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Trade-Offs: Raising a Baby in the Twenty-First Century

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I am the mother of a nine-month-old little girl named Emerson. I struggled for years—almost to the point of having the age window close on me—with the question of whether or not to have a kid because of planet’s likely dismal future. Emerson is a “we didn’t try not to get pregnant” baby and, because she dropped into my womb with only one unprotected “oops,” I tell myself that she was fated to be here given all the trials and tribulations my other forty year old friends have gone through to have children. A friend who is a climate scientist/astrologist/string theorist convinced me that she is likely one of the planet saving souls who has been waiting to arrive on Earth.


Since I found out I was pregnant, I have struggled deeply with what kind of mom I ideally want to be versus what is realistic given a number of difficult, well … realities. I grapple with everything from sleep and food introduction philosophies to vaccinations and what products to buy or accept from friends as gifts (i.e. I have been very particular about what I allow to enter my daughter’s mouth). I can’t wait until I have to start thinking about discipline and potty training.


I have worked in the corporate and nonprofit sustainability/green/environmental space for five years and, thanks to clients like Bill McDonough, know way too much about what is in our products, our homes, our cars—everything man made around us. Like all conscious humans, I am a walking eco-dichotomy—I’ll preach to others about why a farmer’s market chicken deserves to be priced at nineteen dollars yet I go get my hair highlighted every three months.


With regards to all the stuff needed for baby Emerson, I have been faced with weighing more trade-offs than I imagined possible in figuring out a) what’s necessary, b) what’s safe, C) what can we afford, and, c) what Emerson will actually like. “Safe” for me goes way beyond the question of choking. I can’t agree more with McDonough’s statement: “What kind of society would make something like this to put into the mouths of children?” In fact, I apply it to every toy and clothing item I buy or accept (gifts and hand-me-downs)—however, sometimes, I give.

A perfect example is our car seat mobile. Emerson screamed every time I drove the fifteen minutes it takes to get to our town. Because I am one of those wimpy moms who can’t handle her baby crying, I often arrived in town with more tears streaking my face than Emerson had. I searched high and low for some eco car seat entertainment and, to my knowledge, an eco car seat toy does not exist. I toyed with making one myself—Waldorf style—with sticks and strings, but figured that might not be so safe. After five months of screaming every town trip, I finally broke down and bought a Tiny Love car seat mobile. Low and behold, Emerson cooed upon first sight and played all the way to town and back every trip. Was the purchase necessary? I say yes. Is it safe? Hell no. This thing is made of toxic plastic and the dangly mirror, ball, and crinkly butterfly are by no means “food for the planet” as Bill McDonough might say, much less something I want in my baby’s mouth. However, it seemed slightly safer than my twigs and string idea. Does Emerson like it? Oh, yes. (It is these kinds of situations that make me think at least eight times a day that I need to get into the eco baby product business.)




Here is how we generally go about getting what we think is “the right stuff” for Emerson: 

We get as much as possible from our community.
We’re lucky to live in a small, connected community that happens to be having a baby boom. We accept all used clothing … even if something isn’t organic cotton, we’ll take it—it’s better to go used than buy new organic, obviously. And, anything made from synthetic materials is better off re-used. When it comes to non-sustainable furniture and toy hand-me-downs, after asking myself whether Emerson really needs each item, if the answer is yes (e.g. a safety gate), I then ask myself whether there is a new green, affordable alternative that is so much safer for Emerson it warrants the expenditure of my money and the energy/resources it took to make it. If there is not, we’ll take the hand-me-down! You might check around in your community to see if there is an organized kid stuff swap on or offline. Our community also has an organized swap once a year, a free box with a kids stuff area, and a localized eBay “Trash or Treasure” program through our local community radio.


We buy only what we absolutely need—and what we buy is usually as green as we can get.
We try our darndest to live by a voluntary simplicity philosophy. Luckily, once again, we live in a community where second hand, eclectic, and sparse are all considered cool. When we do go to buy something we really need, I am always amazed at how few options we eco moms have. We are limited to a handful of companies making organic cotton clothing, bath products, bedding, and European wood toys. Thank goodness these products are getting easier to find as more and more conscious (and smart) retailers are getting behind them. I don’t have time to cruise a hundred little websites to find what I need. These four sites have made eco baby shopping a little easier for me.


  • eBay’s World of Good: eBay’s World of Good started by featuring arts and crafts from artisans around the world. Now they have added planet friendly products to the World of Good mix. All “Planet Friendly” products are certified planet friendly by trusted third parties through World of Good’s “Trustology” network.
  • Amazon Green: Amazon launched Green last year and, in typical Amazon style, makes finding and buying (fairly) green quick and easy
  • FAO Schwarz recently launched it’s Planet Friendly toy label which means organic/sustainable raw materials, natural/non-toxic paints and dyes, and low or no chemical processing
  • Our Green House is one of my longtime favorites. It’s a small store in Connecticut that seems to have everything an eco mom would want under one roof. Great online service too.
  • Green By Design is a new site doing a great job at identifying and qualifying its recommended (and all green) products


When in doubt, I buy European.
It can be pricey, but European goods are, as a rule, greener than US products because their governments have mandated more and stronger safety laws around children’s products (for example, they banned BPA ten years ago). So, for the must-haves with no apparent green alternatives (e.g. car seats), I try to buy a European brand.


I run every baby bath care product through the Skin Deep cosmetics database.
This database is a trusted source for researching how safe your bath and body products are.




I create green gift registries for every holiday and birthday (well, she’s only had the one birthday so far).
I try to be directive with family and friends about what we need so that we don’t get a bunch of unwanted plastic, nonorganic junk in the house (I’m sure my in-laws think I’m a control freak). You can cobble together products from any Web site into one registry through MyRegistry—then you can get all the eco products you want from various sources. I also encourage people to shop at used book stores and second hand stores for good finds.

 


I look forward to the day where we don’t have to go to special stores or special sections of big stores to buy “green” products. I look forward to the day when it would be unthinkable to make or sell anything that couldn’t be safely put in a baby’s mouth—baby-related product or otherwise. I look forward to the day that every hand-me-down is a green product that will eventually become food for the planet or can be infinitely recycled.

By Allison Wolff, Founder of Vibrant Planet

Photo courtesy of Green Options Media

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