Dignity in Diapers.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Joe and I were trying to calculate the other day how long it took us to go through a box of 172 diapers. We think maybe about 2.5 weeks. That's an awful lot of diapers to go through in one day.

Because I stay home with Bert all day, sometimes it feels like all I do is change diapers and feed him. Rinse and repeat. Some days it seems no sooner do I change a diaper than it's time to change one again. Sometimes it can feel, well, monotonous at best, defeating at worst, to reflect on my day and realize just how much of it is devoted to changing Bert and cleaning him up.

I recently read an article (and for the life of me I can't remember where, but I'm looking all over for it to give proper credit) that basically said that taking care of the hygiene of someone who can't take care of it for themselves gives that person dignity. At first I was like, well, yeah, that makes sense: someone with dementia who used to be able to do that but now can't take care of his own hygiene, it would give him dignity as a person to have someone else lovingly do that for him. It would be very hard -- and make someone very vulnerable -- to not be able to clean himself up after going to the bathroom, change his own dirty clothes, or give himself a bath. 

But, like, Bert -- I mean it's my JOB to care for him, right? He's just a baby. I mean, he's just small so that's why he can't take care of his own hygiene ... OH, RIGHT. Just because Bert has never been able to do it for himself doesn't mean that it's any less holy to do that work for him. I think it would be very hard -- and make him very vulnerable -- to not be able to clean himself up after going to the bathroom, change his own dirty clothes, or give himself a bath. 

Think of how horrified we are when we read a story about a neglected child, a child left to sit in a dirty diaper for days at a time, or a child whose clothes are filthy or has never been given a bath. We balk at these stories because NO ONE should have to experience that. When that happens, the victim is being treated as less than a person.

I am a believer in the value of human life from conception until natural death, and I am also a believer that ALL human beings have dignity -- whether they have a physical disability, are in the womb, or have Alzheimer's. Although Bert might just be a little baby, a way that I can protect and honor his dignity as a human person is to change his diapers, bathe him, and give him clean clothes to wear. These things sound so mundane out of context, but when looked at through the lens of the value of Bert's personhood, those chores take on a level of holiness that transform how I think about them.

This topic reminds me of one of my favorite pictures of Mary and Jesus. It's called "Polish Madonna," and it depicts Mary hanging clothes to dry on a line while baby Jesus sits nearby.


We honor Mary and think of her sacrifice in carrying Jesus and watching him die on the cross. But for years, like every other mother, Mary spent so much time changing Jesus's diapers, washing his dirty clothes, and giving him a bath. She might have been the mother of God, but at heart, she was just a mother.

It's so easy for me to fall into the trap of asking myself what I really did all day. My friend Maggie has talked to me about finding that question hard to answer too because what she did all day was take care of a child. How do you begin to describe everything that is? How beautiful, lonely, joyous, boring, taxing, fun, and overwhelming that is? I'm going to try and reframe my answer in my mind now. Instead of telling myself "all" I did all day was change Bert's diapers and feed him and do laundry, I'm going to remind myself that what I actually did all day was honor Bert's dignity as a person, made in the image of God.

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