[This post has been revised from its original version. The first comment refers to the original.]
Jenny and I have been lucky to agree about most things during the pregnancy so far. We’re also in agreement about what we’ll do and how things will be after Sunflower arrives. Just this morning, I started reading What to Expect the First Year on the bus ride to work, and thought again about how few disputes we’ve had.
On one topic, though, we have drawn the battle lines: diapers. I’ll describe our compromise solution later. For my part, I know that I was a cloth diaper baby, and I don’t have any bad memories about the experience, except for one: when my younger siblings were in cloth diapers, I would occasionally come upon a diaper that had been left to soak in the toilet when I needed to use the bathroom. Now, after reading tens of webpages, possibly representing the opinions of up to a hundred cloth diaper loyalists, I believe that we should give cloth diapers a try.
Jenny, also a cloth diaper baby, remembers them most vividly because she was an active participant in the swaddling of her younger brother. Not surprisingly, she prefers the convenience and ease of disposables, since she doesn’t want to re-live the bad diaper experiences from her youth. She observes that almost everyone uses disposables, so they can’t be nearly as bad as the internet crazies say they are.
We agree that there are positives and negatives to each method, and that some of the positives trotted out for cloth diapers just aren’t very important to us. A case in point: environmental concerns. Although I believe the claims that cloth diapers are better for the environment, I can not independently prove them. Nor can I refute the research that shows that disposables aren’t too bad. It is not enough to say that the pro-disposable research was funded by diaper companies; it could still be solid, independent research. If I try to argue the superiority of cloth diapers to Jenny, I know I’ve lost the moment I resort to the claim that “they’re better for the environment.” It’s just too distant from our realm of experience and influence.
We’ve narrowed our priorities to the following factors: economics, convenience, and comfort. However, it’s still hard to determine what’s better, based on these priorities. For example, cloth diapers certainly cost less. I believe that after adding the aggregate cost of washing them (including detergent and extra energy use), they still cost much less. If I include the opportunity cost of the time spent washing them, the case becomes less clear. My time is variably valuable–it depends on whether the time I spend washing diapers diminishes my productive work time (worth something), or my internet surfing/television time (worth nothing). Although disposables are almost certainly more convenient, I don’t yet know if cloth diapers are convenient enough (e.g. can I contain the smell?). As for comfort, I’ve heard that cloth diapers cause fewer diaper rashes, especially early on. Some claim that this is a function of the frequency of changes, that disposables would cause less diaper rash if they were changed as often as cloth diapers. Because they’re super-absorbent, parents have more leeway in changing them. All in all, it’s hard to say what to do.
Jenny finally agreed to the following compromise. We’ll buy a bunch of cloth diapers, but also have a full supply of disposables available. The parent who changes the baby gets to choose whether to use cloth or disposable. I will be solely responsible for laundering and maintaining the cloth diapers. If there are ever issues, up to and including a yuck factor, Jenny is immediately allowed to curtail the usage of cloth diapers, or at least renegotiate the plan.
The plan has at least one unstated consequence that makes it acceptable to Jenny. Since the diaper-changing parent chooses what to use, if I really am committed to cloth diapers, I will volunteer to change the diapers more often. She believes that I am diaper averse and, without this clause, would otherwise avoid diaper changing duties. We’re trying to avoid the principal-agent problem, although I guess this plan could cause it, depending on how we rotate our duties.
We’ll see how it goes. As of about a week ago, we’re more than halfway through the pregnancy. According to Jenny, Sunflower’s kicks strengthen every day.