Saturday, October 2, 2010

Natural Parenting Does NOT Have to be Expensive

I would like to think we are doing natural parenting or natural living. At least we are trying the best we can. We are actually working really hard to raise our children in such a way that does not compromise our commitments to the environment, our community, and our family life. We use cloth diapers, we try to buy used things, American things. Its important to us that we use things are are biodegradable, that we eat things that don't have too much packaging and things like that. But we are not perfect and we don't have much cash flow so we do have to compromise in some areas, do without, or just get plain creative.

Here is the deal, many people think that living naturally can be costly. Organic foods can be more expensive, wooden toys and non-chemical cleaners are expensive. In many states insurance does not cover the cost of an out of hospital birth, and many hospitals don't have midwives as a choice. Getting started in your natural living journey might be overwhelming, too much to handle and too much to buy. But that's the red flag right there, "too much to buy". I'm going to let you all in on a little secret, those natural companies have you fooled just like the plastic-made-in-China ones do. You don't NEED anything to get started living naturally. You don't need to spend money on many of the "natural" things out there. Living naturally really means what you need is less. And less is not expensive.

Let me start with natural birth, many people say,"I'd like to have an out of hospital birth but does insurance cover it?" Call all the midwives and birth centers in your area and find out if they take your insurance. If they do not, ask them if they have had clients who have gotten reimbursed for their out of pocket expense. If so, than you have a starting place, find out if you can contact that client and find out how they got their birth paid for. Here is the deal, it may not be easy, but if you stick with it you probably will get something accomplished. For our home birth my insurance informed me that my midwife was not a participating provider. I knew that she was and that they had paid her before. I called my insurance company six times trying to figure out how to get it covered, the first few times I spoke with associates who just said "we don't reimburse that midwife". But I kept calling and each time telling them I must speak with a director or manager. I also found someone who had delivered with that midwife with my same insurance and got a copy of their reimbursement form. Before my final call I faxed in a petition explaining why my birth should be covered (in a hospital the total cost would be over $17,000 and the home birth would be $3,800) once they had that letter on file and I got through to a manager, coverage of my birth was approved in less than 24 hours.

If all this fails, and your insurance company denies you coverage. Ask the different midwives and birth centers if they have payments plans or scholarships for people who are not able to afford the full price. I have known graduate students who were not able to pay the full cost and let family members know that their desire was to deliver out of hospital and if they would contribute to their birth as their form of a baby gift. If you still come up short and cannot afford a private midwife and your insurance will only cover a hospital birth that's OK. As a doula I have been to many many beautiful hospital births. Hire a doula, tell them what you want in your birth experience and have her help you get that. Just because you are inside the walls of a hospital does not mean you cannot make it a special event. I have a friend who has taken a birthday cake with her to all four of her hospital births. She pushes that baby out surrounded by friends and medical staff and then they all celebrate the new arrival by eating yummy cake. I have been to births where the parents brought Champagne, party hats.. On a more soothing side you can bring your own music, pillows, cloths, blankets, and I love those battery operated candles! The point is, you make your birth beautiful and wonderful, not the place. The birth of a baby is beautiful, amazing and sacred, I cry every time I see a little person enter the world and no one is paying attention to the walls surrounding us.

OK so what about the STUFF you NEED for kids.

1. Cloth diapers
For starters you can register for them, which gives you a great head start. I have bought a few used one's off ebay and have gotten a few hand-me-downs. If you like to sew I came across this delightful blog, and the author gives patterns for making your own diapers out of recycled t-shirts and other clothing items! Now that recycling and saving money all in one! Cloth diapers do not have to cost you a lot of money to get started.

2. Natural toys, BPA free plastic things, organic materials
When I say we really don't have a lot of money I really mean it, and this would be an area that you really could drop a lot of cash. However as we have found out, you don't have to. We prefer non-plastic toys, but its not always avoidable. And there are times its fun to compromise. I found a huge stash of Polly Pockets at a garage sale for only $3, and we are having a lot of fun with them. My husband hates finding those little shoes all over the house, but my daughter is having fun with them, they can find their way into the vacuum later.

Ways to find fun natural toys: garage sales, buy used from friends or online, be creative---it doesn't always have to come in a package to be a toy (painting large boxes bring hours of imaginary fun), thrift stores, stores like TJMaxx often carry brands like Melissa and Doug wooden toys at half price, tell family there is something special you are getting your child for Christmas and have everyone pitch in. My daughter has gotten a few great gifts like this (a beautiful wooden kitchen, train set and wooden table), IKEA has great kids toys that are natural fibers and half the price of other name brand wooden toys. One of our local parenting groups has a "buy, sell, trade" section and mothers trade toys around all the time. There are options, and the truth is, you don't need a lot to make a kid happy. And once you get a lot they aren't happy with a little ever again. So keep it simple. My daughter spends more time sitting at her art table cutting up junk mail, cooking with me, running around the yard, and playing at playgrounds than she ever had with a single toy. We have also discovered that regular toys that arrive as gifts are enjoyed so much more. Maybe because its a gift, maybe because she didn't even know owning such a marvelous thing was an option or maybe because not having everything she sees and wants makes getting things actually special.

3. Organic food
All I can say here is shop local. We have a little market around the corner from us where the local farmers bring their produce and not only are we getting pesticide free food much of the time, but very little gasoline was used to bring it to my table, and it usually is less expensive than the non-local food. Farmer's Markets are usually awesome for great prices. You may not find everyone there certified organic, but get to know your farmers and you will find the ones that don't use harmful chemicals. And finally go and get the food yourself. If you pick your own fruits during their peak season and preserve them (e.g. dry or freeze) they can last you quite a while. We picked blueberries this year when they were in season and they lasted us five months (next year we will pick more) and all those bags of berries only cost us $8.

Blueberry picking in Florida!
One more thought about all of this, if you can't afford the natural/organic/chemical free brand, stop and decide if you really need it anyways. There have been many times I have wanted some thing for my child or family, and I wanted to choose the natural brand. It was costly and there was a non-natural brand that would save me money. Many of the times I stopped to think about it we didn't even need it at all. Or there was another option that just demanded a bit more creativity, or plain old fashion patience.

We live in a culture where if you want something, we are under the impression we just go get it. If you want strawberries in January, well Chili is growing them so we have them shipped from the bottom on South America to the top of North America just to satisfy our desire. If our children want a toy, we get it for them. But what's wrong with saving, waiting, or coming up with an alternative.

Exploring our local museum, free of charge, with Great Grandma

The last time my mom was in town we were at Target, my daughter was in the cart and as we passed the toy section my mom looked at me and said "Oops, is she going to get upset?" and I said, "Why would she, she doesn't even know what that section is." We don't take our child toy shopping, not because we are mean, or don't want her to have fun. But because we don't want her to expect that life dumps goodies in your lap, toys are around every corner, you get what you want. We want her to have fun using her imagination, cooking with us, drawing, laying on the patio looking at the stars. If you make things a big deal kids will follow your lead and it will be fun and exciting to them also.