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Confessions of a Cloth-Diaper Drop-Out

By Erin Barrette Goodman

clothdiaper.jpgWhen I was pregnant with my first child, I reluctantly registered at Babies R Us even though I was absolutely sure there was nothing beyond a car seat that I needed there. What I wanted, and tried not-so-subtly to direct generous gift-givers towards were handmade toys, hand-knit clothes, slings, cloth diapers and beautiful wool covers to go over cloth diapers.

I remember wandering the aisles of Babies R Us with the little registry gun when a helpful employee started conversing with me.

“Are you going with a Diaper Genie or a Diaper Champ?”

“Ummm…neither. I’m going to use cloth.”

“Oh wow. Good luck.”

I felt so strongly about cloth diapers that I wrote them into my birth plan. Seriously.

No eye drops. No Hep B shot. And we will be bringing our own cloth diapers and prefer to do all diapering ourselves.

My husband, who wasn’t totally on board with cloth diapering but decided early on to just go with the flow of the wife’s crazy parenting ideas, completely took charge of diapering in the early days, schlepping dozens of dirty diapers home to launder and reappearing in our hospital room with nicely fluffed clean ones hours later.

And for a long time I truly loved everything about using cloth diapers–the comments from strangers, choosing outfits to best show off my baby’s cute cloth bottom, seeing them hanging on the line in my backyard, knitting wool diaper covers. Everything.

I even went so far as to call ahead before visiting my aunt in Vermont to be sure that we would be able to launder our cloth diapers at her house, or if not, to find out if there was a laundry mat nearby that we could use. Because I just couldn’t fathom traveling without our beloved cloth.

It went on like this for quite some time, me and my love for my cloth, until somewhere in the middle of my second pregnancy, when despite flirting with the idea of using the potty, my toddler was still very much using diapers. And removing the deposits made in these diapers, no longer the sweet-smelling breast-milk poops of the early months, nearly put this pregnant mama over the edge.

It was then that the miracle known as Pull-ups entered my world.

A couple of months later when our son was born, my passion for cloth was reawakened. But this time, with nearly two years of parenting under my belt, I decided to ease up on my standards a bit and aim for full-time cloth use, but have some Seventh Generation disposables on hand, just in case.

With two kids in diapers, two frequent night-wakers, two nurslings, a mama who was still clinging to her TV-free ideals, and a two-year-old who decided she was no longer going to nap, just in case became whatever it takes to just get through the day.

And after a short while, chasing down the chlorine-free Seventh Generation diapers gave way to picking up whatever giant-box-o-diapers was on sale at the grocery store.

Eventually, as our daughter graduated to the potty and gave up nursing, and I finally surrendered to the TV, life got a little more manageable and our cloth diapers came back into service. A little. When we were at home or nearby to home.

But my passion for them never fully returned. And the disposables never left.

So there you have it. I am a natural birthing, co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, birth-network-founding, Birkenstock-wearing, organic-garden-growing, yoga-teaching, crunchy-hippie mama, who has read all about the perils of disposable diapers for the babies wearing them and the Earth that later absorbs them.

And I am also a cloth diaper drop-out.

Erin Barrette Goodman is a writer, yoga teacher and mother of two in Southern Rhode Island. She is the founder of the Rhode Island Birth Network, which promotes empowered decision-making during the childbearing years. Goodman’s essay, “The Greatest Gift” about her decision to return to work part-time, will be published next month in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Power Moms. She blogs at exhale. return to center.

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  • I’m at the contemplating dropping out stage. Toddler is almost 2 and I’m pregnant again. I’ve had such trouble with hyperemesis gravidarum (monster morning sickness and nausea) that I’ve been struggling to deal with nappies once, let alone having to have a huge bucket of them to wash at the end of the day. We’ve saved a lot of money by using them with baby one but I never get caught up with my laundry and I’m just plain tired. It was about £200 for the system plus £25 for the reusable wipes. I think the bag of disposable nappies are going to be replaced. Even if I didn’t have the sickness problem I think I’d be at the giving up point, something just has to give. I’ve got too much to do in my day and toddler nappies are so much worse than small baby ones.

  • Thank you! We decided to give up the cloth because using the laundromat was costing us TWICE what disposables would cost a month and running us ragged. I am so sad to fail at this, but without our own washer/dryer it was just not worth it… I realized I was paying not only more money, but so much of my time and energy. Thanks for making me feel less alone 🙂

  • I know the feeling, it s very easy to want to give up. I have baby number 2 coming and I’m not going to lie…I too am less than thrilled about re-entering the world of diapering…especially cloth diapers. So we’ll see!

  • I used cloth on my first two and not my third. When my 4th came along 7 years later I was even more “green” than before. I was impressed with how improved the wraps were. I washed the dipaers in my machine in a hot water wash. I am raising my daughter in the Montessori philosophy she was out of diapers at 21 months. I saved over $1500 and lightened the landfill.

  • Thanks for the article, Erin. I chuckled at the part of you having cloth diapers written into your birth plan and the ambition to have cloth diapers at the hospital. You may view yoursefl as a dropout — but you are my hero!
    I too tried the cloth, same reasons…and gave it up after about two weeks. I was so stressed out! I felt a failure.
    I am currently pregnant with my third and plan on using a mixture of choices this time. Biodegradable disposabke in the beginning (1 penny more than Pampers) then switching to the g diapers as she gets older. There are so many feel-good choices out there…so much information. I am ready to take this on guilt-free with gusto!
    When my second child came along, I couldn;t take the expense, nor mental anguish (read: guilt) of having them both in diapers at the same time switched to the Motherease and Kushies with the disposable liners (compostable if it’s just pee). It was more expensive upfront…but I found them to be wonderful. My first child was potty trained by the time he was two (not bragging — we lived in Ca, so it’s an easy thing to do with good weather and naked kids. RI is a lot harder.). The second…well..by 3…yet my guilt was assuaged a bit.
    A friend sent me a split bottom pair of pants from China…I’m up for it…but I might not bring that to the playground…might freak some people out a bit.

  • I offer cloth diapering advice…I can get rid of the stink…the only way to properly cloth diaper is to deal with fecal matter…at all times…it’s do-able, though I appreciate the honesty of the article.

  • Why not go all the way – diaper free? Just when our kids finished with diapers, I remember seeing an article in the NY Times all about diapers, early potty training, and “elimination communication”.

    Thanks to the Internet, you can still read it:

    The article states that 50% of the children in the world are potty trained by age 1. Made me wonder if we really could have saved thousands of dollars and avoided adding to landfills. My wife questioned exactly how we would have fit the experience of early potty training into our lives. I wondered what our house would smell like, since other dads and I compared the ability of some diaper changes to induce a gag reflex and changing a diaper genie with a leak was like transporting hazardous waste.

    Maybe that 50% of the world mentioned in the article still has only one working parent or an extended family to constantly care for their children.

    In reference to the article… I’d love to know if any dads out there are enjoying the elimination communication with their infants. I can’t think it’s really as much of a bonding experience as breast feeding.

    And has anyone tried split bottom pants…in public? I’m thinking you’d have to pack a second pair for those inaccurate efforts on the toilet.

  • I loved this article! I too am a cloth dropout. My love for cloth actually started with my second son, but faded when my husband took a job in RI and left us behind in NY Monday-Friday for 6 months. I was a single mama with 2 kids and I just couldn’t keep up.

  • we all do what we can do at that moment, that hour, that day…. I always remember what one of my first LLL leaders said. “Baseball players get paid millions of dollars to hit one ball out of three, so if we are hitting one ball out of three (which I say we all are working really hard and doing way better statistically), we are doing fabulously! We do the best we can for ourselves, our children, and our world, one moment at a time…..
    Erin, I have to say, I loved this piece. Thanks for sharing it!

  • “This kind of stuff seems to me a process of giving up on using our kids to express ourselves or to make a statement through them.”

    interesting thought that i think i will be mulling over for a while katy.

    i think for me the tricky part is that i do believe in my heart that many of my parenting ideals (cloth diapers for example, i have many more) are “right” — as in best for the child, best for the planet, great for the small business that make them.

    but i was killing myself trying to make them work for *me* long after it was clear that it just wasn’t working. same with the no-tv thing…and we’re going to grown and preserve all our own food…and a dozen other ways that what is “right” was wrong for my reality at the time (home alone full time with two little ones).

  • Wow! I love this piece. It got me thinking…giving up cloth diapers was easy for me–I was quick to convince it was OK to abandon them after two months…but my big thing has been JUICE BOXES! I had been taking an idiotic pride in not using disposable packaging in my kids’ lunches & snacks–as if I could impress the other children at the lunch table? Who knows. I mean, I still don’t LIKE disposable packaging, but I’ve finally stopped investing so much of my identity in the avoidance of it. AND I bought an 8 pack of grape Juicy Juice and I plan to use it!

    This kind of stuff seems to me a process of giving up on using our kids to express ourselves or to make a statement through them.

    I don’t know if that’s what you think too…but I love how you said what you said.

  • I, too, must thank you for bringing up the “shades of gray” idea in parenting.

    I am also a cloth-diaper drop-out, but I only lasted a few months with my first child (and I still feel a pang of guilt every time I pull out a disposable for my 1 year old). I am comforted by reminding myself of all the things I do each day to keep them healthy, safe, and happy.

  • Thank you Erin for adding gray into our lives.

    Although I am well past the issue choosing diapers for my children, I think it is so important for mothers to feel okay with their choices on how they choose to raise their children. We need to do what is right for our kids but not at the expense of us.

    I know I was quite sleep deprived when my twins were born and anemic. I chose to breastfeed my boys primarily but supplement them with a formula bottle right before I went to bed. I needed that one 3 hour sleep block each night to cope with nursing every 45 minutes for my own health and sanity. Sometimes it is the little things we need to do to help us get through the day. Some days are hard enough, we do not need the extra guilt of thinking or being told we are doing the “wrong” thing on top of it.

    Thank you Erin for your honesty. This helps us all.

  • congratulations sara. sending lots of peaceful birthing thoughts to you!!

    i think a big part of my challenge has been black and white thinking. i need to be all this just forget the whole thing.

    i was recently talking to a good friend who has been happily cloth-diapering for years with very little fuss or stress.

    i told her that one of my big problems was smell. (i could never seem to really get my diapers clean. and every time i tried to look online to figure out how to get rid of the stink, the natural solutions were just way too complicated for my already overloaded life.)

    moving a little closer, and in a whisper voice she said, “every few loads, i toss a little splash of bleach.”

    honestly it had never occurred to me. that you could use a minimal amount of bleach (which i long ago labeled as evil/wrong/bad) to make cloth diapering more user-friendly.

    but there i was…a non-bleach using cloth-diaper drop-out, sitting with a happily cloth-diapering-tiny-bit-of-bleach-user…feeling myself soften and open up to new ways of thinking.

  • Thank you Erin for this honesty. As I am now due for my third child any day now I have been contemplating the cloth once again. I too am an earth loving, holistic healer, crunchy-hippie mama who is attempting to right by my mother (the earth) and my self. These choices are never easy. You just opened a door for my seeming inadequacies and let me know I am enough, just as is. Thank you for this gift. It comes at the perfect time for me.