Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Diaper Diaries

Here's a picture of Thor. I think she's wearing a disposable diaper in this shot.

About a month ago we went to our friends’ house for dinner. They have a beautiful little girl about the same age as Thor. We were excited to see them again, meet their daughter and eat their food, but we had ulterior motives. They’re way ahead of us on the waste reduction curve and they were going to give us the “straight poop” on the whole cloth-diapering thing. Floyd and I had been diapering Thor with disposables since we met her. Yes, they were the Seventh Generation, chlorine-free ones, but still...I absolutely hated tossing those into our can every week. Hated it.

So they showed us how to do it. They showed us how to fold the Chinese tri-fold, they showed us which covers they used (Bummis – cost effective AND effective) and they showed us their fancy-schmancy diaper pail and smell reduction system. The whole diapering system was in their daughter’s room (with adjoining bath). I didn’t see one poop stain or smell anything nasty. At all. They even opened their pail and I practically stuck my nose IN it to smell anything that reminded me of human waste. It was a very clean and efficient operation. It seemed so simple we thought even WE could do it.

The very next day, with my new-found knowledge and boundless optimism I went to the sweet little diaper depot (which are almost as ubiquitous as Starbucks around here) and I purchased what I could to get us started. Cloth diapering does cost more initially, and I wasn’t ready to commit, so I just bought what we needed to get us started on a trial basis. I bought the fancy-schmancy, stink-tight diaper pail, one Bummi wrap (they were out of stock), one Nikki wrap (because they didn’t have any more Bummis), a ½ dozen bleached diapers (which was a woefully inadequate amount), and BacOut (which controls smell and stains in a non-toxic and eco-friendly manner, qualifying its inventors for Saint status). Thor and I literally skipped out of the store, both very very confident in our new diapering strategy.

Alas, our confidence exceeded our expectations and things just went downhill from there. For the first several days, we were changing Thor’s pants every time we changed her diaper. We were having leaks every single time. Fortunately, I found a few more covers at home (hand-me-downs from a friend) and I tracked down some more tri-folds so that we could persevere. We tried different folds (at the advice of another cloth-diapering friend) and we made sure everything was all tucked into the cover. Yet our home was starting to smell like pee. Oftentimes after just ½ hour I’d notice leakage and when I went to change her, discovered the diaper wadded up between her legs. The urine was obviously either soaking through the diaper cover at that stage, or leaking out around the legs. I considered withholding liquids...

I went back to the original diaper store and pleaded my case with her. What could we be doing wrong? She went over the same, original folds and asked lots of questions about which covers might be worse, better, etc. (we had no data on that). She did point out that we had only washed the unbleached diapers once before we started using them, so it’s probable they weren’t effective yet (unbleached diapers need to be washed SEVERAL times before they’re effective – something to do with waxes in the weave). I told her about the wadding up between the legs and she said that shouldn’t happen. She mentioned that Thor might be a “heavy wetter” (?) and that some kids were just like that. She then suggested I change her more often (But every ½ hour?? Come on.). When I left the store this time, I felt much less optimistic and actually kind of downtrodden. There was no skipping.

How come everybody made it look and sound so darn easy? It was so important to us to make this work, but we were spending too much time on clothes changes (I started thinking of Thor as our own little Vanna Wh!te) and laundry, my hands were drying up from washing the covers all day every day and, importantly, our home (and our daughter) were beginning to acquire the faint smell of urine. So. Not. cool. But our only option was to give up, and when I thought about that I thought about disposables. And when I thought about disposables I thought about how bad I had felt when I rolled our garbage can to the curb, loaded to the gills with plump excrement dumplings....then about how good it felt to glide our now lightweight, mostly empty can to the curb. I suppose it was this thought that kept us going.

So we washed the diapers again...and again...and again, because that’s what you do, and we started using doublers every single time, rather than just at nap and bedtimes. We change her MUCH more frequently, but certainly not every ½ hour. We have learned that our daughter probably is a heavy wetter (whatever that means) and that the wadding-up between her legs appears unavoidable (even with frequent changing). We’ve come to expect leaks at least once or twice a day, but we rejoice when we don’t have to change her pants. There have only been one or two occasions where we didn’t have to wash the cover with a changing...so we wash lots of covers. I think the diapers have gotten better (more absorbent) with more washings and we’ve jettisoned a couple of the hand-me-down covers that probably weren’t effective any longer. And, most importantly, the improvements to the system have eliminated any lingering odors in my home AND on my daughter (I really didn’t want her to be the one that smells like pee).

The upshot is that we’re still learning, but we’re making it work. It’s important to us. Surprisingly important actually. I told a friend that I was cloth-diapering (I won’t lie, it was as a lead-up to bitching about it) and before I could say more she just looked at me and asked, “Why?” I quickly responded with, “Because it’s the right thing to do.” I don’t mean to be smug about it, but I do think it’s the right thing to do. I care about the environment and I try to make an effort in every other aspect of my life to reduce waste...so why not this one? And it does make me feel pretty darn good when I can see (and feel) the difference that I’m making when I roll that can out to the curb every week.

Our lives have certainly changed with cloth diapers. I would say that, with cloth diapers, I flush the toilet about 2-3x more per day than I would otherwise (I only need to flush when it’s a poopy diaper and, because our daughter is nicknamed “The Refrigerator”, I’ll let you imagine what those poops are like) and I do about 2-3 extra loads of laundry per week. It takes a bit more time per diaper change, but usually not much (poopy ones require more time). Obviously, I’ve never been so intimate with human waste before but you get over it. I just snap on my big, yellow gloves when I have to take the plunge. Other than that, nothing’s changed. Oh, there is the whole feeling smug thing, but that dissipates pretty quickly when I pull on my big, yellow gloves...