Photo by Arina Krasnikova on

Saturday is the pivot to the new week.  

I take to the domestic chores at hand. Shopping, cleaning, watering plants and endless laundry.

The washing machine a constant whirl, fills the house with sound, movement and life washing away the week bringing freshness to the next cycle- to start again.

That hum of the machine was the lull that would send my baby to sleep, now 16 years old and its rain sounds in a darkened room and the bed moved to barricade the door that brings him repose at the close of the day. 

I clean with my white terry- towelling clothes that had been a gift for a three-month nappy subscription when baby was born. Dirty nappies were taken away and fresh nappies were delivered, ready for a little bottom. 

His Dad so meticulous in the art of diapers, no sooner had it been changed that bub had wissed and needed a fresh one again. I warrant this patient, calm man for in that nappy changing moment I also noticed a calm baby – the chatter between two generations, tending with the attention, dedication and care of the birthright to be loved. The act was to be manoeuvred without haste for the joy of that moment, regardless of the crap at hand.

Photo by Anna Shvets on

The cost of continuing the nappy service was more expensive than using disposable nappies. I had to return to work to pay for a mortgage. We made the economic choice and contributed to landfill and the human footprint. The impact is greater than we may ever know.

When I turned eight my little brother was born, and I learnt about changing and washing nappies. By the time my baby sister was born (surprise!)  I was 15 and the nappies had already been cut up and repurposed as menstrual pads.  Mum had to buy new set of nappies.

When I got my period at the age of 12, I was handed a pile of thick folded terry towelling pads, frayed at the edges and told to wear them when I go it. There was no way to hold them in place and my mother insisted on large underpants. You know I would grow into them, so it would slide around uncomfortably. I was fortunate to be home one day when it fell out onto the floor, right there in front of me. The only hold was in the flow of the blood sticking to me and the pad. 

On heavy days the flow would seep through the pad, into my underpants and onto my dress. I could not go home, nor clean myself. I had to tie my jumper around my waist hiding my embarrassment.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on
Photo by cottonbro on

At the concrete laundry sink I used the unscented chunks of homemade pig fat soap and large limestone to scrub the pads.  Rinsing out the blood to grey, noting a metallic scent, like I was washing away my strength. I then placed the cloths into a bucket with bleach to bring them back to white. After rinsing they would go onto the hills hoist for everyone to see. 

Menstruation tends to deplete when it’s perceived in darkness as something to be hidden. To celebrate a woman’s coming of age with initiation, I think might remove the stigma and the suffering that manifest as PMS. It marked me for forty years and like others I discovered products to make it easier to have a period. It’s now faded, like the blood on the pads.

This inability to ask for what we needed growing into adults, not knowing if we had permission, seeking other ways to learn. A silent fear. As families we needed to speak more freely of our changing bodies, or understand better what was happening to us. It was left to the education system. To resist the inevitable and to feel stunted. I can only think I took growing up too seriously and that there is more to laugh about in the comedy of it now, though shamefully obvious what was missing. Trust in the natural order of things.

My final reflection on the nappy is that as a cleaning cloth, it surpasses the Enjo cloths that cost me over $400, purchased seven years ago. The economic rationale of replacing Enjo every five years because they lose their cleaning power. 

I have had my four white terry towelling nappies for more than 17 years.

I embroidered a red stitch into the corner to distinguish them as my own from the nappy service. 

Every Saturday I wash, wipe and polish the bathrooms with these cloths. They become the final laundry cycle of the day, usually on the cusp of dinner time. I hang them on the clothes racks in the garage and by the following week, pick them up for cleaning again. The cycle and routine maintain serenity.

The cleaning has morphed into a meditative, weekly practice. 

This multi-purpose cloth simply outlives. 

The metaphor of fabric, repurposed. 

The transformative qualities of the simplest of things.

Photo by Anna Shvets on

2 thoughts on “The terry – towelling nappy

  1. Such a powerful piece speaking volumes of past and present practice of such poignant periods of life. 🩸
    Congratulations Fortunata on Your writings, liberation and of ultimate repurpose.


  2. I have nappies that I use for cleaning too. I love holding them and remembering the little babies they covered. thank you Fortunata for reminding us that memories have a place in the present. lv t


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