Fri 13 Jun 2008
no angst today. we’re all out. i made 24 weeks today, safely past yesterday’s milestone of having had my water break at 23w6d the first time around, necessitating airlift and uncovering all sorts of previously unanticipated complications…
so today i’m just breathing, grateful, good.
and in celebration, i’m doing laundry. because i really AM that much of a party animal, yep. and because it’s a sunny, windy day, and Dave put up a clothesline a few weeks ago, and the ten foot walk to the back deck from the washing machine is a fine form of exercise for those who have no musculature left. and because this bedrest thing has meant there’s been a slight, erm, build-up of laundry in our home of late and now that i’m allowed to do a little, i feel it’s incumbent upon me to save the hamper from utterly self-destructing under its own weight.
but also because i want to do a little public service announcement. i think there’s probably little so misunderstood in the entire parent-sphere (blog or real-life) as cloth diapers. and having just laundered some, i’d like to counter some of the rumours.
i keep hearing about how they’re hard, how they create a lot of work. i can see the reasons behind those assumptions – my own mother, who owned a total of twelve cloth prefolds during my entire pre-potty-trained existence and used ’em, day in and day out, with a wringer washer, believes Pampers are some kind of miracle of Jesus. i get that. i’m not above disposables – we use them sometimes when we’re travelling, and they have their place in my canon of Reasons i’m Happy it’s Not 1970. but what i want to lay out here, just in case there’s anybody out there waffling on the fence about diapering options…cloth is actually no big deal. not a lot of work, not a lot of gross, not a lot of waste water. seriously. it does seem to end up sounding like a lot of work nearly every single time i hear about it in media or on discussion boards or at baby showers, unless the person speaking is some kind of earth mother goddess type…but i call bullshit babyshit on that. it’s a myth that keeps us comfortable, societally, keeps us consuming, keeps us thinking we’ve got it good. but it’s a myth that makes a mountain out of the molehill of work actually involved in cloth diapering, and a myth that ends up perpetuating a fair amount of, um…waste.
this week, as public radio helped me while away the tedium of collating the final report for the project i’ve worked on all year, there was a show on about some Canadian dude who’s gone to England to recycle that nation’s disposable diapers, because a) Canadians aren’t nearly so interested in the whole recycling thing and b) England only has nine years max of landfill available for nappies before, well, babies are just going to have to stop pooping or people are going to have to change their practices. sometimes i suspect all this space we have around us here in North America doesn’t exactly channel our better angels. in any case, the companion piece to Mr. Diaper Recycler was a panel of three moms from across this country discussing the diapering choices they’d made. and while all were making efforts to be greenish in various aspects of their lives, the discourse around diapers was pretty familiar. the mom using cloth was a serious eco-hippie, kudos to her, who’s also used elimination communication with her kids and had them totally trained and probably growing patchouli and playing guitar by the age of two. the mom who used disposables had intended otherwise during pregnancy but got overwhelmed by a colicky baby and now “just doesn’t think about it and doesn’t feel guilty about it.” and the mom using compostable g-diapers mentioned the waste of water resources that go into cloth in any case.
of all of them, the one i identified most with personally was b…the overwhelmed one. i’m not the natural mama sort, not by nature. when it became clear that i had a child intent on crying and not sleeping for the first three and a half months of his little life, i struggled. i was not a pretty sight. and we’d been sent home from the NICU with a crapload of preemie and newborn Pampers, so i used ’em and into the landfill they went, and i felt a wee bit nasty about that but seriously, when you’re not sleeping, eco-footprints can go screw themselves, especially if you don’t see an equally simple option at hand. when the Pampers ran out, O was about two months old and coming on ten pounds and starting to look like he might not swim in the prefolds and wraps i’d bought…so i tried them. and they leaked, and it was a bit of a disaster and i very gravely contemplated throwing the whole venture into the landfill just out of spite.
it was mostly the fact that i had a friend who’d used cloth successfully that kept me going. this wasn’t just some crazy thing that nobody i knew actually did. i had someone to ask, to learn from. and so just in case any of you might need that person in order to give cloth a try, assuming you even you want to, here’s me uh…being that person? or volunteering to try, at least.
there are a few things i needed in order to be able to use cloth as much as i have and as long. most important was a washer (and preferably a dryer too, though i try to line/drip dry a few loads a week to save energy). had that washer not been conveniently located between my kitchen and my back deck, it would have been a more daunting workload, for sure. the second most important, particularly once i went back to work, was a sitter willing to try cloth. i’ve been lucky on both counts. but mostly what i needed was just to work out a system that i could keep simple.
here’s what we use:
1) we used prefolds and wraps for the first six months or so because i’d been given a bunch of prefolds and i’m cheapish. i never did find great wraps but all of them starting working better and leaking less once i started washing with Arm & Hammer green, because we have hard water here and “free”-type detergents just add to the build-up on diapers.
2) around six months, i retired the prefolds and ordered pocket diapers: eight Fuzzibunz mediums and six Happy Heinies from an online Canadian company. pocket diapers are brightly coloured covers which you stuff an insert into – we got some terry “Thirsties” inserts and some hemp. Thirsties have been better inserts for us (O is a heavy wetter), though a double-stuff with one of each work great at night. all of them work best if they go in the dryer at least every second or third wash. Oscar is still wearing the Fuzzibunz mediums – when he turned a year i ordered twelve size larges as well, as he was beginning to outgrow the the Happy Heinies. all but one of our stash of twenty Fuzzibunz have held up beautifully, despite hard and constant use. they’re a little bulky, kind of like having two disposables on at once, but are cut slim between the legs unlike some cloth options i’ve seen, so they’ve never impacted his walking or comfort, just give him a cute little bubble butt that is occasionally hard to get those pesky toddler skinny-jeans over.
3) Kushies makes biodegradable liners, which i put in most of Oscar’s diapers (especially if a poop is due). when i change him, the liner and its contents just flush away. if there’s anything runny that’s gone beyond the liner’s borders, i swish the whole diaper in the toilet while flushing. two flushes max per poopy diaper, if that. my hands seldomly get poop on them, but if they do it’s no more than they would in an infant blow-out. i wash them after, or use Purell.
4) i have a green $5 plastic bucket with a snap-on lid in my bathroom. wet and dirty diapers go in there. i do not soak them. i just rinse the bucket every second wash or so with water and a bit of baby shampoo, in the tub. if i remember.
5) we also have a purple “wet bag” (also ordered online, about $12) which goes to the sitter with Oscar everyday, along with 4 or 5 pre-stuffed diapers. the stuffing and packing in his daycare bag takes max 4 minutes – his sitter sends home the wet bag (which is fabulous and holds all smell in despite having been washed nearly daily for the past 14 months) in his daycare bag, and it gets opened and the contents dumped directly in the washer or in the diaper bucket, if we’re not washing that night.
the system that works for us, basically, is that most nights all the day’s diapers (4-6, depending) and O’s pajamas from the night before and any underwear or socks or tshirts lying around the house, plus any sheets or towels or baby facecloths that need washing, all get dumped in the washer with the wet bag. all together. i do one single large load of wash on hot, with a cold rinse, a small amount of detergent, and (at least once a week) a shot of vinegar. when Oscar was smaller his clothes got washed in there too, as they were frequently rather bodily-fluid-stained themselves. mine too. clothes and diapers come out clean and sweet-smelling. they go in the dryer or get hung to dry. the wet bag hangs out for the night and goes back in the daycare bag in the morning. we do this wash four or five times a week, and end up with clean socks and underwear and whatever else in the process. particularly when Oscar was smaller and making a mess of clothes all the time, it was literally no more wash than i would otherwise have been doing anyway. and there’s never a stink build-up, because we don’t leave them lying around for more than 36 hours or so.
i dunno. it’s taken me four times longer to write it all down than it would to do it. and maybe it’s not very convincing…or maybe it’s just not for you in any case, and that’s your business. but just, please…don’t believe it the next time you hear cloth diapers are so hard, or that they’re just as bad as disposables because of the water usage (unless, perhaps, you live in drought-stricken Australia and never actually do laundry). the truth is, our society just hasn’t done a very good job of supporting people in learning to use them. even with me on bedrest, they’ve added up to perhaps a half-hour of work per week for Dave & i over the last few months. we don’t spend money on diapers (or haven’t since i got the last twelve on Ebay for $160 thirteen months ago). we never run out. we’re not even doing a lot of wash that we wouldn’t otherwise be doing.
just sayin’. there’s a learning curve, for sure. but if anybody wants some assvice or some support trying to get there, you are welcome to pick my brain until the cows come home. because i do think that financially and ecologically they’re a worthwhile option, and one i’d love to see more families trying rather than being intimidated out of it before they ever even get started.