Posted: 07/03/2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
On a Friday night, a very pregnant Sheila Dos Santos and her husband are two-thirds of the way through a 11/2-hour cloth-diapering workshop, trying to wrap their heads around the myriad options available to today's new parents.
Laid out on the large coffee table in front of them are dozens of types of diapers and covers and inserts, as well as a plastic baby doll to try them on.
"I'm so overwhelmed," says Dos Santos, looking down at the 11-page booklet she's holding.
The workshop was being given by Lena Hill, Lisa Hubbard and Jennifer Rodriguez, three new-ish moms who opened the Los Angeles area's first cloth-diapering store, Tush (www.tush diapers.com), last month.
Dos Santos, who says she wants to use cloth diapers for environmental reasons, found the Tush women on an Internet message board while looking for advice on how to navigate the increasingly complicated world of cloth diapers.
Just as it has with baby carriers, organic baby clothes and even modern baby furniture, the Web has brought about a cloth-diapering revolution. Dos Santos had already spent hours traveling down the Internet rabbit hole, trying to figure out the difference between pocket diapers from brands like Happy Heiny and bumGenius, prefolds and covers from Econobum, and fitted diapers and covers from Thirsties: Are hemp inserts better than bamboo? What type of diaper cover breathes the best but will also eliminate leaks? Which ones are the most environmentally friendly? What is the most organic choice?
These decisions feel all the more important because, according to the Tush handout, a reasonable supply of newborn-size fitted diapers and covers can cost close to $700. And that lasts for just the first six months of the baby's life.
That's where Tush comes in. Hubbard, Hill and Rodriguez know firsthand the amount of trial and error it can take to find the right cloth diaper for a child, and how frustrating it can be when all your research is done online, so you are never able to hold the diaper or see how it would fit your baby.
The store, which for now is run by appointment only out of Rodriguez's Eagle Rock home, also advises how to clean diapers. They do not recommend diaper services, to avoid nonorganic chemicals used for sterilizing diapers, and instead suggest that parents handle the unpleasant task themselves with something called the bumGenius diaper sprayer, which attaches to a toilet.
According to Sharon Hays, a professor of contemporary gender studies at the University of Southern California and author of the 1997 book "The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood," a 11/2-hour diapering workshop falls into what she calls "the extraordinary pressure of intensive mothering. Choice is supposed to be a good thing," she continues, "but it becomes overwhelming when there is this nagging sense that you must somehow do it right."
Tush's Rodriguez says, "Coming to the decision to cloth-diaper is a personal, family decision and not one we would ever push on any parent."
Hill adds, "We know how difficult being a parent is and wouldn't want to pass judgment on any other parent for the choices they make."
Meanwhile, Dos Santos has decided to use a diaper service, at least in the beginning. "I can't imagine having to clean all those dirty diapers the first few months and learning about them," she says. "It would be too overwhelming, so I'm taking it one step at a time."