From the moment the boys were born, last July, I jumped every time a diaper needed changed and did the job—perhaps changing even more diapers than my wife in those early weeks. But the task was easy then. Breast milk produces a mild, odorless waste. When we started feeding our fraternal twins, Jack and Eli, homemade concoctions of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and even ground meats, however, we entered darker territory.
The change has created a separation of sorts between me and my wife. For instance, a couple of weeks ago I tried to explain to her what I’d gone through while changing one of Eli’s diapers.
“I swear,” I told Lisa, “I didn’t think I was going to make it.”
This was a true statement. I had started to gag and fought, hard, to keep from retching all over our hardwood floors. But Lisa was unsympathetic.
“Oh my God,” Lisa said. “You’re so dramatic.”
She figured I was exaggerating for effect. And it is true that, sometimes, after opening a particularly smelly diaper, I holler: “Oh sweet Jesus Lord help me please! Oh Lord, what are we going to do?” It is also true that such prayerfulness is perhaps a shade theatrical, a touch overdone. But it is also true that Lisa is tough competition. Because when she opens what she playfully calls a “pooey” diaper, she announces it proudly: “Smells like flowers!”
Of course, all of this raises an important question: Is something wrong with me? Or, is there something wrong with her?
Driven to distraction, I called my dad. He responded that he experienced the same dynamic with my mother. He also advised me that he’d recently met a new dad who was four months into his experience of fatherhood—and was yet to change a single diaper. My father, at 77 years old, seemed to think this is all just nature at work. “Sure,” he said, “sometimes I gagged. But not your mother. Men and women are just different, pal.”
As a result, my mother stepped in and changed most of the pooey diapers for my father. And Lisa, after a few weeks of me praying—out loud—for the strength to endure solid waste, started doing the same thing for me. “I like changing the pooey diapers,” she explained. “I’m proud of our boys.”
Now, let me be the first to say, the whole arrangement seemed entirely unfair. Lisa carried the boys for nine months and labored for more than 12 hours without narcotics. Now she had to deal with the smelliest diapers? I felt awful. But here’s the thing: I didn’t feel so awful that I insisted on doing my half. And I did my best to spin this as not only acceptable behavior on my part, but even praiseworthy. As my dad said: “Hey, she said she likes it. Who are you to deprive her?”
Now, a man nearing octogenarian status is perhaps not the best arbiter of what is fair in a marital relationship in 2013—some 60 years after he himself said I do. But, the old man could be on to something. There is actually a little science suggesting that, maybe, a primal connection exists between women, babies and poop. In 2006, Trevor Case of Macquarie University in Australia, published a study in Evolution and Human Behavior, in which 13 women consistently rated the smell of their own children’s diapers as less noxious than the diapers of other babies. (Ed. note: Who in their right mind would sign up for such a study?)
The authors speculate that one of two things is responsible for this result: Number one, women might grow used to the smell of their own children’s waste. Second, this kind of “above the poop” mentality (“It smells like flowers!”) could represent an evolutionary advance, rendering it easier for women to care for their offspring.
In this sense, my father was more right than he knew. And I think I’ve been seeing evolution in action. In fact, in the last couple of weeks, since my wife told me she’d be happy to change all the pooey diapers she’s able to, she has—on a few occasions—even brushed past me to get to a smelly little boy first or taken the child from my arms just as I had begun my solemn march to the changing station. In each instance, I got out of the way and let her—feeling jut fine, in this one aspect of life, about being less evolved.
>> Tell us: Who changes the smelly diapers in your house? How do you do decide whose job it is? Share in the comments below.
Steve Volk is Philadelphia magazine’s senior writer. A new dad to twin boys, he blogs about the ups and downs of modern-day fatherhood on Be Well Philly. Read the series from the beginning.