Two years ago I had a baby. Have you ever had a baby? To me it felt like the world had stopped and then shifted on its axis. When he was a few weeks old I remember walking down the street, shell-shocked, and seeing other people with small babies and being incredulous. “What? Other people are doing it too? Loads of people are doing this all the time?”
It seemed like the sort of super-human effort they give you an OBE and ticker-tape parades for. Like walking to the north pole. Or curing cancer. It didn’t seem possible that loads of people do it every day, without most people even noticing.
And in the weird head-readjustment, life-turned-upside-down, sleep-deprivation-hell of the first few months, I think a lot of people find they need some irrational crutch to cling on to. Mine was developing a cloth nappy addiction.
I know that sounds ridiculous, (‘They are just there to catch poo! How could anyone get attached to nappies?’), but believe me, there are thousands of women like me. We have discussion threads about why nappies are so addictive, on nappy discussion groups. Yes, there are nappy discussion groups.
I think, for me, it was something to cling to while adjusting to parenthood. Buying cute nappies I could do. And I felt prepared and equipped. Even though I didn’t have a clue what I was doing in any other area of parenthood. Also, I was buying them second-hand on eBay and on nappy selling groups on Facebook, so you’d be keeping an eye out for things you wanted, and get a little dopamine hit when you find one. And another hit if you won it. And another hit when it arrived in the post. (When you’ve got a non-sleeping two month old, you take your dopamine hits where you can find them).
All this is a long-winded way of explaining how I came to be a denizen of the cloth nappy world. After a bit of course, my project manager head and my public engagement head started thinking about nappies too. My researcher head got really annoyed by the conflicting advice online about how to care for cloth nappies. And my giving-myself-loads-of-work head had the idea of Nappy Science Gang.
So, here we are. The Wellcome Trust have given me a grant to run it. It will be the first public engagement project working with cloth nappies. As far as I’m aware, it will be the first citizen science project where the users set the research priorities, design their own protocols (with advice from scientists) and then run their own experiments. We’ll find out some useful science for cloth nappy users (a growing group as the environmental imperatives become clearer), and we’ll tackle a lot of persistent urban myths, with scientific thinking and evidence.
Which all goes to show, you can come up with interesting public engagement projects about anything, if you think about it enough.