‘Green Parenting’ Finds a Home

By Beacon Staff

Dealing with diapers is unlikely to be any new parent’s favorite part of raising a child. But Crystal Clark has been working for years to show parents that they have more options than ever in the diaper department – and they don’t have to be as messy or expensive as some might think.

Clark makes and sells reusable diapers made from fleece, wool or cotton, and her home-based practice, Nature Baby Outfitter, is now expanding since she joined the new Community Birth Center in Kalispell.

“The hardest part is just trying to change people’s perspective of what cloth diapering is,” she said. “People don’t know about the benefits of cloth diapering.”

Innovations in cloth diapers, in material as well as features like snaps, Velcro and elastic have improved their fit for kids, and made them easier for parents to use. When many parents think of cloth diapers, according to Clark, they still envision safety pins and wet bottoms.

“They’re not like your grandparents’ diapers,” she said, standing in front of a wall of colorful, patterned cloth diapers, tucked into the corner of a studio space that makes up just one part of the sprawling Community Birth Center, housed in the former Jones Music School at the southern end of Second Avenue East.

“I don’t really even think of this as a store,” Clark said. “People come to me for information more than they do to buy stuff.”

Beyond merely selling cloth diapers and accessories, Clark realizes that switching from disposable takes time, and she aims to help parents “troubleshoot” and work out systems that work for them. She also offers wraps for carrying babies, teaches pre- and postnatal yoga and, as a La Leche League consultant, offers breastfeeding support.

Clark’s services are just a part of what the Community Birth Center will provide. Founded by three local midwives – Sharise Clostio, Michele Neal and Melissa Brake – the new center will eventually feature three birth suites with tubs, a lab, consultation rooms, classrooms and comfortable waiting rooms for family.

Though some of the 6,200-square-foot facility remains under construction, Clostio, a certified nurse midwife since 1995, is startled at how much progress has been made since hatching the idea of forming a cooperative model last year, asking, “What if the midwives have a place to practice like doctors have a hospital?”

Clostio saw a need to develop a place for women who want to employ midwives to have their child, but may not want to give birth at home, and described the generosity of Paul and Helen Jones, who owned the building and sold it at an affordable price, as making the endeavor possible.

“As far as I can tell, it’s going to be the largest birth center in the Northwest,” Clostio said, adding that she has already been contacted by midwives in other communities, including Libby, to learn more about establishing similar, if smaller, cooperatives.

The midwives saw Clark as a natural fit for the Birth Center, who at the time was operating out of her home, selling the cloth diapers and wraps that allow parents to carry their baby in a comfortable but non-constricting way. Though she grew up with cloth diapers, she realizes how daunting it can be for parents unfamiliar with their use.

“It’s kind of a lost art,” Clark said. “If you didn’t grow up with cloth diapers and knowing how to wear your baby, you don’t know how to do it.”

Luckily her sons Ezra, now 3, and Jubal, 11 months, were always on hand to provide her with first-hand ways to show parents the ease of cloth diapers.

Cloth diapers, according to Clark, are less expensive over time than disposable diapers; they are better environmentally than throwing out thousands of disposable diapers, and cloth diapers don’t contain certain chemicals disposable diapers do.

She also touts their convenience: Parents simply use a water sprayer to push waste from a dirty diaper into the toilet; then drop the diaper in the laundry.

“It doesn’t have to be anything gross anymore,” Clark said. “A lot of people are going to go back to doing it now if it’s easy.”

“Most people, when they see the diaper, they’re like, ‘Oh, I didn’t think it was going to be that easy,’” she added. “You’re doing laundry every day when you’re a parent anyway.”

Clark’s Nature Baby Outfitter, and the Community Birth Center where it’s situated, make up part of the growing “green parenting” movement taking root in the Flathead Valley – one aimed at giving parents more choices about how they want to raise their child.

“The demand in the valley for parents wanting to go green – it’s needed,” Clark said. “That’s the most exciting part, is just all the options parents have right now.”