Green Parenting: Of Love and Fear- Toxic Baby

Please don’t hate me for disturbing you. This is scary stuff, but please don’t stop reading. And please see the film Toxic Baby written and directed by Penelope Jagessar Chaffer when you have the chance because it’s clever, creative, relatable and real.

toxic baby

When I got the assignment to view this film, my first impulse was dread. Like all moms, I want to protect my children from a universe of unseen dangers. And by now, I know that every time I turn around, I can expect to be met with unwelcome news about my home and the risks to my precious babies: How will my world be rocked today?

I spent much of my oldest kid’s baby years terrified that she would melt if she had non-organic baby food or teethed on a toy from China. I called several company’s customer service numbers to ask if my child’s health had been compromised by my using a surface cleaner on “pourous” material or because I put bottle nipples in the dishwasher. As a mom with an infant–and as a mom who had once had obsessive compulsive disorder–it seemed that everything my baby touched, ate, crawled on or looked at posed a threat.

But you know all this too–remember how scary tofu is to a new mother? Even without a history of OCD, no parent escapes this terror–we simply cannot control everything in our baby’s world, and often we are not aware when we can or should make changes. That’s hard to live with.

Ms. Chaffer is a concerned mother (of an insanely gorgeous little star of the movie) too. An imaginative film maker, she uses both passions to show us around the world as she interviews scientists and physicians working on the effects of environmental, toxic chemicals on the body and in the womb.

Among other things, the film promises a “talking fetus…an army of marching penises…and three very large men in tiny pink speedos.” It delivers on entertainment, amusement and absurdity. There is a planet-sized amount of information about hormonal imbalances, endocrine disrupters, cancers–in other words, those evil phthalates. A montage played in my head recalling every unsafe ingredient in every bath wash, shampoo, lotion I’ve used on the kids; every lipstick, shadow, primer and fragrance I’ve spent too much money on. I felt sick thinking that our health might be at stake, our exposure avoidable–and how much I still love most of those products.

And if you, like me, are inclined to shut yourself in your room with the covers over your head to avoid all this bad news, think again. One of the greatest dangers to our families, we learn in Toxic Baby, is indoor air. It is filled with hydrocarbons, gasses, and formaldehyde. Among other things…

The filmmaker envisions the overall experience to be one of knowledge and hope. It is a challenge, acknowledged by Ms. Chaffer, to not allow the converse–the film is enlightening, but can seem, ultimately, terrifying.

The work clearly begins with those with the most at stake–parents. It is not be the politicians nor the corporations nor the laboratories that are spearheading change. Safe products, clean air and pollution-free babies cannot be available only to those with access to better choices. The work is of change and of radical consumer response–if we do not accept toxic products in our homes, they will stop making them.

Ms. Chaffer’s work is exhausting, physically painful (she endures a six-hour blood test to determine her own exposure to chemicals) and spurred on by her own heartbreak. It is timely and out of her love and fear. What else is there for a mom?

After the film, the audience had many questions for the experts: Ms. Chaffer; Dr. Shanna Swan, Vic-Chair of Research in the Department of Preventive Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine; Gigi Lee Chang, CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World; and Dominique Browning, co-founder of Moms Clean Air Force.

There is critical legislation in congress this year, and it needs support. There are companies willing to change their practices based on parents’ insistence. There are options for even the most frightened of us–I am choosing to use only children’s bath products made with organic ingredients from now on, and I am investigating natural cosmetics (once again) for myself. (I was lucky to be sitting with a makeup artist named Jessa Blade who uses only natural products; I am going to call her!)

You will learn about these, and how we can move positively forward in Toxic Baby. And you will walk out with information you can act upon–because that is the best we can hope for as parents.

The movie was screened at the gorgeous Crosby Street Hotel in New York City. I was given a lovely gift bag from Tata Harper Skincare for attending.

Wendy Bradford is a mama of three, wife, writer, spin instructor, ardent New Yorker and blogger at


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