From its very first moment, motherhood was more than I ever expected it to be: more love, more excitement, more adventures—and more work. And while it’s fair to say it’s the best job I’ll ever have, no one can really prepare you for the intensity of life with a newborn.
Good intentions, take one
I always thought I’d be the kind of mom who would cloth diaper her children—that is, until I had a baby. (Whoa, life-changing reality check!)
After my first daughter was born a bit earlier than we anticipated, it was breastfeeding that consumed most of our days and nights. I never thought twice about buying an economy size box of diapers and calling it a day—especially after I went back to work part time when she was 6 weeks old.
I intended to investigate cloth diapers, but didn’t think I had the time to put it into practice. We started a backyard compost pile that year, so I hoped (at least in theory) that made up for the enormous landfill contribution our disposable diapers were making.
Good intentions, take two
When I was pregnant with my second daughter, I felt like a pro. I had a couple years of experience under my belt, knew more moms, and it doesn’t hurt that I work at a parenting magazine. I was still jealous of my cloth-diapering mom friends; I knew I wanted to do it this time around.
I needed a simple beginner’s guide to cloth diapers. Really, really simple. I didn’t know the lingo: prefolds, diaper covers and all-in-one diaper systems; diaper fasteners vs. pins vs. elastic; dry pail vs. wet pail method; washing techniques vs. diaper services … it was too much for my pregnant brain to decipher, so I did what any self-respecting magazine editor does and assigned a freelancer to write a story on cloth diapering 101. (“Got green diapers?” May 2009)
When my daughter, Eden, was a few days old, I realized I still had more questions than answers. There’s a whole terrain of info out there and I wasn’t sure where to start or end. I was committed to get it right, but I was also a self-professed cloth diaper dummy.
Needless to say, my habit of over-thinking things has never made anything easier. I had to dive right in. Almost immediately, I did what I always do when I don’t know what to do—I called my mom. She said it was simpler when I was a baby: an actual diaper made of cloth, safety pins and a rubber pant. I had no idea which diapers needed what and now I had to buy rubber pants?
I got together my cloth diaper stash, consisting of hand-me-downs with elastic legs, cloth and rubber pants and a gift of some all-in-ones.
Eden may be a chubby baby, but her little bum was just too little for the diapers. She was leaking everywhere, every hour at least! I figured she must need more layers to absorb; I added them. Eventually, the cloth diaper conglomerate had increased the visual size of her tush four-fold.
My friends and neighbors laughed, but I reminded myself: This is for the earth (not to mention the help to our pocketbooks) and, hopefully, it gets easier.
By the end of the day, Eden and I had both gone through 8 to 10 wardrobe changes. I was feeling generally hopeless, but put her in a disposable diaper overnight and vowed to try again tomorrow.
After 24 hours of experimentation, I had some creative ideas to make this cloth diaper process functional for me. I thought I had the hang of the all-in-ones (I mean, they are all in one, after all!), but I wanted to know the pros and cons of everything I had, which ended up being a lot of different types and styles of diapers.
For starters, I was glad our washer and dryer are on the first floor. I easily got in the habit of doing a small load of diapers every night, sometimes every other.
My idea of going green isn’t just less waste, but less “stuff” in general. So instead of buying an official cloth diaper pail, which I had no time to shop for anyway, I re-purposed an old wastebasket and kept an air freshener near it.
It was still trial and error, and my husband was oblivious to all of it. He was aware of my quest for cloth diaper nirvana, but he just shrugged his shoulders when I asked how we could put this into practice.
On day two, it was time for my husband to contribute to the learning curve. I put on a new style of cloth diaper and asked him to hold Eden while I did a few chores around the house. An hour later, I asked him how the diaper was working.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, is she leak-free?” I asked.
“What? Sure, yeah,” he casually replied.
“Great!!” I yelled. “Trust me, you’d know if she was leaking.”
He then lifted her up quickly, only to reveal a large yellow/brown/green stain on his shirt, the blanket and his pants.
Note to self: Those particular diapers require a plastic cover.
Day 5: Gone green!
After a week, I was feeling pretty solid about my cloth abilities. My favorite is still the all-in-one diaper systems, but I mastered the traditional cloth diapers, rubber pant and all. And everything in between. In fact, it’s all pretty easy now. Three months later, it’s just one more part of our routine.
The kids have pitched in, too. They love to coordinate Eden’s outfits with the fun colors of her diapers. And they even fight over who gets to toss the dirty diaper in the bucket. (Score!)
So there you have it, our formula for going green: four types of diapers, a few dozen outfits over four days, and a lot of laundry, eye rolls and, most of all, patience.
Rebecca Christman is an award-winning columnist and editor of metroparent. She can be reached at
email@example.com. Read Rebecca’s blog on MilwaukeeMoms.com.
This story originally appeared in the 2011-2012 New Baby edition from metroparent magazine.