99 Problems

Published on October 21st, 2020 | by Julia Whitehouse


Where the Poop Goes: One Mother’s Journey to the Potty

A couple of months after having a baby, I attempted to have a civilized brunch with a friend when my child had three blowouts, one, right after, the other. Within 15 minutes, three pristine diapers were filled to the brim with that sweet smelling mustard-colored newborn poop. In a classic new-to-motherhood mindset, I was determined that my child would not change anything about me or my life. But there I was spending the whole brunch in a cramped diner bathroom making it perfectly clear that everything was totally different now. 

Once the poop explosions stopped and I was able to relax and eat my cold, congealed eggs benedict, my friend told me about one of her friends who was having a hard time potty training her 4-year-old. Apparently, he would use the potty at preschool, but not at home. One of the mother-son battles had ended when the 4-year-old huffed, “I don’t want to do what you want me to do.”

“Oh my god,” I said. “I never want to have that conversation.”

Photo by Corryne Wooten on Unsplash

I was prepared to have all manner of conversations with my child wherein she doesn’t want to do what I want her to do. I was even looking forward to arguments in regards to picking up toys, when to do homework, not using a phone at mealtimes, etc. But I did not ever want to lock horns on the subject of where poop goes.

My husband and I had taken a natural birth class with a soft-spoken mindfulness labor and parenting guru. We read all the books she recommended, aspiring, as most clueless soon-to-be parents, to be the best parents that ever parented. One of the books recommended was called Diaper Free Baby. The promise was enticing. The method, Elimination Communication, easily explained and accessible to anyone with a baby and time on their hands. I fantasized momentarily that I would be able to “read” my baby’s poop “rhythms” and save so much money not buying diapers that we could buy a home, but quickly eschewed the idea. I can hardly respect my own body’s needs, let alone a baby’s. (I put off eating until I’m famished, I forget to drink water, I regularly peed myself instead of finding a bathroom well before I gave birth.)

But after a poop filled brunch and hearing my friend’s potty training horror story, I decided to teach my child where poop goes before she could form a verbal opinion about it. I figured that there was no magic, quick, painless, or mess-free way to teach a child how to poop in a toilet, so I may as well try something sooner rather than later.

Two months later when my baby was four months old and somewhat able to sit up on her own but still far too young to complain about how we spent our days, I started the morning by putting her on a toddler potty. I sat next to her on the bathroom floor, ready to catch her if she pitched over, made a “pshhhhh” sound like the book suggested, and to my astonishment my child peed in the potty. Later that day I “caught” an actual poop in the potty. Four times on the first day, I saved a diaper from being changed. I was stunned. Was I wrong? Am I the kind of woman who can read my baby!? I was watching her all day every day anyway. Now I was watching for something. I felt productive and accomplished. When my husband came home from his work I could share progress reports from my work. I caught poop in a potty.

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

As immediately excited as I was, I was also determined to not worry if she “eliminated” in a diaper. She was a baby after all, with potential for a subconscious awareness of what was happening, but no actual control over her body. I viewed Elimination Communication as potty training for me to simply make the bathroom a part of our day. I took her to the bathroom after sleep and before sleep. I watched for poop faces and when I missed the initial warning signs, I would take diapers off mid poop and let her finish in the potty so she would never, in theory, get accustomed to pooping and sitting in it. We had diaper-free time at home where I would set her up with her toys on a doggy pee pad and occasionally she peed on the floor, rugs, and couch, but most of the time I managed to get most of her potty business in the potty. Within a year my baby understood that the potty was for pooping. I was so proud of myself. 

No parent I knew was doing what I was doing which made me feel like I was amazing. Not exactly like I was better than everyone else, but not not like I was better than everyone else. I was way ahead of the potty training curve. While other parents were still only talking about sleep schedules and solid foods, I could talk about successes in getting poop in the potty! I heard fellow parents wearily say “Someone had an accident!” or “Oh no! Time to change you!” While we said, “Thank you poop for coming out!” For me, poop was never a disappointment; it was a celebration.

With our travel potty we had poop celebrations in snowy Central Park, in stinky Starbucks restrooms, and in parking lots up and down the coast. We made it routine to go to the bathroom when we arrived and before we left any and every location. Eventually, we were getting through the day reusing one dry diaper, so I put her in underwear and never looked back. I had taught my child where poop and pee goes and now the world was our potty. I was done with potty training before most parents had even considered when they were going to start. I was the insightful, mindful mother I never imagined I could be. Whatever else motherhood had to throw at me, at least I had shit under control.

Two days before she turned 2 years old, I took her to the library. The elevator was broken, and by the time I had pulled the SUV sized jogging stroller while carrying my child up the two flights to the Children’s Floor, I was exhausted. Confident that my almost-two-year-old would tell me if she wanted to use the bathroom, I skipped asking “Do you want to potty?” After about ten minutes of playing with the library toys, she announced: “I need to poop.” I swelled with pride and looked around to see if any mothers and nannies in the vicinity had noticed this clearly very small child independently express her need for the toilet, and then I took her by the hand and proudly walked across the room, got the bathroom key from the librarian’s desk, and hoped each step provided more of an audience to my incredible work as a mother.

Once in the restroom, I put the travel potty on the toilet and knelt down to prop my child onto the potty. In a squat position, as I lifted her dress I saw that there was poop on the top of her boots. Confused, I continued to lift up her dress to reveal the poop down her leg and weighing down her underwear. It looked like the work of at least three grown colon’s, not one tiny toddler-sized colon and all I could say was “Oh, honey!” Determined not to sound disappointed, I just kept saying “Oh honey!” dumbfounded by an enormous elimination, realizing only then that she had said, “I pooped”. Deaf to anything but my potty training hubris, I couldn’t hear her. 

She patiently waited for me to wipe her down, wrap her poopy undies in a thousand paper towels, change her clothes, and triple wash my hands. I tried not to beat myself up, but I couldn’t stop thinking, “If I hadn’t been so cocky! If I had just taken her to the toilet when we had arrived!” 

A full package of wipes later, we left the bathroom, and I noticed a little droplet of poop on the floor. I bent down and quickly wiped it up with one of the few remaining wipes. As I did so, I noticed another bit of poop along the path we had taken to the bathroom. And a little beyond that, another. And another. And another. There was a path of poop breadcrumbs from the restroom back across the entire length of the room, filled with crawling babies and toddling toddlers, to the spot where my child had been standing when she told me “I pooped.” Red faced and with my daughter in my arms, I quickly followed the droplets of poo, bending down and cleaning them up. And then a librarian approached and before he could say anything, I confessed.

NYPL / Photo by Alejandro Barba on Unsplash

“We had a little accident,” I whispered, disappointed in myself using the word other parents used.

“Oh…?” said the librarian.

“Don’t worry, I’m cleaning it up,” I said quickly.

“Oh, yeah, no,” he sighed. “We’re going to have to shut down the whole floor.” 

Naturally, it took a few days for my ego to recover from the library poop incident. The litany of disappointment replaying over and over: “If only I was actually good at listening! All these months of asking ‘do you need the potty?’ for what? For WHAT!?”

Of course, one shitty day does not a bad mother make. Conversely, one good day does not make one mom better than another mom. I will accomplish and change and become A mom who made choices and rolled with the outcomes. A mom who was determined and patient. A mom who was at one point responsible for 40 children and their frustrated adults to be evacuated from the Children’s Floor of a New York City public library so that cleaners could professionally clean my child’s poop from the floor.

And the best way to keep my ego in check is to remember that I’m still in charge of wiping her butt.

Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash

Feature photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

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About the Author

Julia Whitehouse is a writer and performer in New York City. She hosts a weekly storytelling open mic at The Duplex Cabaret in the West Village as well as the podcast The Whole Story. Other credits include NAKED PEOPLE at The Upright Citizens Brigade and Women in Comedy Festival, The Moth Story Slam winner, multiple appearances on the Risk! Podcast, as well as a variety of internet commercials.

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