I was born at the dawn of the ecology movement, the same year Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, a groundbreaking book about the devastating effects of DDT on birds and other animals. I was cloth diapered in big white diapers with pins and plastic pants, as were my brother and sister. My memory is imprinted with my mom dunking and swirling dirty diapers in the toilet.
Ewwww....She didn't use cloth diapers because she was eco-minded.
She used cloth because everyone used cloth diapers. Disposable diapers were just being developed. She used disposable when we went on a cross-country trip in 1965. She described them as bulky white Pampers that you pinned onto a baby. She vaguely recalled pulling plastic pants over them.
When I babysat in the late 70s, Pampers were the best-selling diaper - disposable or other wise. They were wood pulp-filled bulky diapers with an outer layer that was the same material they make plastic garbage bags out of. The fasteners were tape that had a removable paper backing. I would peel off the little tab and stick the diaper onto baby Jason or his sister Courtney. Sometimes, I would get the angle wrong and try to peel the tape off, ripping the plastic cover, ruining the diaper.
Fast forward to 1994 Diaper Utopia
I am pregnant and everyone uses disposables! You can buy big cases with hundreds of diapers at Costco. This is a new concept in 1994! They have some kind of really absorbent gel so they hold a lot of pee. They have a clothlike cover and they don't crinkle. Velcro tabs! They are trim fitting which means babies can walk easier and the diapers will take up less space in landfills. In addition, they are inventing all kinds of things like composting diapers and incinerating diapers to create electricity so that disposable diapers won't take over the earth.
And...My Mother-in-Law's unwanted gift
Fran, told me that when she was a new mother, someone had given her eight weeks of Diaper Service. She considered it to be the perfect gift! It was so much easier and much more sanitary (She's big on sanitizing.) than washing your own diapers! She was excited to find that they still had diaper services and had purchased eight weeks of diaper service for me and for my sister-in-law.
I was shocked and appalled. How quaint! Where on earth had she dug up this best- forgotten, shriveled relic of disgustingness? Who in their right mind would willingly dunk and swirl dirty diapers? Who would stab their thumbs and baby with diaper pins? And Crinkly Plastic Pants! Are you kidding me?
I was polite.
Because of the Bridal Shower "Microwave Gift" incident, I kept my mouth shut and made my husband talk to her and... she didn't listen.
About 6 weeks after my son was born, the phone rang. It was the Diaper Service. "Did you have your baby, yet?"
I've never been good with snappy comebacks and that day was no exception. "Um, yeah."
"That's great! Congratulations! Frances Bruschi has gifted you with eight weeks of diaper service.We normally deliver to Hicksville on Fridays. Does that work for you?"
"Um. Yeah, I guess so." I've never been very good with telling people "No." either.
"Great! We'll see you Friday!"
I felt kind of sick to my stomach.
On Friday, Diaper Dave arrived. He explained that my gift included 80 diapers per week, 6 diaper covers, (they were plain white Pro-Wraps with velcro tabs) a big white diaper pail and a nylon diaper pail liner. I would get 80 diapers delivered every week. All I had to do was put the nylon bag of dirty diapers out every Friday morning. He would pick them up and leave me with 80 more, bright white, sanitized, prefold diapers. He showed me how to diaper my son. It was easy enough.
He assured me there was no need for dunking and swirling.
I put the diapers in the nursery. I was curious. I took them out of the bag. They were very white! They didn't have any particular kind of smell. They smelled clean but I wouldn't say they smelled like soap, sunshine, chemicals or bleach, for example. I squished my son's fluffy butt. It was soft and hollow sounding. I stacked the diapers on the changing table and waited for the next diaper change.
I changed a few diapers, folding the prefold into the cover and pulling the velcro snugly around James' waist. They were a lot bulkier than disposables. They were also incredibly soft. They were almost as soft as his skin. And, by some amazing coincidence, they soaked up his pee and poop.
A few weeks went by. I liked using the cloth diapers! I was curious about washing them. So I washed some of the diapers myself. Amazingly, they came clean! I researched and mail-ordered prefolds and covers which arrived just before the diaper service ran out. I had the washing routine down tight. I washed every other day. I bought a new washing machine. I figured out how much money we were saving and bought a new dryer too.
I've always been an idealist, a perfectionist and a reformer.
I loved my new washer and dryer. It had a built in second rinse. Washing diapers was a breeze. Every other day, I put the dirty diapers in the washer, set the washer for rinse and spin, reset the machine to hot wash/double rinse, added soap and sat back while the machine did the dirty work. I moved them to the dryer, set it for 65 minutes on hot. I stacked them up: 30 white diapers. I didn't have to go to Costco anymore. I held my nose high as I walked past the perfumed disposables in King Kullen and CVS.
Once Upon A Child had a tiny store near me.
One day, I saw a garbage bag full of Bumkins All-In-One diapers for $100 - I couldn't believe my luck! There were 4 sizes in the bag and enough in each size for a full stash. I bought them, took them home and washed them. I ditched the prefolds, certain that I had found my true love.
But you know that's not how cloth diaper stashes work
My friend, Donna, was showing me her latest purchase: Kushies All in Ones. Unlike my sometimes leaky, nylon-shelled Bumkins, Kushies had PVC covers and more layers of flannel. They had cute prints and colors. I had diaper envy. Of course, I quickly realized that I needed Kushies to make my life easier. I bought a 5 pack. AT LAST, I could stop buying diapers- I had enough diapers to diaper the next two or three babies.
Except, next pregnancy, I had twins. I told all Gift Givers to buy me Kushies and received 2 matched sets of 36 small diapers and 36 large diapers. Now that I really was done buying diapers, I went off the deep end with cloth diaper reform.
I move from Fan to Zealot
The twins never wore disposable diapers after the meconium poop passed. Using All-In-One diapers was just easier than buying disposable diapers for an enthusiastic mother on a mission. I bought 40 washcloths to use instead of wipes. Of course, we used cloth when we traveled. When the washer went on the fritz, I packed up the kids and went to the laundromat for our daily adventure. I did feel weird until I saw a guy washing his oil-covered mechanics clothes - at least my dirt was organic in nature and didn't stick to the inside of the washer!
Trash hadn't been such a big deal when we lived in a town with trash pick-up. Now, we lived in the country and took our trash to the transfer station. With three little kids, it was hard to take the garbage weekly. Most of our garbage was "clean" garbage - empty packages and wrappers. We composted food and rinsed cans and meat trays. I imagined the awful stench of two or three week-old disposable diapers sitting in the shed...
I appreciated my washer and dryer and I used them for years. The washer lasted 12 years and the dryer 16 years. (I line dry a lot in nice weather.) Even though I didn't pay for the Kushies, I still saved thousands of dollars by cloth diapering three babies. Each baby goes through about 8000 diapers. I don't have to tell you how much they cost!
I climb onto my "Free and Clear" Soapbox
We don't really think about trash much because our garbage goes AWAY, somewhere. It doesn't sit in our backyard, unsightly, stinking up the place. When thrown away, 8000 diapers is about 30 large black plastic bags of non-compostable plastics, chemicals and bio-waste. When my children were done with diapers, the prefolds went under the sink for spills, dusting and cleaning. The Kushies fit into one white tall kitchen garbage bag and went to a friend who used them for her next two children.
In the 15 years since my twins have potty trained, cloth diapers have evolved even more. There really is a cloth diaper for every baby and every lifestyle. While I lean towards one extreme, there is value in part-time cloth diapering, too. I share this story for your consideration and invite you to think about the many aspects of reusable diapers and how they might fit into your life.
Every April, we host a Great Cloth Diaper Change. Please join us. We provide the cloth diapers. Even if you only change into one cloth diaper, that is one diaper less in our trash stream.