Almost 18 years ago now, I was staring down the fact that I was going to be a new mother. Truth? I was terrified.
Yes, I was excited as well. But the biggest emotion? The heaviest one? The one that kept me awake at night? Sheer terror.
See, we were poor.
We weren’t just “oh, we can’t afford cable” poor. We were “dang, the phone’s been cut off again” poor. We were paying-a-bit-at-a-time-to-keep-the-power-on poor. We were I’ll-go-visit-my-grandparents-they’ll-give-us-food-and-gas-money poor.
I had absolutely no business being pregnant. Plenty of people told me so, and quite a few more kept their mouths shut and just thought it (thank you, kind souls). But I was. We rented a teeny little patio home and furnished it with our college hand-me-downs. Someone’s couch, someone else’s chair, a pressboard coffee table that wobbled just a bit when you sat beside it. We had no appliances beyond a fridge and a water heater, both of which were crammed into a little square kitchen already busting with a table for four salvaged from my in-law’s attic. To finance our baby’s nursery, we held a yard sale and off-loaded anything and everything we could. My husband– 24, baby-faced, and good with words– talked people into buying just one more chipped glass at a quarter so that we’d be that much closer to giving our son or daughter a place to sleep and something to wear.
My job in those months of waiting for our baby was to find as many ways as possible to cut corners and save a dime. I scoured the library’s collection of Tightwad Gazettes, my own copy of “What to Expect,” and anything else that seemed like I might be able to glean an idea or two. Through those sources, I was able to identify what our biggest costs were going to be in the first few years: food for the baby’s belly, clothes for his or her body, and diapers for the little bum.
It was through our poverty that I actually decided to breastfeed. Funny though it sounds now, nearly two decades later, this wasn’t a given, and I felt a certain sense of embarrassment for not really having a choice. Free food was free food; turning down milk that cost us nothing to make in exchange for a formula bill we couldn’t afford seemed well, stupid. (Later on, I’d make my own cereals, and learn how easy it was to keep a supply of homemade, inexpensive baby food on hand.)
Clothes really took care of themselves. Family and friends were delighted to dress our baby girl in some of the cutest outfits you’ve ever seen– well into her second and even third year. Thank you, Lord!
All that left was the diapering. I briefly considered cloth, mostly because I had read about it. The feedback from everyone I knew– my husband, even my Mamaw– was overwhelmingly negative. Cloth diapers were considered the inferior species, and besides … there’s a huge start-up cost in all of the diapers, or you’ve got to pay for a weekly service, and, gee, you don’t even own a washing machine.
So I walked away from the idea. Sadly, that meant that a huge chunk of our budget went towards diapers. Even with my mom occasionally gifting us a bag of Luvs when she’d visit, we scraped and scratched to provide two years of diapers for our daughter. Some of the most painful moments I have ever spent in a grocery store feature me standing in front of the clearance cart at our local Food Lion, trying to figure out how to make $20 cover a week’s worth of food, a pack of toilet paper, and a bag of no-name brand diapers that had the side split open from a careless stocker. Every diaper change, I felt the money slipping from my hands. But I honestly had no idea what else to do.
Eighteen years later, here I sit with another newborn. I’m once again in a tight financial situation, but this time, friends have stepped in and filled in the gaps without even being told the needs, in many cases. I’m also a whole lot savvier when it comes to running a tight ship, money-wise. Frankly, many of the choices I made thinking I was saving money back then, I’d never even consider today because I’ve learned better ways to skin that cat. One of those choices would be cloth diapering.
Even without the approximately $400 up front we’re told is necessary to buy enough cloth to get you through two day’s without washing? Even without a washer? Even without a dryer?
Yes, even without it.
I believe wholeheartedly that one of the best ways to save money–especially if you’re a parent skirting the poverty line– is to use cloth diapers. And I believe anyone can do it.
To that end, I joined this year’s Flats and Handwashing Challenge.
I’m not a big fan of public displays to bring attention to causes. (Full disclosure: I did not participate in the ice bucket challenge.) I just don’t see many of those efforts doing much to help people beyond the immediate flash in the pan. But this challenge is different. It’s about education. It’s about finding a practical solution to a very real problem. Kim at Dirty Diaper Laundry says it best:
The Flats and Handwashing Challenge is an event inspired by families experience dire economic circumstances who have had to reuse disposable diapers. This is a dangerous and unhealthy practice but families without the funds or resources have so few choices on how to diaper their babies. Federal and State programs offer no free diapers or coupons for diapers and food banks or crisis centers can only help with some of the needs when the stock is there. Families who are un the suburbs or rural parts of the country often have no access to pantries or diaper banks. In order for cloth diapers to work for families in these circumstances they needed to be a. cheaper or free and b. wash and dry easily. The solution was flats! Flat diapers was a single layer of fabric making them the perfect diaper for families who may need to handwash or who are using coin operated facilities. They’re also easy to find locally and can be made from t-shirts. Since the biggest hurdle for some families would be laundry access, a camp-style bucket washer was made for washing at home.
Starting today, little Jude will be diapered this week in exclusively “old-fashioned” flats that I hand wash, then hang to dry. I’ll be chronicling the journey daily, using the Dirty Diaper Laundry prompts, and linking back to add to the data base of information collected to encourage families without the means to buy a whole closet full of pocket diapers–or even a pack of Huggies– some direction, encouragement, and maybe even inspiration as they do their best to make ends meet.
If you feel led this week, consider donating to Giving Diapers, Giving Hope, a group that provides diapers for low-income families, so they can concentrate on other areas of parenting. If not, consider coming back every day to follow our little adventure. I can promise pics of newborn goodness and fluffy little bottoms. Does it get any better than that?