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In polite company, never discuss… diapers

I wanted to write this blog about how diapers can be political. And by
political, I mean politically correct- that there are one or two diaper
choices that don’t “offend particular groups of people”- rather than
that which is trying to motivate progressive change. In general, I’ve
been losing faith in my decision to avoid disposables… but let me start
at the beginning.

It all started with my first naïve diaper blog and my misrepresentation of my sister who actually did use cloth for a year and a half with the first and 3 months with the second. I somehow missed this probably due to her lack of desire to make her nappy choice into a political statement. But I felt badly for my error because even pre-motherhood, I was aware that you can be judged by what you put on your baby’s bottom.

Madonna, the Gyllenhaals and organic cotton tie-ons 

Take the celebrity moms for example. There was all that about Madonna lecturing women in a London park for using plastic disposables when, naturally, she’s using cotton. Or Jake Gyllenhaal on a late night chat show proudly discussing his niece’s organic cotton tie-ons. They’re left-wing and they, or their siblings, are diaper folders (or their nannies are). 

Since my first diaper blog, I have found myself in conversations about potty training in one week (a friend just did it in less after keeping her half-naked two-year-old in the house for 3 days) and Fuzzi Bunz (an all-in-one cloth diaper) so I am aware that it’s not exactly PC to ask someone if they use paper or plastic. I did at a recent mom’s group and a fellow recent mom spoke for about 10 minutes about her son’s sensitive skin and cloth diaper rash before “confessing” to plastic. 

I just re-read my refreshingly-unconcerned-about-a-PC-image sister‘s email about making the switch from cloth to plastic and was surprised to find some of the same guilt.

“Jack was only in cloth for 3 months and then we were going to be traveling so much that summer that it didn’t make sense to keep the service. If I’m out and they poop (really the only time I change their diapers except in the morning and before bed) then I’m lugging around dirty diapers (and clothes- because usually it leaks out to the clothes- maybe I never did it right) in my purse and since we’re out most of the time when they poop I just opted for the easier option.”

“Also, I got tired of washing out the diaper cover and clothes every time they pooped. I feel a bit lazy about it but I also told myself that I’d rather make a difference in another way. Maybe I should do cloth again. Jack doesn’t poop that much right now. I probably should’ve done it this summer.”

I felt horrible for motivating all this self-reproach. I wasn’t even sure about my own decision to try a disposable alternative.

As I mentioned in my first blog, I had decided to go with neither cloth nor plastic and try the third way: flushables (gdiapers). And while they’re adorable to look at, free from elemental chlorine (ECF) and you feel better about not disposing of a bag full of plastic every couple days (in the interest of full disclosure, we did use plastic for the first month), not only do they contain, mixed with the wood pulp from sustainble forests, sodium polyacrylate (the super absorbent substance banned from use in tampons though still used in most plastic disposables), but I have begun to wonder if perhaps I am destroying just as many resources as the plastic-users with all the water I use to wash the inside liner, the outer liner (after bigger blowouts), and even her clothes (when all the liners leak).

The cd sorority 

One day last week when my daughter leaked through her all her layers onto my freshly-washed shirt, I got up from writing an article about air travel and, still freshly in shock from learning that a plane trip to Australia can eat up about half of your yearly carbon footprint, I started to feel silly about trying so hard to make the “right” diaper choice. I may care about the environment, but I also believe you need to pick your battles. 

Right about this time, one of my college friends (will call her H. to protect her professional image with this revealingly messy personal information) emailed me to let me know she’d seen my flushable diaper video and that it had motivated her- guilted her?- to try to return to cloth for her 2nd child.

“We cd’ed I., but D. rashes up so badly that we’ve found disposables work better, though it makes me insane, and I keep trying to go back to cloth.”

I was surprised by her reaction. H. was never one who had to wear her politics on her sleeve, so I wouldn’t expect them on her kids’ backsides. She was the friend at school who told things like they were, no matter how un-PC.

When someone wanted to start a non-exclusive sorority, in Groucho Marxian fashion, she commented, “Who will want to join?”. And during graduation week when I asked her if she was feeling sad about leaving her friends with her move home to California, she replied “You can always make new friends”.

AIO’s are “easy as pie”

When I started this blog (my first), I had been hoping to inspire change or, less loftily, more thought, but certainly not to incite guilt. Now here I was feeling inspired to send my husband shopping for plastics while a long-time friend was feeling guilted into delivering diaper rash to her offspring.

I was ready to start making my round of apologies, then I got another email from H. She had made the switch, but instead of talking about sacrifice, in her typical straightshooting style she answered my question about what, of the many types of cloth on the market now, she uses.

Now it turns out she’d “cd’d” (and was enough a member of that club to know the acroynm), and was a big enough fan that despite the fact that despite the high probability of rash for her youngest, she was ready to return to the flock. “After emailing you, I was inspired to go back to a bit more of cloth diapering for D.”

“We use AIO’s (all in ones), which are pretty easy to use. I’m always surprised by people who say its so hard to do. Our diapers have velcro, and just go straight in the washing machine. Easy as pie.”

Perhaps there is something to this AIO club, but her email made me rethink things a bit. Maybe for those who are doing it right, diapers are less political and more practical. If AIO’s are truly easier for some than those in the club are probably wasting less (water, time, etc).

And if cloth are a problem for others well than perhaps all that water and scrubbing time are being used in the wrong place. Rereading more of my sister’s email, it’s obvious she felt that way (and I second her decision).

“That is another nice thing about the plastic- I felt like I was changing diapers all day with the cloth. Probably about 10/day when they were first born b/c I didn’t want them to sit in wet, but with plastic I never change them unless they’re dirty because they absorb so well and I’d rather not waste. In general, in the morning, with a poop, before bed. (Today the morning and poop were at the same time so he only got 2 diapers today.)”

A mother’s right to choose 

AIO’s, prefolds, contours, flats, fitteds… choosing a cotton diaper these days is like shopping at Starbucks; whether you go with newborn organic cotton wraps or super-large dual-layer felted 100% lambswool covers, even just picking an outer layer involves choice. Expand that choice to include flushables or organic and biodegradable disposables and you begin to go down a slippery slope toward those like Nature Girl & Boy’s cornstarch-based compostables and Bambo’s bleach-free starch-based option certified with a Nordic Swan.

Given that every bottom, and every mom (or dad), is different, we are left with a choice. For my sister, the choice is 2-3 plastics versus 10 cloth and more dirty clothes. For H., it’s an easy-as-pie option with rash or plastic with guilt.

I’d love to borrow the slogan from another highly-politicized decision and end this post with, “In the end, it’s about a mother’s right to choose”. But that is a bit too saccharine and easy. 

That’s the problem really, so far alternatives to disposables are either more difficult, for you or your child (time and rashes), or too new for most moms to know enough about (AIO’s, flushables, compostables).

Now I’d like to end this post with “So in the end, there is nothing easy about diapers, poopy or not,” but then I’d be defeating the purpose of this blog… so I’ll end this without a clever line and just say those who are reading this post (and hopefully will continue to read future entries), I refuse to stop asking moms about their choice.