Chronic Retentive Constipation
Subtitle: My Kid is Full of Shit
Like many parents, we began the whole potty-training process with our firstborn before he turned 2. We had a potty and let him play with it, sit on it, decorate it with stickers, because this is what it says to do in all the books. He was not terribly interested but indulged us. He turned 2 at the start of the summer, so for most of that time I kept him naked from the waist down. (we actually have a family joke related to this, when he was much younger he used to say ‘nudie’ but he said it ‘noonie’ and often after baths he’d run around naked and say ‘Mommy, I noonie.’ Ahhhh, those days…). So, anyways, the kid was noonie for the summer.
Also, I was exceptionally pregnant that summer with his sister. Because of this, I was not a hard-core potty trainer. I was pretty sure if he did get the hang of using the toilet he would quickly forget about it once that baby came home.
But the noonie thing really worked – he was pee-trained within a month or so of this. I was invigorated, my hopes falsely elevated, and I believed that somehow I had gone from “the mother who didn’t carry hand sanitizer” to the mother who could potty train her child before age 2.” Read that and weep, ladies.
The pooping was harder to master. We tried stickers, food, ‘poop parties.’ I ordered a potty online that he chose. I bought a Bob the Builder soft seat. We filled each bathroom (we had 3 at the time) with board books. I spent more time sitting on the floor of the bathroom reading to the kid than I did reading to him OUTSIDE of the bathroom.
My son was a ‘hide and pooper.’ If he had to go, he’d disappear and we’d find him minutes later hidden somewhere. So we started dragging him to the toilet when he’d hide – and yes, it was dragging because he liked to hide to do his business and he did not appreciate our interrupting him. I specifically recall at the time that if he pooped while on the potty he would also spray pee, and this upset him. His eyes would register pure terror as the poop came out.
After I had his sister, the focus shifted away from toilet training and we worked on adjusting to life as a family of four. There were few, if any, issues related to my son and the new baby. Yet, one day I realized that it had been a few days since he had pooped. Having a newborn and a 2 year old tends to muddle the details, so I started trying to pay more attention. The kid would go 6,7 days between poops. I started giving him benefiber chewables. I had to give him a suppository on more than one occasion. It was, in a word, gross.
Shortly before his 3rd birthday, we went to the pediatrician to discuss the pooping problem. I wanted to send him to preschool that fall but couldn’t unless the toilet issue was under control. The pediatrician suggested miralax, an over-the-counter stool softener that disappears in liquid. In addition, she also suggested the usual methods: sticker charts, reading to relax him on the toilet, lots of liquids, a high fiber diet. I can confess now: I had had enough of it. I was tired of dealing with his crap. I lost patience. I did NOT read to him, I did NOT do a stupid sticker chart. I yelled, threatened, raged. Sometimes, I cried when he couldn’t see me. His failure to poop – and the subsequent damage he was causing his body – was MY failure as a mother.
Fast forward to age 5. For over 2 years, we have given him miralax. The biggest battle has been getting him to poop on the toilet BEFORE the poop gets in his underpants. We have consequences for that, rewards for doing it in the toilet first. We have dealt with poop getting smeared on walls. There have been many, many battles just around getting him to sit on the toilet. With the start of school came new pressure to get this under control – I feared the social ramificataions of waltzing around other kids with poop in his underpants. Our new pediatrician thankfully referred us to a pediatric GI specialist. I am so, so grateful to this man.
The GI doctor knew just what we were dealing with. We left his office with a clear, specific plan and a diagnosis: chronic retentive constipation. It is unclear what causes this, although the assumption is that the child either experiences a painful bowel movement and then works to actively avoid having another one or that the child experiences some sort of emotional issue that results in with-holding the stool. Lots of mumbo-jumbo that means it could be my fault or not.
It has been a month since our visit with the specialist. We are using a medication regime, coupled with frequent trips to the toilet and a sticker chart (yay). I continue to be hopeful and also hard on myself. My son is making progress. I am trying.
I recognize that writing this story is a HUGE violation of my son’s privacy, and I expect to apologize for that in the future – but it is far more important to me at this time to let other people know that this happens. According to all the pediatricians I talked to about this, it is very common – but as usual moms aren’t talking about it. Probably because they all feel like me, like it is something they did wrong.
It’s not. I am trying hard to understand that, too.