Motherhood has moved my capacity for guilt to a whole new level—and I was pretty advanced to begin with. The guilt-rants that occur in my brain are often totally illogical (due to sleep deprivation) but it’s amazing how powerful they can become. Here is a sample of a sudden guilt gush: “Why didn’t I bring mittens to the park? Now he’ll probably get frostbite and never be able to pursue his dream of professional fiddling!”
O.K. It doesn’t always get that bad, but it is hard to feel as though the entire well-being of another tiny soul rests on my shoulders. So when I throw the health of the planet into the mix, I can occasionally become overwhelmed. As I’m wheeling my son through the grocery store (and sensing an impending fit) it’s tough to make quick decisions about green packaging, organic products, and price—all while singing Itsy Bitsy Spider and planning a diaper change in a public restroom.
But if I don’t consider all that, my green guilt voice takes over. “Who cares if your son is two minutes away from a melt-down. You need to go back out to the car and get the fabric grocery bags. The polar bears are dying for God’s sake and a few disposable sacks might be the deciding factor!”
The good news is that the green guilt voice fades in comparison to my instinct to meet my son’s needs when he’s in distress. In this picture of Roscoe and me, you may be able to tell that it would be impossible for me to always put the planet’s needs above his own.
The biggest revelation for me in my green journey has been a simple phrase I gleaned from a fellow teacher: “progress not perfection.” Ahh.. What a relief! The permission to do the best I can under the circumstances and slowly take steps toward greener living.
As you may have gathered from our blogs, Rebecca is a deeper shade of green than I am. She’s a vegetarian, she’s incredibly resourceful (in a green Martha Stewart way), she doesn’t drive, and she makes my careful thriftiness look extravagant. Then there’s my friend Pamela, who has opted not to have children to limit impact on the planet, is a devout vegan, and rides her bike for almost all her transportation needs. Neither of these women piously tout their environmental agenda. In fact, their actions come from a deeper place than guilt.
The truth is, guilt never gets me anywhere. When I feel guilty about the need to exercise, I grab a cookie. But when I imagine how good it would feel to move my body, feel the wind on my skin, and breathe I can actually get myself out the door for a walk. The same goes for green motherhood. If I can keep my focus on how good it will feel to more fully integrate eco-friendly choices into my life, I can be at peace with my own slow, clumsy progress—and during grocery store melt-downs the polar bears are just going to have to make it without my fabric grocery bags. (but I will choose paper!)
One of the downsides—or upsides, depending on your perspective—of pregnancy is that it requires a brand new wardrobe. The average woman spends $1200 on maternity and nursing clothes. This seems like a lot for clothing you’ll wear just a month or two before you have to go up another size. If you hunt around for tips on saving money on maternity clothes, the two big ones you’ll see again and again are 1. Borrow maternity clothes from friends, and 2. Wear your husband’s clothes. The great thing about these tips is that they not only save you a bundle of cash—they’re also eco-friendly alternatives to shelling out over a grand on barely-worn garments.
I suppose it’s possible to follow tips #1 and 2, above, and spend next to nothing on your eco-friendly maternity clothes. Unfortunately, they did not work for me. The problem with tip #1 is that you need to have at least one friend who has been pregnant before who is willing to donate her clothes to you. I did not have such a friend. And even if I did, how could I guarantee that she would be the same size as I am, be pregnant during the same season as I was, and have the same taste in high fashion that I do?
I actually did try tip #2. At about seven months pregnant, I went to the dentist wearing one of my husband’s sweaters. The dental hygienist laughed when she saw me. “When I was pregnant I used to walk around in my husband’s clothes all the time, too!” she said. I decided cross-dressing pregnant woman was not the look I was going for—even at the dentist’s office.
So what are the other options for an eco-friendly maternity wardrobe? A quick Google search revealed an entry on Treehugger discussing just that. They recommended checking out Roundbelly, Blue Canoe, and Under the Nile for eco-friendly fashions. A reader vouched for Jessica Scott Ltd. as well. Of course, I wanted to be eco-friendly without spending a lot of money. In other words, my budget was far lower than the $1200 national average. I ended up finding some great deals on maternity wear at thrift stores and consignment shops. I found this ensemble for just one dollar at my local consignment shop:
The best part about this outfit is that it is all one piece. Normally you have to buy a shirt and pants. I also enjoy the pastel/floral look, which I believe is very slimming and classic. Where did I wear this lovely one-dollar jumpsuit? To a Halloween party, of course! I went as “Pregnant ‘80s Lady,” and it was quite a hit. To get my dollar’s worth, I later used this as a full-body smock while painting the baby’s nursery. It conveniently fit over my real clothes. Seriously, though, I did find some good stuff at resale shops. I bought this chiffon (or something) dress for $5.99 at Goodwill and wore it to my cousin’s black tie wedding in San Francisco:
In this photo I am not showing yet, at 16 weeks. I was five months pregnant at the wedding, and the dress still worked out, even though it wasn’t technically a maternity dress.
If tips #1 and 2 don’t work for you, either, and you don’t want to spring for brand new eco-fashions, and you’re having trouble cobbling a wardrobe together at thrift stores, I have just one more idea: Buy clothes on an as-need basis. This is what I wish I’d known before going crazy ordering maternity clothes in my first trimester. I bought several cute items I never wore because they never fit! You just don’t know how you’re going to expand. I ended up spending most of my pregnancy in a pair of non-maternity jeans I had in my closet, and one of my best maternity shirts wasn’t a maternity top at all, but a terry cloth swimsuit cover-up that I can now use (as an actually swim-suit cover-up) for years to come.
Hmmm. After reviewing my suggestions (wear your husband’s sweater to the dentist, don a floral jumpsuit for a party, spend $5.99 for a black tie wedding, and appear in public wearing terry cloth), I am beginning to think I may not be qualified to dispense sartorial advice.
Our 16-month-old notifies me that he’s teething by forcefully biting my finger or clamping down while breastfeeding (SO painful!). He also produces loads of saliva to be used for slimy kisses or casual drooling. On a late night trip to the local drug store in search of a teething solution, I found that the only teething items on the mainstream market are all different shapes, sizes and colors of plastic.
While I hated using plastic because of its impact on the planet, I didn’t initially know about the health concerns. If you haven’t yet heard the recent news reports, here’s the update in a nutshell: Certain plastics leach carcinogens and toxins that could affect your baby’s development and/or reproductive health. Ack! You say, my baby is chewing on a large hunk of plastic as I read this! Luckily, there is a wonderful website, www.tinyfootprint.com, that will send you a wallet-sized card to help you select safer plastic products for your child. The site also has excellent information on green cleaning, green baby showers, and many other topics.
Even when I was armed with my handy-dandy safer plastics guide, I just couldn’t bring myself to buy plastic teething rings for my son. So, I tried letting him chew on his wooden toys. Hmmm. After he actually bit a chunk out of his wooden airplane wing, I attempted other strategies. A little gizmo with a small mesh net you can fill with ice or cold fruit was helpful for awhile, but I still searched for the perfect object.
In a local baby boutique I discovered Earnest Efforts wooden teething rattles made from recycled Oregon woods. They’re hand-sanded to be ultra soft and coated in beeswax to be safe for babies. There’s no way Roscoe could gnaw a chunk out of these hardwood teethers. Priced at $15 each, they cost much more than the average teething ring but would also outlast a plastic toy.
Still, the question kept popping into my brain: “How did people deal with teething hundreds of years ago?” Roscoe helped me unveil the answer during one of our afternoon walks. He leaned over, picked up a smooth stone and bit down hard. I’m in no way a clean freak, but I couldn’t quite get comfy with Roscoe chewing on a large driveway rock. My neighbor helped me solve my dilemma by giving Roscoe a polished agate–large enough so that he couldn’t choke on it and flat enough that he could get his gums around it. It also happens to be far more aesthetically pleasing than a plastic teether.
Here is a picture of Roscoe playing with one of the other natural teething solutions we came up with. It’s green and quite economical!
Since then Roscoe has shown me that the crusty heels of French bread or rustic wheat are marvelous for aching gums. My daycare provider, an expert in green baby solutions for over 30 years, suggests soaking a washrag in chamomile tea and freezing it for a natural solution. When I cut up celery sticks and put them in a container full of water in the fridge, it works perfectly as a hand-held tool for my son. Also, all of Roscoe’s teething favorites come with a price tag of next to nothing. Apparently thriftiness is a biological trait.
As a notorious cheapskate, it may seem out of character for me to consider wool nursing pads that cost almost $20 a pair. While I was pregnant, I obsessed over this purchase. Nursing pads were something I’d never thought about at all pre-pregnancy. I hadn’t even considered their existence. After doing some reading, I came to the startling realization that lactating women leak. This frightened me.
I learned that there was a simple way to prevent soaking all my shirts in breast milk: wear nursing pads. I didn’t want to buy disposable nursing pads, and I heard cotton nursing pads soaked through too easily and resulted in a cold and clammy chest. Somehow I found www.danishwool.com, a website promoting wool nursing pads. Intriguingly, the website claimed you only really needed one or two pair, because wool has the magical ability to feel dry even when wet. According to the website, the lanolin in the wool “has an antibacterial effect and removes odors.” It goes on to say that “even if wool is wet with sweat, urine or breast-milk, the lanolin goes to work cleansing the wool—it need only be washed when the lanolin needs replenishing.”
As I am not one who needs to constantly clean and disinfect everything, this seemed okay to me. So I bought a pair. I thought I could try them out and order more if necessary. This might be a good strategy for other pregnant women as well, as you never know how leaky you are going to be. Some women nurse for a couple years and need breast pads the whole time. Others find they stop leaking after the first few weeks or months of breastfeeding.
My review: I would recommend LANAcare wool nursing pads, which are very soft and don’t feel wet, as promised. I’d often be surprised to take them out and find them soaked through, as I couldn’t feel the dampness at all. I would often run them under hot water and squeeze them out and let them dry overnight. This is when it would have been handy to have a second pair, but I was too cheap for that kind of practicality! I trusted the claims that the lanolin kept the pads sanitary and never had any problems with thrush or anything else. This product appealed to the environmentalist in me; it was nice to own just one pair of nursing pads instead of an entire box of disposable pads or several cotton pads that needed to be frequently washed and dried. The wool itself is dust mite/chemical/pesticide-free, according the website.
There were only two downsides to these pads, as far as I was concerned: the initial high price and the lumpiness. I had to wear them under a pretty thick bra. They would have been noticeable under a sheer or tight top. I spent a few months wearing looser and thicker clothing than usual. I wore these pads for about six months. At that point, I didn’t seem to need them anymore, even though I was still nursing. Despite these two detractions, I would not hesitate to recommend LANAcare nursing pads for the thrifty, eco-conscious breastfeeding mother.
Have you ever heard the “cloth diaper scare stories” before? When I was pregnant, these frightening tales worried my hormone-filled mind. I was so concerned about being “ready” and was sure that I was making my life far too difficult by using cloth. Most standard baby guides had no information on cloth diapering, except to recommend against it. I couldn’t seem to figure out all of the vocabulary associated with pre-folds, liners, G-diapers, and all the other products on the market. What if I invested lots of money in cloth diapers and then found it all to be just too hard?
Luckily, I had Rebecca as my guide to the cloth diaper world. I went with her to a resale shop and bought some covers, watched her expertly diaper her baby in less than twenty seconds, and realized that even I could easily manage cloth. A year and a half later, the truth is that cloth diapering isn’t even remotely a hardship. We toss in an extra load of laundry every few days and fold diapers while zoning out in the evenings. It has saved us hundreds of dollars and quite a bit of landfill space.
So, what do I wish I would have known when I heard the cloth diaper scare stories?
All poopy diapers (including disposables) must be dunked. It’s true! I had read this online but when I looked at the small print on a box of disposables I found the phrasing. It reads something like “soiled diapers should have soil removed before being disposed.” Disposable diaper manufacturers print the recommendation because there are concerns that human excrement shouldn’t be tossed into landfills. (It doesn’t make our groundwater quite as palatable).
You can use flushable diaper liners. When I felt overwhelmed about the possibility of being swamped by my baby’s many shades and fragrances of solid waste, it was good to know that I could use diaper liners–such as those by diaperaps. This thin sheet of papery material can be dumped directly into the toilet and flushed when poopy. As baby grows older and has fewer bowel movements, the wet liners can be washed and reused, so that you only have to throw away a few liners each day.
Breastfed babies have odorless poo. O.K. in all fairness, I can’t say it’s totally odorless, but it really doesn’t have a strong smell. (I promise I’m not making this up!) Although the color and texture are pretty horrid, newborn excrement of breastfed babies is really pretty easy on the nose. I found the first four to six months of cloth diapering to be pretty stink-free and tossed the diapers(poopy or otherwise) straight into the wash. As we hit solids and the poop began to truly reek, it also became more fully formed and could often be plunked into the toilet without any dunking.
This was mainstream once. Now 90% of parents use disposables, but generations ago cloth was the norm. When I was nervous about trying cloth I tried to remember that several decades ago everyone did just fine using cloth even without Velcro fasteners, high-efficiency washers and dryers, or access to Internet tips.
You have more choices than ever! At the time, I didn’t know about some of the newer options that combine the best of both worlds like G-diapers. They are considered a hybrid diaper because they come with a cloth cover and a flushable liner. If the liner is just wet with no solid waste, it’s safe to compost it!
Be open to change. I thought that I had to make a decision and stick to it, by gum! But really there is no reason that I couldn’t have changed at any point. My sister put four children through disposables before she switched to cloth with her fifth child. Although she has her hands full, she has found that her daughter potty trained much more quickly with cloth.
Although people still sometimes look at me with admiration or amazement when I say I’m using cloth, it’s really not that big of a deal. I still use disposables at night and when traveling, so I’m not perfect. But if someone wants find my use of cloth diapers heroic, who am I to correct them?
Both Joy and I are committed to cloth diapering our offspring. First of all, we’re cheap, and our cloth diapers are much cheaper than standard disposables. We were also under the impression that cloth diapers were better for the environment than disposables. Well, we looked into it. It turns out that a major diaper study completed by the British Government in 2005 determined that the environmental impact of both diaper systems is more or less equal. How could this be? In a nutshell, disposable diapers harm the planet during their production and disposal while cloth diapers take a toll on the environment by sapping up water and energy.
So there it is: washing reusable things is no better or worse than using something once and tossing it in a landfill. That means we need to expand the debate over diapers and begin questioning more of our household habits.
More to the “Washable vs. Disposable” Debate than Meets the Eye
Bath-size paper towels vs. plain old terry cloth towels Why does no one use disposable bath towels, saving all that water, detergent, and electricity? Think about it.
Paper plates vs. proper tableware. I used to frown upon the laziness and eco-unfriendliness of paper plate users. Perhaps I frowned too fast?
Paper clothes vs. washable clothes. No more laundry = big time-saver—and planet-saver.
Adult diapers vs. underwear, toilets, the sewer system, etc. Think of all the water we’d save (not to mention time)! We could render toilets and restrooms obsolete for further conservation of resources.
Does the thought disposable towels, flatware, dishes, and clothing make part of your tree-hugging head explode? Here’s the (sort of) good news: the British diaper study concluded that it’s up to the manufacturers of disposable diapers to reduce the impact of their products and up to each cloth diaper user to lessen the impact of washing and drying cloth diapers. I am now confident that I am practicing a much more energy-efficient and eco-conscious method of cloth diapering than the average Brit, using just 912 gallons of water each year to their 4,058. If I extend this conservation effort to other household habits, I can hope that washing and reusing is eco-friendlier (not to mention cheaper) than buying piles of paper plates and boxes of Depends undergarments. This thrifty environmentalist will keep on washing and reusing.
The memory of dropping my five-month-old son off at daycare for the first time on that winter morning still takes my breath away. As I walked the long gray hallway, I wasn’t sure my arms would be able to surrender him to anyone else. It felt as if handing this soft-cheeked child off to a stranger would be like cleaving off a part of my body.
When I was eight months pregnant and everything was hypothetical (including the love I’d feel for my newborn), it seemed like a perfectly logical arrangement. The daycare facility was close to my work, recommended by other families, and certified at all the right levels. I hadn’t even thought to ask whether they would be willing to use organic food or work with cloth diapers. (To find out why I later decided to use organic food, watch for my upcoming blog “Organic Baby Food on The Cheap”)
After my part time day was over, I rushed back to daycare, worried about my baby. The walk down the gray hall turned into a jog as I heard Roscoe screaming from several feet away. Over the next few weeks I kept hoping that he’d settle in, but every day I’d hear his scream the minute I got within ten feet of the front door. Every day I had to load up the diaper bag with disposables and breast milk that he kept refusing to drink from the bottle. Because of the daycare’s regulations, they threw out each bottle that I had painstakingly pumped every time Roscoe refused to drink.
What was I to do? Quit my job? Try to live as a family on one salary, give up our health insurance, and sell our house? We felt desperate for a solution and ready to give up daycare altogether. Finally, I had the good fortune to talk with an expert: another working mom. She shared that her daycare worked with cloth, provided organic meals, and was an enjoyable place for her child to visit. Was it possible that we could find a solution like that for our family?
On Valentines Day 2006 my husband and I fell in love again––this time with the daycare of our dreams. Kristie O’Brien, an in-home daycare provider with thirty years of experience, came to the door with a welcoming smile and a relaxed manner that instantly put us at ease. She showed us around her home, full of beautiful old books, a giant fish tank and a big back yard. She was willing to do cloth diapers and was open to whatever food we wanted to bring for Roscoe.
Within two days, Kristie had Roscoe drinking breast milk from a bottle, sleeping in a regular nap schedule, and happily enjoying his time at daycare. When I met her at the door to pick him up it was always like a brief appointment with a child development specialist. “He’s acting upset when he doesn’t see me which means he’s having trouble with object permanence. You may want to play more peek-a-boo with him.” Or “I think he’s teething on the top right. Try freezing washcloths soaked with chamomile tea and letting him bite on them.” What a difference from the first place where they always looked a little irritated that Roscoe screamed so much.
Here is what my clumsy trudge through the world of daycare taught me:
Start looking while pregnant. I should have been at least visiting a variety of daycares to get a feel for what I was looking for.
Have a list of questions ready to ask—and include green concerns. I felt totally defeated when I found that my daycare couldn’t work with cloth. Also, the food wasn’t organic and they weren’t thrilled about me bringing my own. I wish I would have seen the list of eco-healthy requirement on the Tiny Footprints website.
Check online. Tinyfootprints also has a page dedicated to listing eco-healthy daycares around the state of Oregon.
Seek out referrals. I didn’t start desperately asking friends until I was desperate. It would have been good to find out what other people were using for daycare from happy parents far in advance.
Go with your gut. When our first daycare kept assuring me that things would go better soon, my mind wanted to believe it. My gut, however, was in turmoil all the way there, all the way back, and at several points in between. When I talked to Kristie, on the other hand, I knew she loved her career and got a gut endorsement right from the start.
Now when we drop Roscoe off, he dives for Kristie’s arms. A few times he’s even had a hard time leaving when we pick him up. Also, her daycare is located very close to our home and is more reasonable than the previous one. Although it was a long slog to find a good solution, I’m so glad that we were willing to search out an option that fit for Roscoe and for us. What a relief!
This year, I solemnly resolve to switch from planet-killing conventional toilet paper to eco-friendly recycled toilet paper. Most of my green practices end up saving me money: buying secondhand, eating lower on the food chain, and conserving electricity. However, every once in a while my frugality and eco-consciousness conflict. I just couldn’t fathom spending extra money on something like toilet paper.
I already avoided buying almost all other paper products, so I figured I was doing enough. I had this nagging feeling, though, that my T.P. preferences needed to change. But why? Would buying recycled toilet paper make much of a difference? I learned that we wipe out virgin forests by supporting conventional brands. Read more about it here.
Conventional toilet papers also use chlorine dioxide, an environmental toxin. Sarah van Schagen wrote on grist.org, “If every household in the U.S. replaced just one roll of toilet paper with recycled paper, we’d save almost half a million trees.” That convinced me—it’s time for my old ways to change.
So how do I make the switch without blowing my budget? You could avoid using toilet paper altogether. Imagine the savings! Here are some toilet paper avoidance methods for the extremely dedicated Earth enthusiasts:
I put some serious thought into each method above and dismissed it for one reason or another. It looks like I’m going to have to loosen my purse strings and buy the more expensive, eco-friendlier toilet paper. After steeling myself for the inevitable bankruptcy I was sure would follow the great T.P. switch of ‘08, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could support the eco-friendly brands without risking financial ruin. My regular grocery store carries twelve double-rolls of Seventh Generation toilet paper, which is made from 100% recycled paper, for just $11. That amounts to 16.5 cents a square foot. The cheapest conventional T.P. costs 7.88 cents a square foot and the most expensive costs 28.44 cents. That puts the Seventh Generation product at below the average cost of conventional brands.
Not everyone is a believer in New Year’s resolutions. Some say they set an impossible standard, leading to crushed dreams and bitter disappointment. I’ve always enjoyed making a few attainable goals at the beginning of a new year. (I’ve also been good about “forgetting” the resolutions I don’t follow up on.) My year 2000 resolution to bring canvas bags into the grocery store is still going strong. Buying recycled toilet paper will turn out to be an even easier resolution—costing no extra time, no extra energy and just a few cents more at the grocery store.