rosemary isidora

WORKS OF THE HOME: CLOTH DIAPERING

 
Cloth Diapering Cotton and Wool Natural Parenting by Samantha Spigos
Cloth Diapering Cotton and Wool Natural Parenting by Samantha Spigos

If you ask me, there are too many ways to diaper a child. When left with myriad options, it’s hard to know which is the simplest, or the most suited to your lifestyle, and is there even such a thing as a best method? To say nothing of the names given to every specific style of diaper. Cloth diapering has become something of a culture — one that can inappropriately feel exclusive and expensive — but in essence is just one way to keep pee and poop from getting everywhere. While pregnant, we had the privilege of being able to consider the cost and the environmental impact of our decisions, but I recognize that not everyone can do that. My parents cloth diapered because it was the cheapest way. Now that we’ve established that a diapered tush and sane parents are what really matters, I want to offer the diapering system we adopted and have used with great ease since the day Rosemary was born. I will go so far as to describe diapering as a joy. (Edited to add: That’s not to suggest the contents are pleasant.) The method is very inexpensive in the long run and was affordable in the short run (our family income is under 30k, for reference). It uses natural fibers (just cotton and wool), and allows for usage beyond just diapers. And for any non-parents reading this post, the endless uses for prefold diapers might just convince you to buy a pack for your home.

Cloth Diapering Cotton and Wool Natural Parenting by Samantha Spigos
Cloth Diapering Cotton and Wool Natural Parenting by Samantha Spigos

In essence, our method is to use cotton “prefold” diapers, which are rectangles of gauze-y cotton, with a wool cover on top. It’s hard to overstate how exceptional wool is as a diaper cover. Fishermen and sailors living in the coastal regions of the world have rich histories of wool-wearing, because they needed something to keep them a) warm at sea, b) cool at sea, and c) dry at sea. Wool was the only match for the job. Sheep’s fiber is a renewable resource that is antimicrobial, temperature-regulating, and capable of absorbing liquid while at the same time wicking it away. I fell hard for wool when I became a knitter, but it wasn’t until I had a baby that I truly understood its incredible properties.

Rosemary was born a big baby with leg rolls to rival the Michelin Man. We initially set out to use plastic pants and microfiber covers over her prefold diaper, because they were graciously gifted to us (if you know much about modern cloth diapers, they are very pricey, checking in around $20-30 per diaper!), and we suspected they would work well. Pretty quickly Rosemary got red and irritated around her thighs. A combination of unbreathable material being too tight around her chubby legs. After a few weeks I invested in a wool cover (pictured below), and we have used the same cover every day of her life for nine months. I have washed it—wait for it—five times. And it does not smell. I repeat, we have used the same wool diaper cover every day, all day. . . for nine months. . . and I have washed it five times. . . and it does not smell. I don’t know of any other material capable of such a feat; not cotton, not silk, certainly not synthetics. In reality, there is much science to explain the properties of wool, but I prefer to think of and describe it as “the magic of wool.”

The simple, economical diapering method that we swear by . . .

for daytime —
+ Prefold diaper.
+ Cotton insert, if baby won’t be changed for several hours. (We generally don’t need to use one during the day.)
+ Snappi, a genius invention that eliminates pins.
+ Wool diaper cover.

for nighttime —
+ Prefold diaper.
+ Cotton insert, for extra absorption.
+ Wool liner, for keeping the diaper area warm through the night. (Cotton does not retain heat.)
+ Snappi, a genius invention that eliminates pins.
+ Wool pants as the diaper cover. (Used in hot and cold weather alike.)


Cloth Diapering Cotton and Wool Natural Parenting by Samantha Spigos
Cloth Diapering Cotton and Wool Natural Parenting by Samantha Spigos

As for how to put on a prefold diaper, after a tiny bit of practice (and you will get practice), you’ll see it’s rather easy. (Green Mountain Diapers outlines several fold options in detail. Our preferred fold is “the twist,” pictured below.) Every baby is different, and not all skin types respond the same way to cloth diapers. This continues to work for us, in large part because of the simplicity and economical merit. If you are interested in cloth diapering, you might give this cotton + wool method a try. If questions arise, or if you have something I should know about, please do get in touch. In the next of this two-part blog series, I'll share about laundering and maintaining your cotton diapers and woolens. Here’s to you, baby-rearing/loving/diapering humans of the world!

And a few more uses for prefold diapers . . .

+ Burp cloths.
+ Breast pad at nighttime, for when you just cannot bear to wear a bra but want to avoid leaking milk on your top.
+ Dust cloths.
+ Cleaning up spills of any kind.
+ Handkerchiefs.
+ Laying under your naked baby.
+ Chopped up and put into the compost as fertilizer. (Cotton and wool will biodegrade, but preferably you’ll find an expectant mama who can make good use of them.)

Cloth Diapering Cotton and Wool Natural Parenting by Samantha Spigos
Cloth Diapering Cotton and Wool Natural Parenting by Samantha Spigos

—S

ROSEMARY, IN WORDS | PT. 3: BIRTH AT HOME

 
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This is a multi-part series on the home birth of our daughter, Rosemary. Click here to read Parts One and Two.
Note: My home birth story is triumphant and positive, though not without intensity and pain. This is safe to read if you are avoiding stories of negative birth experiences.

Moments after I told my mom to stop saying labor would come, labor came. It was 8:30 p.m. and I can still picture the look of excited hesitation Mark was flashing me when every five minutes I would say, "it's happening again."  All day I had been waxing between anger and calm over the absence of labor signs. A woman overdue is a force unto herself, or I was. Mark and I spent a large part of the day encouraging labor. So fond is the memory of those final hours just my husband and I. We took a walk to the post office and the hardware store — less than a quarter-mile but all the walking I could muster. Beyond just walking, we tried a host of recommendations for encouraging labor: spicy food, a bath, physical affection, aromatherapy, the whole kit and caboodle. (A quick digression: I have chosen to be open about the physical aspect of our pregnancy because a) there's only one way a baby is conceived, and it should not be taboo to discuss the same thing in pregnancy, and b) if pregnancy came to fruition in a healthy and consensual way, it can only fortify the couple to be physically affectionate during pregnancy — especially before a cataclysmic event like birth, after which time there is a long spell best summed up like this: ain't no way.)

Whether a combination of efforts or just the baby's time, it worked. 

 After having eaten a supper of red miso soup with rice noodles and cilantro, we settled onto our sofa to watch an episode of some such food show. The first sensation of the uterus contacting is not unlike menstrual cramps. I messaged my sister and asked if it could be true. She confirmed that it was absolutely so. We excitedly timed my contractions at five minutes apart and thirty seconds long. My contractions never spaced out and never stalled. Mark made the final preparations in the house: dishes washed, floors vacuumed; snacks set out for the team, bone broth thawed. In the mix of it all we forgot to get our cat out of the house, so he spent a cozy 20 hours in the laundry room. We lit candles around our icons of St. Isidore and the Nativity and prayed together. Mark got some sleep and I settled into the brand new sensation of working to get a baby out instead of keeping a baby in. 

In the middle of the night I experienced a strong contraction that lasted 60 seconds and a few more just like it piggybacked. Officially in active labor. We called my sister and got ahold of our midwife, who sent over her assistant midwife. My labor continued for another fifteen hours. I labored down in the birth pool through the night and well into the frosty, overcast morning. Aimee and my mom sat beside the pool and prayed a rosary aloud to me. It was so soothing that I fell asleep between contractions. During the pool hours, everyone took turns resting or reading, eating or making coffee. It was a wonderfully calm time. Mark said that for the ten hours I was in the water I kept to one thing: steady breathing. I could feel my body making progress, like my cervix was dilating with every contraction and I was sending my baby downward. It was challenging but I was not afraid. Submitting to my body felt good.

I focused on my breath and my womb, imagining that the sacred home our baby had occupied was ready to send forth the incredible life it had nourished. The intensity was mounting; once I hit transition I lost sight of everything going on around me save my husband. I held tight to my gaze on Mark. He held my arms in the pool; we looked into each other's eyes and cried. Who would our baby be? . . . Late morning arrived and I had no idea so many hours had passed. And I was fully dilated! Up to this point my labor had been a dream—not without hard work, but the hard work was making it all happen and thus felt very worthwhile. 

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I got out of the pool around 10 or 11 a.m. and thought I would just wait to feel the urge to push. I supposed that since I was fully dilated I might not have as many contractions. Not so. For all the reading and listening I did, no external source prepared me for what my body would do. The baby had to move down the birth canal, which would prove hours of the most challenging — at times excruciating — work of my life. My mom and dad (yes, my dad was there!), three of my sisters, and Mark were all there, plus a substantial birth team of eight or more women, and eventually Mark's parents joined us in the house too! My family would take turns rubbing my back and offering counter pressure. They would place cold towels with lavender and frankincense essential oils on my forehead and neck. The towels felt so good. Inhaling peppermint oil during each contraction staved off vomiting. Nicole (our midwife) determined that baby's head was not in an optimal position and some positioning and belly manipulation was necessary.

This was the stage of labor where every contraction felt like the strongest pain I had ever been through—I thought it could not possibly get more intense, but this was before pushing for three hours. My mind was blank to everything except that my baby had to come out, had to come out, had to come out. Some part of me — greater than my hope, greater than my courage, greater than myself — held fast in understanding I could and would persevere. If I had never witnessed hundreds of animals give birth I might've faltered in that belief. Also, it became abundantly clear that Mark and I both needed the support, touch, and voices of every person there. Like ancient history, we gratefully allowed a whole village of women (and men!) to take care of us and usher in new life.

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There were hours of pushing—first with my bottom in the air, and later on my back. I hated those positions. But in doing so the baby was successfully adjusting and moving. So I kept to it. Eventually I was able to move onto all fours on the bed with a peanut ball to rest beneath my chest. It was agonizing. I remember saying the words, "I want to die." In that moment—but only for a moment—I was defeated. I would have preferred my body expire than keep working. But I needed that baby to live, and there was only one way to ensure life: keep pushing. I was using every ounce of energy I had, depleting my womb with every series of pushes and restoring it with bone broth and a high-protein smoothie. I could hardly abide the wretched texture of the smoothie, the honey sticks, and an especially harrowing spoonful of peanut butter, but I could feel each swallow literally restoring my energy, like I was Mario leveling up. In retrospect, the way I was nourished by food was a very powerful experience. Without sustenance, I 100% would have transferred to the hospital for a cesarian. I could not have pushed her out on my own without food, and for that I feel immense gratitude to the animals, insects, and plants that helped bring forth life.

All I saw or knew was Mark, through broken blood vessels and swollen eyes. He was supporting the weight of me — emotionally and physically — with the fortitude of a husband truly devoted. 

Nicole rightly suspected she had her hand up by her face and manipulated her position as she was crowning. How can I put this delicately? It felt like someone poured kerosene on my vagina and threw a lit match on it. Instantaneous red hot flaming heat. Pushing (obviously) made it worse, and the only reason I continued to push was to keep our baby alive. Fire, fire, oh God I am on fire, is what I would have said if I could have spoken. This went on for a veritable eternity, or long enough that I was so consumed to have no idea when her head came out. There was no relief in that moment. I heard nothing; I only felt the fire. I had no idea everyone in the room was telling me our baby had a head of hair; no idea about anything at all other than fire, fire, fire. I had entered into this delirious state of Beyond, and in that space I pushed harder than I knew myself capable of.

I felt a magnificent whoosh best described as a slippery flood of water extinguishing the fire: she was out. Alive. Life entered into life. I reached for her through my legs with an animalistic need, brought her to my chest and all but collapsed onto my back. I closed my eyes and touched her wet, warm head. Mark was crying. I have no memory of what he said, only that he laid next to me and smiled. I opened my eyes to behold her, whispered the graceful words, ". . . our baby is a cone head," and smiled my first. (More accurately, she was a train head. That's what hours in a narrow birth canal do to an unfused skull. Truly miraculous design.) A few minutes passed and my mom asked if we were "ever going to check if it was a boy or a girl," to which Mark looked and announced with 90% surety (our room was dark!) that she was a She.

She was. . . resplendent. My 9 1/2 pound daughter with a 15 inch head and the chubbiest legs you've ever seen was common as a baby and extraordinary as my own. Rosemary Isidora, our child of the good earth, born on the feast of Saint Agnes.

In an instant, my life took on incomprehensible meaning. 
I was deliriously glad.
I was supremely proud.
I was, and still am, and hope to always remain, fully transfigured.
Thanks be to God.

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mark and rosie

Rosemary and I two days after the birth; Rosemary one day after the birth; Rosemary and Mark a few hours after the birth. You can see that just a few hours after the birth her head had already resumed a normal shape.


—S

ROSEMARY, IN WORDS | PT. 1: DISCOVERING PREGNANCY

 
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Before I was ever pregnant I knew I wanted to birth at home. Home is where I feel safest and most comfortable. I have witnessed hundreds of animals giving birth and knew without any doubt that I, also a mammal, could give birth in my natural environment. I was eager and curious about pregnancy, wondering how my body and especially my mind would respond. I desired sincerely for my body to become a vessel for another life: an incredible act of feminism and strength; a sacred transformation exclusive to women.

Mark and I track my fertility so we didn't need a test to tell us we were pregnant. My body had already let us know, charted out on a piece of paper, clear for the eye to see. Despite it being obvious, I was in total disbelief. (Mark: "Sam, you're pregnant." Me:"No, I'm not!" "I think you're pregnant." "No, I'm not!") In wanting so much for it to be true I convinced myself that it couldn't be. That night we drove to three separate grocery and drug stores to buy a test to no avail. I still can't understand it, but all three places were either closed or without pregnancy tests. As fate would have it, we would have to wait to find out until the following day on the feast of Saint Isidore the farmer, to whom we were developing a growing devotion and after whom we would name our baby. Receiving the news of a positive pregnancy ranks among the most sacred and wonderful moments of our life. There we were, two hopeful kids in love sitting in a doctor's office, uncontrollably laughing and crying after the nurse told us 'Yes' and kissed me on the head. We were full to the brim with the mystery that was always going to be Rosemary. Insofar we had cared only for goat kids—still very much in the throes of kidding season, actually. Barely the size of a poppyseed but already our beloved baby: everything was changed.

mark digging fence posts
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I had the day off while Mark had to manually dig fence posts. I drove to my favorite town, bought a new water bottle and Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, then treated myself to a fancy little lunch. The sun was shining and I felt heavier in the best way. (That heaviness would become so cumbersome that I would later rue the day I ever became pregnant, becoming so convinced that I would set the record for the World's Longest Pregnancy that I would actually google who held the record. Poor, poor Mrs. Hunter. . .) For all the things that have already blurred in my mind's eye, the first 24 hours of knowing I was pregnant are crystal clear. 

Mark took the best care of me. We had a CSA that provided fresh fruit, vegetables, and chicken. My body craved fruit and protein, so I listened. I continued to drink raw milk and eat raw cheeses and allowed myself small cups of beer. I was lucky to never lose my appetite despite feeling nauseated 24/7. The notion of coffee (my first love) suddenly became unpalatable, so I switched to the antioxidant juice Ningxia Red every morning before milking. We decided we would stay in Vermont for the birth (ha!) and continue working the farm (ha!). I can see now that it would have been too much to reckon with if we thought we were having a baby and quitting our jobs and moving home. That is exactly what happened, but God knew the ways of our hearts and I'm grateful for those first weeks of imagining a Vermont birth. It allowed us to choose a home birth midwife in Vermont who was wonderful and ushered us into pregnancy very gently. When her heartbeat came through the dopplar for the first time, we wept. We would both weep in the 17th hour of labor when her heartbeat stayed steady and strong while she rested stubbornly in my birth canal. Our Rosemary Isidora, child of the good earth, waited until she was perfectly ready to join us and not a moment sooner.


—S

THIS SIDE OF LOVE

 
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There is simply no way to put into words the all-consuming sensation of looking at your baby. Your baby. Someone you made; someone who did not exist before. There is no work of art more beautiful than the face of your baby, and I understand now that all parents are actually artists. Life is a paradox, where newborn days are mundane and monotonous and magnificent and magical, proving to have no discernible beginning or end. Nurse, poop, cry, sleep, nurse, poop, cry, sleep. Bounce, bounce, bounce, rock, bounce, never stop bouncing. We've danced this new reality for three weeks, which is simultaneously an absolute eternity and no time at all, a flit. Our baby is ancient but impossibly fresh to the world; she is tiny but two whole pounds bigger than when she arrived. She is our baby, our baby, our baby. We are merely shepherds to this little lamb named Rosemary, and we do our best.

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I took the photos of our bedroom when she was still in utero. Things are decidedly less tidy and there are a few telltale signs of new parenthood now: a stool next to the bed covered with salves and balms and breast pads, a pillow on the rocker for extra lumbar support, an unending supply of to-be-washed cloth diapers on the changing table, an exercise ball for the aforementioned bouncing, a heap of Mark's and my clothes in a pile, and our beautiful linen sheets have been temporarily replaced with trusty flannels. I am particularly glad for the sheets decision, as she has had a blowout while nursing on our bed every day this week. During the final weeks of nesting, I knit Rosemary a humble little stack of sweaters, diaper covers, hats and bonnets — even a little stuffed bunny — only to find that we hate dressing our child and can hardly bear to put anything on her precious, perfect skin. It's enough to put her little tush in a cloth diaper. So the woolens will dutifully remain in their drawer. On this side of love, mama, dad, and their little Rosie valentine learn as they go, and boy are they ever glad for it. 

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—S