Monday, April 18, 2016

The Dirt on Diapers

There's no going around needing innumerable diapers when the little one arrives and the dirt is not only in the diaper - it will end sooner or later, for most people, well, in the dirt. The majority of people use conventional, disposable diapers. They're (supposedly) cheaper, less messy and make your kid more comfortable, leading to more sleep. We did not use these with our son (except of course for emergency situations when we ran out - beggars can't be choosers) but opted for cotton and then a mix of cotton/compostable, which we still use (to the chagrin of my parents, who proudly proclaim that they toilet trained me by 9 months - indeed, my first memory is being on the potty and watching my grandma pour water from one cup to another recursively- more (a lot more!) on toilet training coming up).

Disposable non-compostable diapers gave us both the shivers. First, we were both concerned that making our kid comfortable and allowing for more sleep was code for a bundle of chemicals that somehow allow your kid to sleep although they may be covered in their own waste. Not exactly the sound sleep we have in mind for our kid. Amongst the plethora of chemicals that lie on your baby's bottom in disposable diapers, quite possibly being absorbed into the skin are dioxin, a known carcinogen and sodium polyacrylate, which allows it to absorb the pee and may be linked to toxic shock syndrome as well as decreased fertility in boys. Third, the environmental consequences seemed too grave. The EPA estimates that 20 billion disposable diapers are dumped into landfills in the United States annually amounting to about 3.5 million tonnes of toxic waste (which then contaminates our groundwater). They are the third largest consumer item in landfill. Diapers release methane into the air, thus increasing our greenhouse gas emissions and take about 500 years to decompose. Then there's the amount of trees (more than 200,000 each year), oil (more than 3.4 billion gallons) and water that goes into making the diapers.

So we felt pretty good about our cotton choice in the beginning. Although we decided it was worth the extra pennies and we've certainly spent more than a few pennies on diapers in the past two years, we're not sure if it's even that much more than most people spend on conventional diapers. We've also been fortunate enough to live in areas (NYC then SF) that have cotton and compostable services and so never had to make the tough decision our parents and grandparents (rather our mothers and grandmothers) did when they diligently washed our cotton diapers. It's easy for me to say, never going through it, that I would have stuck to my guns, but considering how long it takes me to do the laundry now (when the family is running out underwear, it's shamefully true), I shouldn't be that quick to sound my trumpet (in fact, particularly as my belly has grown, it's hubby that scrambles up and down the 4 flights and does the loads).

Unfortunately, however, cotton is not the environment's best friend. First, it takes a tonne of water to make cotton (hemp on the other hand requires much less - why don't we have hemp diapers? I would buy that). Second, in an effort to increase cotton yields, a lot of cotton is grown with pesticides. Third, reusable diapers need a lot of washing, which begs the question - how much water do we use in washing our cotton diapers? If you use a service, you may want to ask them whether they have low-water use methods in their washing - some do, some don't. You may also wish to ask what soaps they are using in the washing process - is it a natural soap or one full of chemicals? How do they dry? Think of all the energy that goes in to that - I doubt commercial diapering services have enough land (if they had the sun) to simply hang them all out to dry. Finally, there's the greenhouse gas emissions from the transport of the diapers and the cleaning service.

Additionally, albeit in the beginning we are sure we would use cotton 100% of the time,  this is not entirely practical. If you are going on a drive, you don't want your kid sitting in a wet cotton diaper until you can figure out where to park and change him/her. You can't travel with cotton diapers and wipes (we can't forget about wipes!) - or at least - travel would be extremely difficult because you would have to wash and dry the diapers wherever you go. So very early on we used mostly cotton diapers and supplemented with compostable diapers at home. When we travelled, we opted for "natural" brands, hoping they were somehow better for our kid and the environment but we knew that if the locality we were in did not have a specific diaper compostable service, it didn't matter so much what we used, in terms of environmental impact. Unfortunately, you can't just compost your diapers in the backyard or even put it in your compost for the municipality to pick up as most - like ours in SF - do not accept fecal matter (Toronto on the other hand does - how fantastic is that?). This is because there is very little nitrogen in the diapers, they are mostly carbon and require very high heat to compost. So the only option may be to resort to a diaper service.

Be wary of brands stating they are natural, biodegradable and compostable and charging the extra buck for it. Some commercial cotton brands still use chemicals to absorb so take a look at the ingredients carefully and some use dyes to achieve that "green" look (I would say there's a misleading advertising/deceptive businesses claim in both cases there). While I am loathe to discredit or promote any brands on this blog, since we are getting down and dirty here and since we've tried a bunch, we use Bambo Nature diapers and wipes and have a diaper composting service come and pick them up weekly. They are comfortable for our son but not so much that we never know when he has peed and have the best environmental record we've found - for instance, they have the least chemicals, are compostable, are made only from trees from sustainable forests. While we don't have tonnes of time to research this and as we're not too trusting of companies, we are largely confirming our choice by the fact that Bambo Nature is the only diaper company that has the Eco-Swan label. This label is licensed when a company that has applied for it is granted it by the Nordic Ecolabelling Board (established in 1989 by the Nordic Council of Ministers) and the company obtains this license for sale of the items in Nordic countries, whether it is a Nordic company or not if it meets the established criteria.

Unfortunately, you won't be able to avoid leaving a footprint with diapers - merely limit it. The only way to eliminate the diaper footprint is to toilet train. This unfortunately doesn't eliminate the fecal waste effect as our septic systems still have environmental consequences, albeit far less than all forms of diapering. In the meantime, whether you opt for cotton, compostable or conventional - don't forget to plonk as much as you can. This at least puts all the plonked poop into the septic system rather than our landfills.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Open Season

Pregnant women's bodies appear to be accepted as social property and pregnant women are daily accosted by comments about their appearance and size and ambushed with unsolicited advice. I discovered this early on in my first pregnancy when I was told by concerned people to, for instance, have a natural birth at home/take the epidural as soon as possible, read as many books on pregnancy and parenthood as I could/eschew all literature and focus inward etc etc  Apart from contradictory unsolicited advice from good samaritans all around, concerned waiters would always "double check" whether I really asked for a one shot latte or a decaf, kindly confirming that they had decaf if I should so prefer it. If I ordered a glass of wine, intending to sip some throughout my long dinner, admonishing eyebrows were raised. Hardly a day went by when people would say "oh, you must be seven months by now!" (when I was 4) or "you haven't popped yet?" (when I wasn't even in the third trimester) or my favourite "weren't you due weeks ago?" - everything a pregnant woman wants to hear. This becomes even more unbearable post-partum, when you've evicted your tenant but they've left the accommodation a mess, with a belly protruding out where a once flat stomach you were so vain about used to be... vanity of vanities saith the preacher, vanity... I believe one day I actually cried when I was asked how many months I was, my son barely three months on my lap.

This time round, it's the SAMO with a twist. My favourite comment this time round is "wow, you are sure bigger than last time!" - which makes me feel wonderful. This is the sequel from my first when it was simply "boy, you are big!" - at least a logical succession, I suppose. People also love to comment on the spacing of my kids, noting how quickly we had a second. Some people wink and say they're "Irish twins" (technically, they are not). Others point out the positive/negative aspects of the small time difference (21 months). My favourite were comments from my tailor. She had boys 5 years apart. "I liked it that way" she continued, "mainly, because we separated their college payment - you, why you will be paying two college tuitions at the same time!" she laughed. I'm sure she meant it in the nicest way possible, but my heart beat through a few summersaults. I hadn't even thought of college - let alone two payments at the same time! Hey, you in there, any chance we could take a rain check??

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Big Bribe

I started bribing my kid with kiddie crack (Elmo). My husband and I are not proponents of television, but we do cave sometimes - for instance, when I am alone with him and I need to take a shower and there is no one around I need him to not kill himself, when he is sick and we give him whatever he wants as we crumble in his feverish moaning presence and lately, when no manner of cajoling or stern talk appears to be working and we resort to bribes. At 24 weeks, I am finding it difficult to carry the belly and the baby up 4 flights of stairs (the romance of the walk up has certainly worn off). My son can physically go up the stairs in a part walk/crawl, but he would rather mama carry him. Most of the time, after successive cajoling, including throwing my keys - which he loves to play with - up each flight of stairs for him to scurry to- we do fine. However, there are instances, such as last week, that he refuses to go up. Usually I pick him up, but recently I’ve been fearing that carrying a 27 lb toddler up 4 flights of stairs is probably not the best idea for my younger son. So I instinctively turned to bribing. I told him if he went all the way up alone, he would be awarded with 10 minutes of Elmo. That worked a charm. In looking at renewable energy increases, we really need to take a closer peek at the toddler reaction to Elmo - there has to be a way we can harness that for the greater good. Admittedly, he only did 3 1/2 but that was good enough. After having promised him Elmo and him performing his due, I knew I had abide by our bargain. I don't want him to think that he can’t rely on what I say - what kind of precedent would that set? So HBO wins. 

The second time round is harder and easier at the same time. It’s harder, because you have one babe in the belly and one scrambling to get back in. It’s a two for one deal that you didn’t bargain for and you carry them both (or resort to bribing). There is no time to rest - when you’re not working, you’re looking after your first (or more!) which, as fun as it can be, demands as much, if not more energy. It’s also easier because you are less anxious. During my first pregnancy, I read everything I could get my hands on and the contradictory advice as to what to do/not to do drove me and my OB crazy - to the point that she thought it a good fit for her time to write me a prescription to not undertake any more google searches on the subject. This time round, I never once wondered whether my bath temperature was too hot. Or whether I squashed my baby when I woke up on my right side after a few hours of sleep. Or whether a sharp stabbing pain at times is a sign that both me and baby were in dire distress - now I know it’s baby simply kicking my vital organs, nothing to worry about (they say we’re built from man - sure, we’re built from man and THEN some, because a pregnant man is the most tragicomic situation I could think of, albeit I suppose we would see maternity leave lengthen in leaps and bounds). I’m sure my second son will soon figure out just like my first that he gets more space by putting his feet between my ribs. That was a fun time. 

I’ve had to consciously take time out for baby and me this second time round. I adore my prenatal yoga and aqua classes (there is something miraculous about being in the water when you’re pregnant, it feels like home and I suppose since we all started in water, it is). I connect with baby, move our blood and decrease my stress. Hubby knows Saturday mornings he is on duty as much as he wants to sleep in because I am going to my prenatal yoga class. I am invariably late. Luckily, so are most pregnant ladies. It makes sense - we waddle and make innumerable bathroom pit stops. It adds up.