Mental Health Matters: How Cloth Diapers Helped One Mom’s Anxiety

In retrospect, things started to go awry from the moment the second line appeared on the pregnancy test last February. I don’t know how I imagined finding out I was pregnant. It certainly wasn’t while my husband was on the other side of the country and I was home alone marking essays and watching Drag Race.

I wasn’t nervous about this virus everyone was talking about, but I was incredibly empathetic towards my students who couldn’t go home to China for the Lunar New Year. Then it felt like suddenly things started crashing down around me.

The day I had my first midwife appointment at 10 weeks, I was waiting to find out if my husband was going to be able to come home from (another) work trip to Europe. I went into school that day to discover we were being forced to close. Saying it was a lot on my mental health is a bit of an understatement.

My lockdown went about the same as everyone else’s – I was forced to learn how to teach my classes online overnight (and my students were forced to learn how to elearn). My mental health suffered. I felt alone, isolated, anxious; but I was also pregnant.

I had always had it in my head that pregnancy was going to be this wonderful time where I built a special bond with me and my baby. Instead, I was very sick – pick a symptom, I probably had it at some point. I lost so much weight from “morning” (all-day) sickness that it took until week 20 for me to be at my pre-pregnancy weight. My acid reflux was so bad I probably should have bought stock in TUMS. I had such bad insomnia that I literally slept more in my first week postpartum than at any point in my second trimester.

All of that though paled in comparison to prenatal anxiety and depression.

I was really, really scared of everything. Is this hamburger underdone? Is this bagged salad going to give me food poisoning? Is that stranger refusing to wear a mask literally going to kill me and my unborn child?! How do I tell this person to please, please give me space? How am I going to take care of this little one? Why am I doing this?

Add to all that the fact that I was missing out on so much: no baby shower; having to Lysol hand-me-downs; no shopping for baby products. I had to beg a buy nothing group on Facebook for some maternity clothes because I didn’t have any pants that fit and couldn’t go out to buy any for months.

As the delivery came nearer, we waited to see if my husband would be allowed in the delivery room, and what protocols he’d have to follow. The quiet home birth I had wanted had turned into a hospital birth due to my mental health. I had planned to spend as much of my labor as possible bathing, meditating, and even dancing. For the first while, I did all of that while also worrying my husband might not make it home from another work trip in time.

After 18 hours I hadn’t even dilated 2 cm. I was crushed. I felt like the contractions and pain were all in my head again (anxiety does that to you – convinces you something is real and then convinces you that you’re paranoid and then convinces you that thing IS REAL and NO ONE IS GOING TO HELP YOU). Labor went downhill from there – but ultimately, after 52 intense house, a beautiful little boy was plopped on my chest and things started to look up.

So what does all this have to do with cloth diapers?

I decided when my husband took YET ANOTHER WORK TRIP a few weeks post-partum to start cloth diapering I was incredibly nervous to get started, even afraid. (In retrospect, this was probably that pesky perinatal mental health disorder again.) I thought I’d hate this. I worried all that money I’d spent on covers and inserts would be wasted – it wasn’t.

I found that I loved cloth diapering. I love knowing I’m helping the environment. I love saving money. I love the cute patterns. I don’t mind cleaning them. I love that my son will sleep through the night in them.

A lot of people turn to disposables because cloth diapering is ‘extra’ work when you are already tired. Here’s the thing: I couldn’t control my pregnancy. I couldn’t control the pandemic. I couldn’t control how my world changed. I couldn’t control how long my labor took. I couldn’t control my inability to breastfeed. I could control diapering. That control helped my mental health so much.

Cloth diapering may be a small thing in the grand scheme of things. One kid in Lil Helper isn’t going to make the glaciers re-freeze or heal the ozone; but it did help me get my mental health back on track in more ways than one.

So much of motherhood is hidden accomplishments (keeping them fed, clean, and dry). Rinsing diapers out daily has become a ritual where I can say to myself, “Look at that pile! Look at what you got done today!” (Not to mention wringing them out has given me some pretty sweet bicep muscles.) Cloth diaper laundry made me feel like a wizard – give me your toughest stains and I can get them out! I problem-solved my wash routine and found one that worked (shout out to Dez and the laundry fairies for their assistance on that one). Stuffing clean diapers also gave me much needed quiet time. I could listen to an audiobook or just be alone with my thoughts for awhile.

I’m not saying cloth diapering saved my mental health all on its own. (Credit is due also to therapy, medication, a good medical team & support network, even if they had to be virtual.) Cloth diapering did give me a win when I needed one. In the chaos of 2020 where I couldn’t control most of my life, this reminded me I could control some things.

If you’re suffering from Perinatal Mood Disorder, I want you to know you aren’t alone – it might feel that way, but you aren’t. When you feel ready, find that thing that gives you control again. Maybe it’s cloth diapering. Maybe it’s gardening. Maybe it’s cooking. Find something that reminds you how awesome you are and that this too shall pass.


About the Author

Grace is a Lil Helper Ambassador, a mom of one and a high school teacher on mat leave. She loves board games, reading, and has a mini-zoo.


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