A surprising and unanticipated side effect of having a baby was how ridiculously soft and sentimental it made me in the weeks and months after I gave birth.
I went out for my first postpartum pedicure, this Pampers commercial came on the television, and I burst into tears.
I went back to work and resumed my regular commute along the Embarcadero, and got teary at the sight of the homeless men, thinking, "They were once helpless babies and something went wrong, oh my God, love isn't sufficient to keep anyone's child safe!"
(I had spent my third trimester practically sprinting the length of the Embarcadero because these same men would follow me for blocks, screaming threats to me and my fetus, which made my sudden sentimentality toward them all the more witless and baffling.)
I began donating cases of diapers to emergency shelters and nonprofits in the San Francisco Bay Area. (Which I still do: If you want to do charity on the easy, contact your local emergency family shelter, ask if there's an address for sending packages, then set up a monthly Subscribe-and-Save shipment through Amazon. I suggest sending diapers; shelters always need diapers.)
But the lasting side effect came about because I ended up reading White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain's White Slaves in America during interminable nursing-and-rocking sessions. And I remembered that human slavery is, in fact, at an all-time high, and that there is a horrible and undeniable association between the global chocolate trade and child slavery.
There was a passage in White Cargo where a housewife is writing to her husband, complaining of the children he's bought, that one is too young to get any real work out of, and I thought, "Holy smokes, how do I make sure my own family doesn't live in a way that sends other families into slavery? How can my child have a good childhood without taking someone else's childhood away?"
As it so often does, the answer comes down to money: Use it to buy things where you can clearly trace the origins of production and the process is transparent. Because of the nature of consumer culture in America, this means you consume less and it still costs more.
But the "money buys you a clean conscience" practice also highlights how parenting in the U.S. is saturated with financial choices at every point. Per this recent Motherlode post:
Adolescents from households headed by a low-income worker are more likely to drop out of school, to be obese and to take on adult roles too young. In providing child care for siblings and forgoing opportunities that require an engaged parent helping with homework or encouraging outside activities, teenage children in low-wage families are, Drs. Dodson and Albelda argue, “effectively subsidizing” their parents’ employment as home health aides, janitors, food-service providers and retail clerks.
While it is true that the American workplace benefits tremendously from family members subsidizing workers' efforts up and down the economic ladder -- think of the unpaid labor the wife of a law partner does when she takes on all of the domestic duties and child-rearing, leaving him more time to rack up billable hours for the firm -- it seems particularly unfair that children in working-class brackets don't even get the advantage of their parents taking care of them.
What happens when you lose the advantage of parental attention -- and how sick is it that "parental attention" is now an advantage and not a basic human right? -- is that your own opportunities contract. It becomes that much harder to break out of the cycle of low-paying, dead-end, highly volatile work, even when you're highly motivated.
Parental attention and the opportunity to have a childhood where you're exposed to sports, arts, culture, exploration, the out-of-doors ... these should not be restricted to members of the lucky sperm club.
See? I told you I'm getting soft.