Cloth 2

Emily completed her research project on reusable protection She saw the options as

  1. A pull-up or snap plastic pant over a pin-on or velcro cloth diaper, as I wore as a teenager.
  2. A PUL wrap over a cloth diaper.
  3. An all-in-one – a plastic pant with an absorbent lining sewn in.
  4. A pocket diaper – a plastic pant with a pocket to hold a cloth diaper.

I steered her somewhat based on my own experience.

She immediately rejected a pin-on or velcro diaper. It didn’t bother her that it was like a baby diaper. But it seemed inferior to the other options.

She initially liked the idea of an all-in-one. I steered her away from that. I had a pair in high school and liked it, but they are hard to dry and the plastic wears out before the sewn-in lining.

I have started wearing a PUL wrap (rather than a stretch pant) over the pad. (More on that in my next post), and I like that option. PUL is excellent – waterproof, but breathable, light and comfortable against the skin. The wrap holds the pad in place even better than the stretch pant, and catches the occasional leak.

However, Emily settled on the  Super Undies pocket diaper, because it was was simpler and held the diaper in place without pins or velcro. They fit well and completely contained her only accident so far.



Emily, my oldest (11), wants to try a reusable pant. She is only wet a few times a month, and thinks it’s silly to throw out a dry disposable most mornings. She is also worried about the environmental effect.

She doesn’t have any psychological aversion to cloth. When I was a teenager, I initially had an instinctive revulsion: It’s a diaper, for goodness’ sake! I am not a baby! But I was secure enough in my maturity and practical enough to understand that I wasn’t an infant and that cloth was the only adequate protection. Emily is mature enough not to have that reaction at all.

The main argument for disposables – convenience – isn’t that big a difference. A little more laundry (in a household with plenty of hot water whites to wash) is no more burden than disposing of disposables. There’s no need for the stink of a diaper pail if I launder wet things the same day. That’s what I did when I was a teenager, and I’d do that today.

My main worry is the capacity. The bedwetter pants my siblings had in my childhood wouldn’t be capable of holding Emily’s floods. I’m afraid that an adequate product would be the sort of diaper I had to wear.

So I gave her the project to research it.

Jake, my son, hasn’t wet in a long time. He still wears a pullup to sleepovers, out of his own choice. He’s not so much worried about the likelihood of an accident as he is about the consequences. If Emily goes to a reusable pant, perhaps he could wear one when he goes on a sleepover.

Emily’s project has seemed like such a logical idea that I’ve even thought of trying cloth myself when I get runs of dry nights. I’m not going to tell her to include my size in her research, but availability in my size might be a factor in the ultimate purchase.

My main reason for not wearing cloth is discretion. I don’t want my kids to see a big diaper in the laundry. I don’t want my kids or J to see (or hear) me wearing a diaper. The pads I wear are so thin and quiet that no one would notice. That isn’t true of an adequate cloth diaper and plastic pant.

The disposables are also more comfortable than I remember cloth diapers. Even the hourglass diapers Mom made me were a more uncomfortable bulk between the legs. Also, the quality disposable products keep urine away from the skin. That is not only more comfortable, it also reduces the risk of rash or irritation.

I’m not convinced of any ecological or other advantage to cloth. Cloth advocates do a good job of isolating only some of the benefits and costs without taking into account the entire range. Suffice to say that costs of manufacturing, use and disposal are well enough integrated in all forms of protection that I am skeptical that there is any hidden advantage. However, the equation changes if one is throwing out a dry disposable most mornings, and not having to launder a dry reusable.


Recently, my daughter (11) invited a friend for a sleepover. The friend’s mother called to tell me that her daughter wore a pullup when she slept away. She wanted to be sure that the mattress was protected against a leak. She asked me to give her daughter an opportunity for a discreet change in the evening and the morning. It was unlikely that the daughter would wet the pullup, and even more unlikely that she would wet the bed, but the mother asked me to give her daughter cover if she did. If that was all OK, she would let her daughter know that she could rely on me.

She was comfortable making the call. Her daughter is popular, outgoing and friendly. She has probably been to many sleepovers. The mother had made this call before.

I assured the mother that her daughter would be in good hands. I told her that her call was thoughtful – both for me and for her daughter – and refreshing. She had a good laugh when I told her that our beds were well protected, and that we could provide her daughter with a pullup from our own inventory. I was touched that she thought enough of my discretion to share the embarrassing confidence. She said that she always called before sleepovers, and parents were always discreet and helpful.

We had a little more talk about the subject. Our attitudes and approach were the same: Neither of us was (as J would say) fussed. It’s not a big deal.

I cannot imagine my Mom or any other mother of her (or any earlier) generation doing that. I can’t imagine them discussing this with even their closest friends. It was a shameful secret. Although I don’t think either of my sisters would have cared whether Mom discussed it with other parents, it would have mortified me that someone outside our family – and, worse, a parent of a friend! – would know.

Maybe I’m more old-school than I thought, because I’ve never made a call like that. I’ve never even thought of it.

Maybe it’s a sign that parents are accepting bedwetting for what it is: a delay in one (minor) element of physical development. It isn’t an emotional or intellectual defect.

And maybe parents are also confident that other parents see it the same way.

Improvement in options is probably the major factor. Life is a lot easier for a bedwetter and her mom than it was when I was a child. Today, the unpleasantness of adolescent and teenage bedwetting is insignificant, at least compared to my childhood.

A pullup is discreet. It disappears under pajamas. Even if someone else sees it, it doesn’t scream, “Bedwetter!” or, worse, “Baby!” It’s as comfortable as underwear. It prevents all the awfulness of a wet bed. It doesn’t stink. In the morning, you toss it in the trash.

The old days were uncomfortable, smelly and obvious. They required laundering. They required a hot, sticky plastic sheet, not a breathable and comfortable bed pad.

It’s easier now to accept it, and even to ask other parents to accept it.

On the other hand, the friend’s mother and I agreed that we’d never have that conversation with our mothers-in-law.


I’ve always had a few dry nights a month, sometimes two or three in a row.

Lately, I’ve had dry weeks. Last month, I had two dry stretches of over a week each.

When I was in high school, I had a similar pattern. After a few years of chronic wetting, I wet only a few times a year. I thought that I was finally done with it. But it came back. The cause was (and is) still there. There’s no current or likely treatment for it. Even if I stop wetting for a while, it will probably come back.

Still, it’s nice to wake up dry.

The kids are outgrowing their bedwetting. Except for a few isolated accidents, Emily has been dry for months. She’s taken pullups to camp again, but that and sleepovers have been the only times she’s worn them in a long time. Jake hasn’t had an accident or worn a pullup, even to a sleepover, in over a year. Megan is getting some dry nights. Maybe by this time next year, I’ll be the only bedwetter in the family.


My father died of lung cancer. He started smoking when he was in high school and quit when he was about 60. It caught up with him and killed him.

Dad was remote to me. My siblings loved Dad. They all have fond memories. I don’t. I don’t have bad memories. I just don’t have many memories at all. He was away a lot on business when I was an adolescent and teenager, but even when he was around, he never took much interest in me.

My older sisters – simply by being older – were more interesting. By the time I was age X, my sisters had already put him through the adventures of a girl of age X. My younger siblings had the novelty of being boys. We were all good athletes, but, in the rural Midwest, girls’ athletics are recreation while boys’ athletics are life-and-death. Also, as my sisters and I moved out, the family at home got smaller and more intimate.

More than that, Dad and I never shared any interests. In everything important to either of us, we were opposites.

School and books were everything to me. Dad had been an indifferent student at best, more interested in basketball and girls. He went to two colleges but never finished a semester. I don’t remember him ever reading a book until after he retired.

When Dad was in school, teachers constantly compared him unfavorably to his older brother. My uncle was the most brilliant student ever to graduate from their school. Dad resented the comparison. I imagined, rightly or wrongly, that his resentment transferred to me. I won all the academic medals at school, was valedictorian of my class, graduated with honors from an Ivy university and earned a graduate degree in a highly quantitative discipline. But Dad never gave me a single word of encouragement or praise. He went out of his way to belittle academics and academic achievement. He mocked any perceived lapse in my intelligence. Only after he died did I find out that he held me out to my younger siblings as a model.

He never understood why I left town for the city, why I left the Midwest for the East. As I get older, I start to see some of the charm of my home town, but I could never live there. Conversely, he could never imagine living in a city.

When I was young, I didn’t understand why Mom married Dad. Mom is a lot like me, which is unsurprising: I’ve always tried to be as much like Mom as possible. Love is a funny thing. Dad and Mom loved each other more than any two people I have ever known.

Dad and I grew to appreciate each other over the last few years. I’ll miss him.

What I learned from Mom: Later Childhood

For several years after my oldest sister started school, Mom didn’t think much about her kids’ bedwetting. My brothers – all pre-schoolers – were too young for her to be concerned about their bedwetting. It was just a matter of changing in the evening and morning.

My sisters were even less trouble. They took care of themselves. They changed discretely and accepted their condition without a fuss. All Mom had to do was provide an adequate supply of protection. She had to buy their diapers from a medical supply store rather than from the grocer. But it was all just part of the diaper budget.

Mom discussed it annually with our pediatrician. He gave my sisters thorough examinations, always concluding that the cause was immature anatomy and recommending patience.

My sisters were beyond an age that almost all kids have stopped wetting the bed. For most kids, that would be a shameful secret. But for my sisters, it was just a fact of life. It didn’t affect their social lives. On a sleepover, they were adept at putting on a diaper secreted at the bottom of a sleeping bag, and taking it off and secreting it in a plastic bag at the bottom of a sleeping bag. They were big, bold, mature girls, so no one would suspect their secret.

I was oblivious. I shared a room with my sisters. I saw what was on their shelf in our bathroom closet. I woke up to their morning (and middle-of-the-night) bedding changes. I knew that my brothers wet the bed. But it was all just part of the background noise of a large family.

So it went until my oldest brother was 6 or 7. My sisters are a little more than a year apart. I’m two years younger, and my oldest brother is two years younger than I am. I didn’t wet the bed, so nothing disrupted the routine until my brother was in first grade. He struggled against wetting and wearing a diaper. And Mom was concerned that she had three overage bedwetters – two of them almost teenagers.

Mom worried that she and my sisters were too complacent, too ready to accept that there was nothing they could do. On the other hand, my brother was not complacent at all. He wanted to stop wetting the bed and particularly to stop wearing a diaper.

Mom made a push to try everything. She had always limited drinking in the hours before bed, and always required a final trip to the bathroom before bed.

She tried waking them in the small hours of the morning. (Mom called it “lifting”. Why? I don’t know. Nobody was lifting anyone.) That cut out a couple of wet nights a week, if she woke them before they wet, and they didn’t wet later in the night. But it left them tired and irritable (and affected their schoolwork).

She tried anti-bedwetting drugs. They cut down the frequency, but they all had side effects and weren’t completely effective.

She tried alarms, which only trained them to wake up after they had wet. The alarm woke up everyone else, too, announcing that somebody had wet the bed.

They tried going without diapers, with only a pad and the plastic sheet to protect the mattress. My sisters did not last long with that experiment. My brother refused for several more months to wear a diaper, but finally even he got tired of waking in a puddle.

The net effect was a few dry nights a week. They were all still wetting most nights, so they still needed protection.

Every few years – as one of my brothers came of school age, or one of my sisters got frustrated at wetting the bed as a teenager – Mom would make another push. But it always came to nothing.

My oldest brother’s bedwetting started to taper off a few years later. By the time he was 12, he was dry most nights. My older sister, 17, was having more and more dry nights and longer runs of dry nights. She was hoping that she might be completely dry before starting college. My other sister, 16, still wet almost every night, but was starting to have a few dry nights (and even two or three dry nights in a row).

And at age 14, I hadn’t wet the bed in more than 10 years.

What I learned from Mom: Childhood

Mom told me that her relaxed attitude toward our bedwetting was a combination of experience, necessity and bluff. She tried hard to keep her worries from us kids, so that our bedwetting (and dealing with our bedwetting) were much harder on her than it seemed to me.

Mom confirmed the genetic aspect: She wet the bed until she was a teenager. (She didn’t say anything about Dad, and I didn’t ask. But my nieces and nephews on that side are late bedwetters as well.) It had been hard on her – waking (and sleeping) in a puddle, feeling shame and inadequacy, fearing friends’ discovery, hearing the contempt of relatives, avoiding overnight stays, smelling the odor that lingered in a room and on clothes. Her parents did not allow her to wear protection, believing that would remove the incentive to stop wetting. They tried all the available cures: Drugs, alarms, waking, no drinks before bed, …

Because of that, she knew that bedwetting wasn’t something that one could control. She resolved to be relaxed, sympathetic and reassuring to her own children, and provide us protection against a wet bed.

She wasn’t at all concerned that my sisters wet the bed as pre-schoolers.

When my oldest sister was about to start first grade, Mom raised her bedwetting with our doctor. He confirmed that it was likely not something my sister could control, and that Mom and my sister should not be too concerned. Some kids took longer to outgrow it. While there were drugs that sometimes provided relief, he didn’t recommend them for children. They weren’t a permanent solution and they had side effects. He didn’t recommend alarms or waking, either. Sleep is just too important to children. Unless she showed symptoms beyond just wetting the bed, the only thing he would recommend was to manage the consequences.