Modern Cloth Diapers: Liberating FamiliesMy family loves going out to eat at Cracker Barrel. It’s a cute, inexpensive little restaurant with amazing southernstyle food that has made it’s way up the coast even as far as southern New England, where my family lives. If you’ve never been to Cracker Barrel, let me describe the dining room for you in two words: vintage nostalgia. The walls and ceilings are covered with antique household items, photographs, and advertisements. Some of them are downright funny, advertising things we’d never think to use anymore like garters that actually function to keep socks from falling down. Some of them make me wish I lived in the early 1900s when prices were so low and life was simpler. Some of them make me really, really glad I live when I do. Looking at a display with a washboard, wash bucket, and some old soap, I couldn’t help but to think about the massive amount of time women used to have to spend on house chores. When you talk about liberating women and the feminist movement, all the marches and protests, all the ladies wearing shocking trousers and bloomers in public for the first time, all the speeches are well and good, but honestly, nothing liberated us quite like the washing machine did. You think flats and hand washing week is bad? Imagine an entire day once a week spent doing the back breaking work of scrubbing not just the diapers but all your family’s clothing one item at a time over a washboard. Follow that by the task of rinsing them, wringing them out (imagine the calluses that would build up!), and then laying them out to dry. That was usually followed by an inordinate amount of ironing—which was done with an iron heated in the fire before the advent of easily accessible electricity. It makes you really thankful for the fluff cycle in the dryer! No wonder it took an entire day to wash. Now imagine doing this with as many as 15 kids running around because you probably got married young and there weren’t many birth control options out there. It’s mind boggling to me the amount of work women had to do. As it is, I sometimes feel I can barely hold it together when trying to keep up with all the chores in my modern home.
THEN and NOWFast forward to the 1980s. Disposable diapers existed at this point, but my mother wasn’t using them because they were so expensive. For the first four of us, a diaper service truck came and took our dirty prefolds and exchanged them for a giant bag of clean ones. I still remember the awesome, fresh scent that filled the yard when the truck drove into our driveway and how I loved the new bag of soft, brilliant white diapers. My mom wasn’t such a fan of cloth diapers, though. The pins were awkward, the plastic pants were leaky and left red marks all over baby legs and backs, and she remembers rashes. Lots of them. My mom really wanted those disposable diapers. Finally, there was room in my family’s budget to buy them from week to week (that and diaper services were slowly fading into nonexistence), and she switched to them and never looked back. Disposable diapers liberated her, and they liberated our family. I don’t know why she never washed her own diapers, but I assume for the general female populace of America who were slaves to washing their diapers week by week, the advent of the disposable diaper was that much more liberating—less time spent on house chores, and more spent with the family. Soon, though, the popularity of disposable diapers gradually fazed cloth diapers out nearly all together until disposables were basically the only option, as cloth diapers were difficult to find at this point. By the time my parents had my sixth sibling, cloth diapers weren’t even an option anymore. I remember how tight the money was, and how much diapers took from our grocery budget every week.
When my husband and I found out we were pregnant, I switched to a part time job and we bought a house. This basically cut our income in half and doubled our spending, so money was tight. We both wanted to save money by doing cloth diapers and fully planned on taking advantage of Gerber prefolds and plastic pants, since that’s all we thought was available. I, being a halfdecent seamstress, wished there were some sort of waterproof fabric available so I could make diapers, but I didn’t really do the research to find out that there was. Then, my friend told me about her second hand stash of Fuzzi Bunz perfect size diapers that she and her husband used for their daughter. I looked them up online which lead to my finding other brands, and I was hooked. I literally felt liberated to discover that we wouldn’t have to devote part of our grocery budget to diapers from week to week.
Nowadays, with both mothers and fathers sharing the workload and responsibilities at home, having a choice to cloth diaper is not just liberating for women, it’s liberating for families. Often, in our pursuit of making life easier for ourselves, we actually bring things to a different level of difficult. Women joining the workforce has been very liberating, but unfortunately it has also led to a society where many women who would rather stay home can’t because their families can’t afford it. In the same way, the advent of the disposable diaper all but killed the cloth diaper industry. Thankfully, when modern cloth diapers came along, we got the choice again. Lots of families still choose disposables—most do, actually—but more and more people that I meet have discovered modern cloth diapers and are jumping on the bandwagon. Personally, I feel that cloth diapers have liberated our family. It was one more money saving step in allowing me to stay home part time because it was that much less money that needed to be earned from week to week. Besides, anything that offers you a choice where there previously was none is always a step toward freedom.