Last week I had a conversation prompted by the ‘run’ on items like toilet paper, paper towels but particularly, baby wipes. The person I was talking to was younger than me which means I have lived through different times and experienced life in a way that he has not. Because items like disposable diapers and baby wipes are commonplace now, he looked surprised when I told him there were no disposable diapers when my first child was born, and we wiped our children’s bottoms with washcloths. I also shared that I was privately insulted when someone gave me disposable diapers when my second child was born.
If you research the history of wipes and disposable diapers, you’ll find they were in the early stages of development in the 1950s and possibly available in some markets in the United States but I can tell you that in the mid-1960s, Heights moms just didn’t put anything on their baby’s bottom but cloth diapers! My day care provider,
My day care provider, Meemaw’s Nursery, used cloth diapers and contrary to day care requirements today, I didn’t have to provide my own except one to send my son home in. Some women could afford to use a diaper service that picked up the dirty ones and brought back clean ones, but the product was still a cloth diaper.
By 1970, ‘Pampers’ were on the shelves, but they were not cheap and there was debate about the hygienic aspects of cloth versus disposable diapers. As a stay-at-home mom, they were cost prohibitive for us and there was some merit to the debate that disposables seemed to increase diaper rash - the reason being the child was changed less often due to the alleged absorption properties of disposables. It was infinitely harder to ignore a toddler in a wet and droopy cloth diaper even under plastic Gerber diaper pants!
I used cloth diapers with all four of my children who were born 1967-1975, and at one point had two in diapers because the last two were born 17 months apart. For a period of two years in the 70s, we lived out of Texas and did purchase disposable diapers for travel home.
One major appeal of the disposables was freedom from the diaper pail. My last two babies were born in Colorado and our tri-level house necessitated strategically placed diaper pails. I loved my babies, but I absolutely hated wringing out diapers from not one, but two smelly pails!
If you think we Boomer moms were immune to brainwashing ads in the 60s, guess again. Back then, WE were the target audience. I remember one guilt-laden trip to the washateria when I forgot to add fabric softener to the rinse cycle of my firstborn’s diapers. A friend a little older than I reminded me that babies had survived for centuries without Downy! There were no fabric softener sheets then either.
But back to cleaning those little bottoms, in the absence of wipes, I used washcloths which were washed and sanitized with bleach or Borax and used again and again. Wipes became a nursery staple in the 1990s, used by my children on their children’s bottoms.
And speaking of a life history gap, people older than I may recall that the Sears & Roebuck catalog in the outhouse wasn’t there only for reading, or that you wiped up spills with cloth - not paper – towels and washed them and used them again.
I’ve had fleeting moments of panic at the thought of certain products not being available but then I remember when they didn’t exist at all. In these times, we may have to fall back on good old American ingenuity or take a second look at the three R’s for the environment - reuse, recycle and repurpose!
Connie Clements is a freelance reporter and award-winning columnist. She writes feature news articles on a weekly basis and an opinion column as the mood strikes her.