Memories of Diapers Past


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I've been thinking through a number of memories from my childhood and I thought taking some time to write them out might be helpful for me and interesting for other members.

In this first segment I frame the stories by recalling a session my wife and I had many years ago with a marriage therapist.


It all began about 15 years ago with a visit to a marriage therapist. My wife was studying to be a therapist and as part of her training she had to experience different models of therapy first hand. She was interested in approaches that combined therapy and body work, which brought us to Barbara, a therapist who combined yoga and counseling. She was a new therapist -- just a little older than us -- with a kind face, dark hair, and a bit of a hippy vibe. She saw clients at the back of her house in narrow room that had been converted from a porch. There was a long couch, a low shelf with various toys, and a glass wind chime that looked stranded indoors. Between the couch and the shelves was a soft white mat, where the yoga took place.

Barbara started by asking each of us about our personal history. When I mentioned that I had seen a therapist in second grade, she asked what had been going on. My body responded immediately. My heart starting to beat loudly and my hands started quivering. Here I was in a room with two beautiful women about to talk about the bathroom accidents I had as a child. I had only been married a year and my wife had no idea. I felt humiliated, like it was about to happen all over again. How would these women look at me after I shared this? How would my wife see me once she knew? We had only been married a year.

I tried to dodge and simply said I had encopresis. Barbara responded reassuringly.

“I have a number of younger clients who struggle with that so I know how hard it must have been on you.”

“Wait, what’s encopresis?” my wife interrupted.

Barbara looked at me gently. Intuiting that it would be difficult, but possibly important, to have me explain it. My voice became small and weak.

“Well, I used to go to the bathroom in my pants. I couldn’t help it.”

“Wow. How old were you?”

“It didn’t really stop until I was 13.” I didn’t mention that even now I sometimes had to throw my underwear away.

My wife looked away and was silent. I could tell she was processing something, which made me nervous. Would this contaminate the way she looked at me? Was she imagining me now in soiled underpants?
Barbara could sense my rising anxiety.

“Why don’t we just start right here. I usually work with each person individually before moving on to couples work. That helps me develop a connection with each of you so you both feel safe. I want this to be a safe space for each of you.”

In my mind I was thinking that I certainly felt more vulnerable than safe right now. I just laid out my darkest secret and my wife hasn’t really said anything yet in response.

“Ok, Eric, let’s work through some of the emotions this is bringing up for you. Let’s start by doing something very simple. I’d like you simply to lay down on the mat.”

I stood up from the couch and laid down on my back.

The mat was cool and soft and smelled vaguely like a baby. I felt small and vulnerable laying on my back looking up at two women from what looked a whole lot like a large changing pad. My wife was sitting behind me, almost out of view. Barbara stood from the couch and knelt down beside me. She placed her hand on my belly and gently told me to shut my eyes, breathe in through my nose, and relax.

As I exhaled I felt her grasp my ankles and pull my legs out flat. Laying there flat on my back brought a flood of old emotions. I looked up at her and felt powerless. I shut my eyes and sank back into the pad, giving myself over to her care. Inside my head I was five or six again, laying on a pad waiting for a change. I felt dizzy, like I was falling backwards through the floor. Images and memories started to float around me.


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The first memory washed over me and I was back in a small daycare run by Mrs. Soderstrum, who was firm and no-nonsense about almost everything. She didn’t play with us, rarely doing more than make sure things ran smoothly for the 10 or 12 children she cared for. Her only helper was her daughter, Susan, who was a few years older than me. She was still in elementary school, but willowy and taller than the other children. The fact that she helped her mom care for the toddlers gave her some degree of power over us.

As I sank back into the mat in Barbara’s office, I was 6 again. My mom had gone back to work, and I was spending my afternoons at Mrs. Soderstrum’s small daycare. It wasn’t going well. Several times a week I suddenly had to go to the bathroom with no warning. One minute I was playing and the next minute things were urgent. It was too late to walk to the bathroom.

The first time it happened I just froze, standing there rigidly.

“What are you doing?” Mrs. Soderstrum asked. “Come over here now.”

I took a step toward her and there was nothing I could do. It just came out. You could smell it immediately. I stopped walkiing and Mrs. Soderstrum came over.

“It smells like you had an accident. Look, you can’t be doing this, Eric.”

She takes me to the bathroom and has me stand in the tub as she removes my clothes and cleans me. She asks me to stay in the tub while she walks to my cubby across the hall to find new pants. I don't have any spare underwear so she goes upstairs to find a pair from her son. It feels weird pulling on someone else's underwear. They are too big. Mrs. Soderstrum takes me by the shoulders and firmly tells me that if I have another accident she will have to put me back in diapers. I feel both mortified and frightened. She sends me out to play in the new pants. If the other children notice, they don’t say anything.

About an hour later it happens again, although it is smaller this time. Susan smells it and starts walking around checking all the toddler’s diapers. Then she turns to me.

“Wait, is it you?”

She sniffs me loudly. “Wow. It is you.”

I immediately start to beg. “Please don’t tell. Your mom said if it happened again she’d put me in diapers. Please don’t tell. Please don’t”

Susan runs over to her mom and points at me. Mrs. S seems mad but doesn't do anything since my mom has just arrived to pick me up. She explains what happened and that she will have me wear a diaper if it happens again.
My mom seems more frustrated than angry.

When we are in the car, she turns to me.

“Now it’s happening at daycare? Look, Eric, you have to stop doing this. I watch you at home and I know it can be hard to stop playing but you have to get up and go to the bathroom. Okay? If you don’t, I’m afraid Mrs. Soderstrum is going to start having you wear a diaper and you don’t want that, do you, honey? Ok let’s get home and get you cleaned up.”


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Daycare (Part 2)

The next week it was happening again. I simply didn’t feel it coming. I stand there like a little totem pole slightly twisting my stomach and hoping the feeling would pass. Inside my head I am yelling. Oh, no. Please. No. Go away. Go away. Go away. I know that if moved I won’t be able to hold it in.

Mrs. Soderstrum sees something. Perhaps it’s the fact I am just standing there or maybe it’s the expression on my face – eyes to the side but not looking anywhere in particular – that betrays me. She can tell that something is going on.

“Eric, what are you doing? Come over here.”

I stand there hoping for a last minute lucky break.

“Come here, right now.”

I take two small steps toward her. Disaster. I can feel it coming out. This is bad. I freeze with the thought there is nothing I can do now. The wheels are in motion. Mrs. Soderstrum gets up from her chair and walks toward me. There is nothing I can do. What is about to happen is simply going to happen. She grabs my shoulders.

“What’s going on? Did you have another accident?”

She spins me around as two children stop playing nearby and pulls back the waistband of my shorts.

“You can’t keep doing this, Eric. Come on.”

She takes my hand and leads me to the bathroom where once again she has me stand in the tub as she strips me down. She bags my underwear and cleans me with a washcloth that she runs under the tub faucet. The cloth feels cold and rough between my legs.

“Susan, come here.”

Susan appears in the doorway and starts looking at me.

“Did Eric have another accident?”

“He did. Can you just grab me the changing pad and a diaper from the purple box of pampers next to the changing table?”

It is happening. Today. Now.

Susan returns with the vinyl changing pad and a diaper shaped like a long folded rectangle with two crisp pleats running down its length. Mrs. Soderstrum positions the pad on the bathroom floor, pulls me out of the tub, and has me lay down. My head is near the door, by Susan’s feet. Mrs. S opens the folds on the two ends of the diaper and kneels down next to me. She firmly grasps my ankles and in one smooth movement lifts one leg up and over her lap and then slides me closer toward her. She is now kneeling squarely between my knees. I feel pinned and helpless. I can’t squirm away now even if I try. There is no getting out of this. I tilt my head back and I see Susan looking down at me. She has probably never seen a first grade boy being diapered. She seems glued to the spot.

Mrs. S slides the diaper under me and in a practiced gesture tucks me down with one hand and pulls up the front of the diaper with the other. I can feel her hands now resting on my padded tummy holding the diaper snugly in place.

“Actually, Susan, could you get me a couple of pins? The tapes might not hold. He may be too big.”

Susan returns with two blue diaper pins shaped like little ducks and stands once again by my head. My stomach has always been very ticklish and I squirm as Mrs. S slides her fingers under the top of the diaper to fasten the first pin.

“Stop that or we’ll both get stuck.”

The diaper fits. I look down and can’t believe my eyes. I am wearing a diaper for all to see. Mrs. S reaches down and pulls out the pleats that run between my legs. It feels strange. At first it is the size or shape, more than the bulk, that feels odd. I’m not used to wearing something that comes up so high on my belly or that goes down so low on my thighs.

“That ought to hold.” She stood up and lifted me to my feet.

As I turn to face Susan in my diaper I can feel the bulkiness between my legs and hear the obvious crinkle. Mrs. Soderstrum picks up my shorts. They are my police shorts with a little clip by the front belt loop where I attach a key ring that held a little magnifying glass and a rabbit foot. I love watching Squad 51. I have the red hat from the show and these are my favorite shorts. They look just like Johnny’s, my TV hero. I step into them and Mrs. Soderstrum pulls them up.

“Well these certainly aren’t going to fit over your diaper. Let’s see if we can find you something to wear.”

They lead me across the hall and into the room they use as a nursery. It is darker and holds four cribs and a changing table with steps running up one side to make it easier to change bigger kids. There are cubbies that hold each child’s things. Diapers, spare clothes. Mine is empty.

”Your mom needs to bring you a change of clothes and some diapers if you are going to keep having these accidents. Susan, run upstairs and grab a pair of shorts for him to wear.”

Susan protests. “But Mom!”

“Just go! Find him something you don’t wear anymore.”

Susan comes back down with a pair of yellow terrycloth track shorts. The kind that were so popular in the 70’s.

“Thanks. Here, try these on.”

I step in and Mrs. S slides them up. They are large enough to fit the bulk of the 70’s style pampers but the legs are too short. The pleats of the prefold come down well below the bottom of the shorts. So even after I put my shirt back on and tuck it in, you can still clearly see my diaper sticking out the legs. But in way it doesn’t matter. Pampers were thick in the 70’s and the folds formed a tell-tale triangular ridge in the front and back. Put that together with the distinctive crinkle and I wasn’t hiding anything.

We return to the playroom. The other children point at me and start giggling. I am quite the sight. I wander over to the bookshelves, sit down, and pull out a book, hoping to disappear.

I am afraid my mom would be furious at me for being in a diaper. When she comes in I keep reading my book instead of running over to her. She talks with Mrs. Soderstrum as they look over at me. When they finish talking my mom walks over to me. She doesn’t seem mad. Just tired.

“Come on, Eric, let’s go.”

Walking out into the bright sunlight, carrying a bag with my soiled clothing, wearing girl’s terrycloth track shorts, and a diaper in broad daylight makes me want to run and hide. I slide into the backseat of the car and lay down so nobody can see me. I want to disappear.

Eventually me mom asked me to explain what had happened. It was all too much. I say nothing.

“I don’t know why you are doing this but you are going to need to find a way to stop or else you are going to have to wear a diaper when you are at Mrs. Soderstrum’s. Do you understand?”

I still can’t speak.

My mom had to drop by Safeway on the way home. I don’t want to get out. My mom opens my car door.

“I can’t leave you in the car alone. You are coming with me.”

She pulls me out and into the store. I feel like I am being paraded up and down the aisles. I keep trying to hide behind the cart when I see someone coming. Eventually my mom turns down the diaper aisle and pulls a purple box of pampers from a shelf.

“I’m getting these for Mrs. Soderstrum just in case. You are way too old for this. It really needs to stop.”

Checking out, the cashier reaches into a little bucket and pulls out a tootsie pop.

“No treat for him.” She reaches into the cart for the Pampers and places them on the belt. “As you can see. He’s not been good today. I’m literally at my wits end.”

The cashier punches in the price and places the box in front of the bagboy.

“He’ll grow out of it eventually. They all do.” She looks down at me and smiles. “Nobody goes to college in diapers, right?”

“We’ll see. With this one I’m not so sure.”

As we turn to leave my mom pulls the Pampers out of the cart.

“Here. Carry these so you can think about what you did.”

I know better than get on her bad side. Given all that had happened I didn’t want to find out how it can get worse. I grab the little white plastic handle. They are heavier than I expect and I struggle to keep them from dragging on the ground.
I suddenly hear Barbara’s voice.

“Take another breath. In through your nose and out through your mouth. Now describe the first image that comes to your mind.”

What am I going to say to my wife and new therapist? That I see myself walking through the Safeway parking lot carrying a box of pampers and wearing a diaper that everyone could see and hear under a pair of yellow girl’s terrycloth track shorts?