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a wipes warmer Dana Rodriguez for Vox

The best $14 I ever spent: a wipes warmer when I had postpartum depression

It tops every list of products your new baby absolutely does not need, but I’m so glad I sprang for it anyway.

I really don’t want to screw up my daughter. When I was pregnant with her, I figured reading lists could help me give her a life of comfort, security, and well-reviewed educational toys on Amazon. I pinned and pored over articles counting 59 things I needed to do before the baby arrived and quickly found myself inundated with recommendations for outrageously expensive and possibly lethal infant pillows.

One of the first products I learned I didn’t need to own was a wipes warmer, so it was a no-brainer to leave it off my registry list. A wipes warmer, if you don’t know, is a plastic tub with a heating unit inside that you plug in and fill with baby wipes so that they constantly stay a little bit toasty. It’s been featured on such lists as:

10 Things You Don’t Need For Baby

Baby Items You Can Live Without

19 Things Your Baby Doesn’t Actually Need

12 Reasons You Don’t Need to Buy a Wipe Warmer

The Absolutely Most Useless Baby Products Ever

Parents Reveal The 16 “Most Essential” Baby Items They Wish They Hadn’t Purchased (with a bonus subhead: “Save your money for their education.”)

When I eventually gave birth to a healthy baby who didn’t mind diaper changes, I felt downright proud. Baby Talia was pretty chill in general. She only cried when hungry, and the tears stopped the second she ate. It was all transactional and predictable. Until it wasn’t.

A week into being alive, for no discernible reason, my daughter realized she hated everyone and everything, except her sole hobby of screaming bloody murder at all hours of the night. My husband Daniel and I descended into a chaotic hell-blur life of desperately trying to make her not miserable. I’d laid so much groundwork before she was born to prepare for this moment, but I was not ready for the emotional sucker-punch of having the person who I grew inside of my body be so unbelievably unhappy.

We were exhausted and had no family nearby to help us, but we managed to figure out most of it on our own. If I squished my boob like a stress ball and stuffed my areola into her mouth at just the right angle, Talia relaxed and drank. My husband Daniel could swaddle a blanket better than anyone I’ve seen to this day, which did wonders for helping the baby get to sleep.

But when she started hating her diaper changes, I hit a crossroad: Dare I buy the thing everyone told me I didn’t need? Absolutely not — Good Parents before me had already warned how shortsighted a plan this was. I considered trying second-time-mom sorcery I’d read about and microwaving the wipes for two intervals of five seconds on 80 percent. Ultimately, I felt the right call was to just deal with the screams until my daughter chilled out and adjusted to the routine.

Reader, Talia did not chill out or adjust to the routine. Whenever a cool wipe touched her tiny 10-day-old peach of a butt, she let out a primal scream. I was failing the test to see if I was naturally a Good Parent, and I felt especially bad about it because diaper changes were a designated daddy duty.

Daniel and I agreed weeks before Talia was born that I would be in charge of input (breast milk, my god so much breast milk) and he would be in charge of output. He got the idea from an expectant fathers class he went to, which was basically four hours of guys nervously asking questions like, “Does the diaper go under or over the clothes?” The teacher — whose sole but important qualification was that he was a father of three — spent the bulk of the class repeatedly telling his pupils that they should really just focus on being nice to the mother of their new baby. Daniel came home beaming with confidence and excitement, and didn’t miss a beat on prepping for our daughter’s arrival using his newfound skills.

Where I spent the final days of my pregnancy reading 13 Breast Feeding Hacks That Change The Game and baking cookies for the nurses at the hospital, Daniel set up the changing station. He artfully and ergonomically arranged the diapers, creams, and organic alcohol-free hand sanitizer for sensitive skin.

He took his responsibilities seriously, including holding up one of my legs as I gave birth to Talia. From that point on, he cuddled Talia for every burp, permanently wore a cloth on his shoulder to catch spit-up in record time, and changed her diaper with a song and a smile.

It was all very sweet! And all being ruined by her screams! To break the tension, I tried calling the changing area he once lovingly set up Daddy’s Torture Chamber. He did not like that. I tried to pivot to calling it Daddy’s Chamber of Health and Hygiene, which went over even worse and really just pushed him into a place of shame and despair.

Enough was enough. There was a way I could actually fix this — with the very thing I swore we would never need: a Munchkin Warm Glow Wipe Warmer, on sale for $13.99 on Amazon. When it arrived 48 hours later and we plugged it in, I was skeptical. I mentally devised a backup system where maybe he could plug in a small blow dryer close enough to the dresser to quickly heat the wipes before each change but not so close that the noise would scare her.

The moment of truth came shortly thereafter. Daniel followed his normal diaper change routine, and when he put a moderately warmed-up wipe on Talia’s butt … everything was totally fine.

Talia didn’t cry, she didn’t squirm, she couldn’t be bothered to move her attention away from the hand she was just discovering was attached to her body. It was almost as if ignoring my insecurities and instead choosing the path of throwing a little bit of money at a problem that had an easy solution was the most obvious choice to make. I would later learn to tap into this hard-earned logic when faced with the following:

Disaster: Bursting into tears hours later when I realized that the wipes warmer had betrayed us by omitting a light that bothered the baby while she tried to fall asleep.

Solution: Getting a roll of electrical tape ($8) and putting a big ugly piece over the green light to block its formidable beam.

Disaster: Suffering a midday migraine six weeks postpartum, followed by a debilitating panic attack when realizing that if I had to go to the hospital, how was she going to eat?

Solution: Ordering a ($22) can of formula. I refused to use it for another six months, but just knowing it was there helped.

Disaster: Complete isolation and constant anxiety for months that gradually led to losing all desire to do things and, finally, spending most of my time wondering why anyone would choose to be alive at all.

Solution: Paying a therapist who specializes in maternal mental health (a $35 copay per session), and finally going on Zoloft ($4 for a monthly supply with insurance) — which, by the way, finally kicked in after taking it daily for three weeks, and every day since has been like a warm, loving wipe to the brain.

In sum, I didn’t have to torture myself when I was struggling. I could, to some extent, just buy things. And it didn’t make me a Bad Parent to pay to fix my problems instead of figuring out a genius hack, but I was driving myself to misery by reading lists that existed to capitalize on my insecurities as a mother.

To be fair, it’s true that we didn’t evolve to need warm wipes on our butts or other borderline-frivolous baby accoutrements. We did, however, evolve to raise our children in communities with support. The village isn’t really around for many of us anymore, and on top of that, parents at best only have a few months (but more often a few weeks, or days, or hours) with newborn babies before we have to be away from them nine-plus hours a day to afford to take care of them in the first place. Buying stuff to solve hyper-specific problems is the closest thing some of us have to getting actual help, and frankly, we feel lucky — if not guilty — that we can afford to throw this kind of money at such problems.

Daniel and I have now been using the wipes warmer for over a year and a half. Talia is a full-blown toddler who is still mostly cool with her diaper changes. Our biggest antagonist these days is the mischief she makes when she’s bored — sometimes she’ll sit up on her changing table and play with the electrical tape that blocks the green light, trying to peel it off, fascinated by this gooey sticker that she’s not allowed to touch. Apparently there’s a niche market for light-blocking covers, and, you know what, I’m going to go ahead and add one to my shopping cart.

Rachel Christensen lives in Brooklyn with her daughter, husband, and cats. Her work has appeared in BuzzFeed, Self, Real Simple, and New York magazine.

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