hall

Published November 22, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

My mother has worked for Planned Parenthood for most of my life. Im sure thats part of the reason I put off having children until I was in my mid-30s.

But Im also big on this idea of not overtaxing the planet. So when my husband and I entered into that now-or-never discussion about having kids, I wanted to get the diaper issue right out onto the table. I could not bring a child into the world knowing his dirty diapers would outlive him. Either we go with cloth, I said, or we go childless.

Acquaintances gently scoffed at my fervor, reminding me of my abiding talent for disorganization. I retaliated with fuzzy numbers on how much landfill would be composed of dirty diapers by 2000, how many forests would have fallen to baby poop. No plastic in these swaddling clothes, I vowed. My husband, perhaps not wanting to acknowledge that stinky diapers would be a byproduct of our bundle of joy, left this decision to me.

And that is how Hamish came into our lives. No, Hamish is not our son. He was our fey, some might say gay, diaper man. And he was to become an important part of that memory-rich period that surrounds a babys entry into Life.

I learned about Hamishs service, "Terries To You," in my North London birth class. I rang him for information and he suggested an in-person diaper consultation before the blessed event. I liked that: Hed taken on board the fact that the baby would be fully operational as soon as it came home and that he, Hamish, needed to be ready for action.

He pulled up in a smartly painted minivan that discreetly announced the arrival of "Terries To You" in the neighborhood. He was quite the picture himself, in his starched white, double-breasted "uniform," which I suspected was a chefs outfit. He was young and handsome in that nonthreatening way preferred by new mothers. He was lithe and bouncy, friendly and chatty; it was soothing to be around him. And he arrived with sample (reusable) diapers and sample (reusable) diaper pants, ready to give me a confidence-inspiring demonstration.

I wanted him to move in with us.

Shortly before our son was born, Hamish returned to drop off a stack of neatly folded cloth nappies, as they are known in the UK. Hed added a supply of Velcro-closing diaper pants and a diaper pail. He was earnest, excited even. It turned out that I was one of his first, and only, customers. We were both about to give birth and were clearly in danger of being overwhelmed by the experience.

After a few final words of encouragement and a wee buss on my cheek for luck, Hamish was off. (He promised to establish a neat schedule of drop-offs and pick-ups after the baby was born.)

Of course, when you give birth in a modern maternity hospital, disposables are de rigueur. Right off the bat, youre spoiled by the tidy convenience of those well-tailored waste catchers. It was a rude shock when I bade farewell to my army of eager English midwives and faced changing all those diapers by myself. I felt so alone.

Once home, I looked at the baby, looked at those diapers, smelled the baby and knew the moment of truth had arrived. My husband was there, strictly in his capacity as observer. The spirit of Hamish hovered near.

I tried to hide my uncertainty behind a barrage of "this is how its done" bluster. While the baby reeked on the changing mat, I demonstrated the various cloth-diaper folding techniques Hamish had showed me, accompanied by a sort of breezy "knit one, pearl two" patter. I cleaned my little so-and-so with a (nonreusable) baby wipe and placed him onto a perfectly folded diaper. Then I plopped the whole package into an unfolded diaper pant.

"Now, you just -- ooph -- whip this up quickly and -- errph -- get these Velcro tabs fastened and -- phew -- hes ready to roll."

"Dont you think youve cinched his saddle a little too tight?" my husband asked, his face a study in concern. Well, I was worried about the thing falling off. The baby had been born very long and lean, and there wasnt a lot to hang a diaper on.

But even in my inexperience, I could see there were still some dangerous gaps. I loosened the waist tabs, but pulled down some diaper to plug up those holes around the thighs. Of course, this meant that while I was gaining credit in the leg area I was, unbeknownst to me, accruing serious deficits elsewhere. This became appallingly apparent when the next diaper change rolled around.

Each time I moaned about "spillage," Hamish was there, by my side, offering solace. I was his test mum; my success would ensure his somehow. One night, I heard Erik, my husband, trundle into the babys room. I heard him coo as he lifted our little parcel out of bed and onto the changing table. I heard the baby gurgle as his dad undid his diapers. Erik, dear man, did not know I was listening.

"Oh ... my ... god," he groaned, faced with leakage the likes of which I could well imagine. "Its a diaper blow out!" Hamish was consulted and suggested "nappy liners," a thin layer of (oops, disposable) tissue that would capture most of the poop. They helped; Hamish and I bonded further.

It went on like this. Some days -- precious few -- were better than others. Mostly there were days like the one where I put Gus, all clean and fresh, in his little bouncy-seat on the kitchen table. A friend was there, along with her neatly (disposable) diapered baby. "Carol, did you spill juice or something on the table?" You know whats coming: Gus had leaked onto the surface where Id planned to serve our lunch.

And there was the time we took my cousin to Hatfield House, an Elizabethan palace on the outskirts of London. Why do people even attempt historic-home tours with infants? My husband and I looked down on Gus in his buggy, just checking, as we strolled past an impressive suit of armor. He was happily sitting in about three inches of urine. Hed leaked again. Tour over.

I tried; I really tried to do what I thought was the right thing by the environment. I didnt mind carrying the dry diapers with me, or the spare pairs of washable Velcro-pants. I didnt mind, after diaper changes, packing the dirty ones into my knapsack, knowing that when strangers smelled something bad, they suspected it was me.

And I wanted to do right by Hamish; he'd been a sympathetic listener when I wasnt producing enough milk, and cut me slack on the days when I greeted him at 3 p.m., still in my nightgown. Crikey, we were kindred spirits for a time. He, with his struggling business and truck full of dirty diapers. Me, with a new baby, also surrounded by dirty diapers.

But the strain of the incessant sogginess of my sons pants (and, hence, quite often my own shirt front or lap) was beginning to bring me down. Hamish could see it and administered numerous handholdings. "I just wish all my mums were like you," hed gush. He scoured the diaper suppliers for newer, better products. He ordered nappies that were cut differently, and we tried out several different brands of nappy covers. Same story: Wed have hits and then, whoa, wed have misses.

Then one day, he rang to say he was coming over. I opened the door to a "Eureka! Ive found it!" look on his face. "Just read about these and sent for them straight away," he bubbled, out of breath. "Nappy clips, from South Africa!" When I asked shouldnt we be boycotting them, he squared his jaw and said with determination, "Lets get the baby."

Move over, Thomas Edison. As far as I was concerned, you could keep the incandescent bulb, compared to the wonder of these diaper clips. They worked a miracle. They were gizmos in the shape of a big Y, with little teeth at each end. They stuck into the cloth so I could fasten the diaper according to the shape of the baby before I closed up the Velcro pants. Snug as a sodden little bug, he was.

That little clip literally turned our lives around. Now, I dared go distances. We even did public transportation without worry! We were suddenly like diaper celebrities, with everyone marveling at how we made it all look so easy. "Mind if I watch you change him?" friends asked. We were even asked for demonstrations by complete strangers.

And then, almost too soon, given the length of our exploratory period, my son outgrew his nappies. By that time, Hamishs company had grown, and hed stopped doing the deliveries himself. When time came to send our last load back to his washers for good, I enclosed a note to tell him how much I would miss him and his diapers.

But you can bet I still have those diaper clips floating around the house. Souvenirs of a watershed moment, and of Hamish.

Carol Hall

Carol Hall is a freelance writer living in New York state.

MORE FROM Carol Hall

Related Topics ------------------------------------------