Having a child has been a punch in the face for my conscience.
It’s not as though I didn’t care about eco issues before, they just weren’t in the foreground of my life. We always recycled, we nodded eagerly in agreement after watching ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, and most importantly we regularly felt bad about ourselves, which is all the eco movement really wants (right?).
Unfortunately for me I’m intelligent and self-aware enough to have felt like a colossal cockwomble when I justified my lifestyle by spouting such drool as, “I can’t make any difference on my own,” and, “a lot of eco solutions don’t end up being more environmentally friendly anyway,” sentiments that make up vast portions of the complacent liberal’s handbook (which I’m fairly sure I wrote). I could deal with feeling like an idiot though, just about, especially as Big T was in it with me; we seemed to have a silent agreement to boost each other’s egos without ever having to lift a finger to make things better. Awesome, aren’t we?
But then that pesky child of mine was born and thrust the world into a bright, blackhead-revealing fluorescent light. His shiny newborn eyes looked at me as if to say, “So what are you gonna do about this? How are you going to keep me safe?” PND answered for me at first with an “OMG I’m too inadequate to even look at this child never mind protect him!” but once that passed I started to take those questions seriously, and that brought to the surface the awkward knot of complacency that had been nestled in my gut.
I started by meekly vocalising my disquiet to Big T and was taken aback by how exactly my feelings were mirrored in him. We initially agreed to try cutting back on how much waste we were producing in our home and to be more vigilant with recycling. We also committed to shorter showers and to turn off lights and appliances that weren’t in use. I returned to using a menstrual cup and invested in a selection of cloth sanitary pads (which are far prettier and not as gross as you might imagine). So far so good. In theory.
Little T’s nappy bin was the Al Gore in the room. Back then we used a ‘nappy disposal system’ which is a glorified bucket that seals used nappies directly in a polythene sack so there’s no need to put each individual nappy downstairs with the rest of the household waste. It’s a great idea for those so inclined, keeps the smell out and only needs emptying every other day, which is as easy as tying the top of the sack and carrying it outside. Wrapping up and storing away each nappy one by one was great, and the bin itself was easy to ignore… Until it needed emptying. Every few days Big T would take out the bag and clearly visible inside was the result of a mere two days of our decision to use disposable nappies. It was full and ugly and bigger than the baby who’d produced it. It was a strong visual (though thankfully not a strong smell) that set the real changes in motion.
We’d talked idly about reusable nappies during my pregnancy and shortly after Little T’s birth, but each time ignorance and laziness brought us back to the same conclusion – that environmentally it would make no difference. I mean, sure there’d be less going to landfill, but what about all that washing and drying? SO MUCH WASHING AND DRYING, because we’d have to wash at 1500°c and tumble for hours every day, and that makes a thousand nappies in landfill seem kind of better, and if not better then at least quieter. Wait a second though – a thousand nappies? Fuck.
And that was the clincher. We worked out that by that point we’d used roughly 1100 nappies since Little T’s birth, and that didn’t account for nappies put on badly, nappies peed on before they’d been used, poosplosions, and those gnawed by a curious cat. Our disposal bin took 15 or so nappies before it needed emptying and it horrified me – trying to imagine 74 of those bulging sacks of used disposables turned my stomach, Big T’s too.
So out of love for our planet, love for our son, and love for ourselves, we ditched the disposables.
And now I’ll ditch some myths.
- Cloth nappies are better for the environment – as long as they’re managed properly. I wash Little T’s Milovia pockets at 40°c and I have only ever line dried them. The damage caused by disposable nappies is in the production and disposal, factors we have little control over. With cloth, we can take steps to improve the impact our nappies have, and that can only be a good thing.
- The carbon footprint of cloth is also vastly improved by reusing them on subsequent children or buying preloved (the former we plan to do, and the latter we’ve done with Little T’s nighttime bamboozles)
- Cloth nappies are not leaky and unreliable. Little T has leaked once and only slightly, the result of a badly placed liner which is down entirely to human error (Big T’s, I might add). Modern reusable nappies fit well and comfortably, don’t slip down, and aren’t easily pulled off by curious little hands. They also look super cute. 😀
- They don’t smell. Seriously. In our early cloth days we were regularly caught off guard during routine changes by the enormous gifts our son had left for us in his pants because the fabric contains the smell so well. Almost too well. Disposables also have that acrid chemical smell that assaults your nostrils on contact with pee. Gah. No such problem with cloth!
- Reusable nappies don’t cause nappy rash. The main contributing factor to nappy rash is frequency of changes. It’s true that cloth nappies generally need to be changed more often than disposables which may superficially support this myth, but why would you leave your baby in a soaked nappy, cloth or not? I confess that I’m not equipped to talk much on this topic because Little T has only ever had minor redness, but I know plenty of people who swear by cloth to keep their babies’ skin healthy by keeping it free from the chemicals in disposables.
- Cloth nappies don’t restrict babies’ movement and cause developmental delays. Admittedly I only have anecdotal evidence to support this (I’m a mum, not a scientist), but from what I’ve seen in my own son and in friends’ children, what nappies you use really has no bearing on how early a child will crawl or walk. Little T started crawling before he was in cloth full time so I can’t claim that victory, but he isn’t quite 9 months old and has been happily standing up and cruising along furniture for a while now, and if anything his nappies provide more cushioning when he loses his balance and lands on his backside. His nighttime nappy is bulkier because it needs to last longer, but he doesn’t run marathons in it, he sleeps! There are many factors that affect physical development, not least the temperament of each child. Little T is advanced for his age in some ways but not in others. He doesn’t wave for example, and his manual dexterity isn’t as refined as some other babies his age. That’s fine. Time is a great equaliser! What doesn’t matter is what type of material catches his poo. Funny that.
- Lastly, the laundry. I can’t lie, sometimes the last thing I want to do when I’ve peeled my eyelids open at 7am is drag a bucket full of piss downstairs and load the machine. But really it’s no more hassle than washing sheets or towels or clothes. Shove ’em in, add a bit of detergent, and BOOM, done. And as with all things baby-related, what feels impossible at first you quickly adapt to and find time for. The warm feeling I get seeing Little T’s cute fluffy bottom, a washing line full of beautiful prints, and knowing I’m doing something positive for the planet is worth every grumpy trek to the kitchen.
The next step for us is cloth wipes and I can’t tell you how excited I am to be done with regular baby wipes! After that, kitchen roll. And then maybe one day the dreaded FAMILY CLOTH (don’t worry dear friends and family, we’ll still keep regular loo roll for guests).
For me, it’s about making choices that make you feel good about yourself. The ecological facts are inarguable but ultimately if what works for your family is doing one laundry load a week and using disposable nappies then you should do that. We changed our lifestyle because we didn’t feel good about ourselves and while it’s true that I believe wholeheartedly in our reasons for living sustainably, what matters most to me day-to-day is looking at my son and seeing him healthy and happy. The rest is just the sprinkles on top.