July 31, 2013

Misty Watson: Cloth diapers may be a solution

I ran home from Ingles crying and praying.

It was the moment I realized how much of our income was going to meet our daughter’s needs.

I was standing in the diaper aisle buying the first pack of not-on-sale-no-coupon Huggies. She was six and a half months old, and thanks to family members and me buying diapers every time we went to the grocery store or Target when I was pregnant, this was the first time I found myself in a pinch needing diapers.

I quickly did the math. At this rate, I would be spending something like $150 to $200 a month on diapers. Add that to my almost $400 a month on child care and of course high gas prices and rising food costs, the mortgage, a car payment, student loans and utilities. We were going in the hole, and fast. We were blowing through our savings, and I began to panic.

Something had to change. I just didn’t know what — not yet anyway. Every cheaper brand of diapers I tried leaked. We were already living on rice and pintos and peanut butter sandwiches. Plus I was exclusively breastfeeding so I didn’t have formula to worry about.

I wasn’t surprised on Monday to read about a study published in the journal Pediatrics about low-income families’ woes struggling to afford diapers. We’re not exactly low-income — though we’re not high-income either. We’re barely “comfortable” most weeks — and we were struggling.

My heart went out to these parents who were reporting they had left wet diapers on their babies in an attempt to make them last longer, had scraped dirty diapers out and placed them back on their child.

The study found that 30 percent of women interviewed experienced a time when they could not afford to buy diapers. And of those, 8 percent found themselves so desperate as to try and “stretch” the diapers they had. Government programs, such as food stamps and WIC (Women, Infants and Children), do not provide help with diapers.

I do not judge those mothers. I pray they find a solution as quickly as I did.

You don’t have to continue pouring money into big companies that produce chemical-filled, single-use diapers. There are other options.

My friend Amy Mezzell had her daughter three months after Sophie was born. She was determined to cloth diaper from the beginning for environmental reasons. I told her good for her, but there was no way I, or my gag reflex, would ever be able to handle it. I recycled, drove a gas-efficient vehicle, lived as energy-efficient as possible and was doing enough for the environment to justify using disposables.

But that was before I went home from the grocery store panicked and in tears that the cost of disposable diapers would leave me completely broke in a few short months. I messaged her online and told her I needed her help. I was thinking about cloth diapering to save money.

Amy was more than eager to help me make the transition. She showed me how easy it was, how my ideas about cloth diapering were archaic, and helped get me started. (I was also able to find a sitter for Sophie who preferred cloth diapers to disposable, but if I hadn’t I would have used cloth at home as much as possible and disposable at day care.)

I’m not sure why my thoughts on cloth diapers were so wrong. I pictured a square piece of fabric that had to be magically folded in a way to hold together with one large safety pin. That’s nothing like what I use.

There’s an array of cloth diapers out there ranging in price and involvement. There are programs and tutorials and nonprofit organizations that help parents use old T-shirts as diapers, that loan cloth diapers, and that help parents make the transition. There are businesses that clean the diapers for you.

So why are mothers battling with making disposable diapers last just one more hour? Why do we as a society think our only option is to buy disposable diapers? And why are cloth diapers rarely sold in stores?

I don’t have the answers.

You could argue that low-income families don’t have access to a washer and dryer often enough to wash cloth diapers, but I would respond that hand washing and line drying a cloth diaper is still a better option than risking infections from keeping your child in disposables just a little longer.

Besides, I’m sure some low-income families do have washers.

My only regret is that I didn’t start cloth diapering sooner. It has saved us hundreds of dollars, and it’s better for the environment and babies’ sensitive areas. Trust me when I say if you battle diaper rash, you should change to cloth.

Our society’s use of disposable diapers shows how convenience-driven and spoiled we are. I hope and pray families struggling to meet their child’s needs see there is another way that doesn’t risk causing infection. There was a time not too long ago that cloth was the only option anyway, and they didn’t have washers and dryers either.

Murray County native Misty Watson is a photographer and staff writer for The Daily Citizen. You can contact her at mistywatson@daltoncitizen.com, facebook.com/MistyWatsonDCN or on Twitter, @mistydwatson.

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