I’m going to stray into mommy blogger territory by making my first Christmas post about a discussion of my 3-year-old’s pooping problems. It ends happily, but just don’t say I didn’t warn you what is contained within.
Christmas Eve, I solve the riddle of Morrigan’s withholding her poop. Like all wars, victory comes at a great emotional toll. At least, I really hope it’s victory. We have a technique now, and four successful bowel movements, so I’m going to say we’re safe. Before, it was the hope-and-pray method, so when we’d have a couple good days, I said nothing. Good thing–we always had a backslide until now.
The problem started a month after the twins were born. We were warned that we could suffer a potty training regression. She’d been pooping in the potty for almost a year, although her pees were whenever she felt like it, with lots and lots and lots of pants going through the wash. Because of this, we expected a problem with pee. We never expected her to reach the point where she actually refused the act of pooping.
“No, I don’t poop!” she would vehemently declare over and over, to which I would think about going to argue with the wall since I figured I had a greater chance of success there.
We tried sternly telling her to go into the bathroom and poop, which made the whole problem worse. In fact, say whatever you want, Mayo Clinic website, I think that’s what caused it. Not pooping causes constipation, which compounds the problem; however, the initial issue was that she didn’t want to poop in the potty. Sleep-deprived parents of two screaming one-month-old babies have little patience for those shenanigans, and we tried to make her go.
Epic, monumental fail.
We tried positive encouragement surrounded by a lot of ignoring it, which seemed to be somewhat successful. That, along with a glycerin suppository, took care of the problem enough to keep her from having to go to the ER. (And yes, we did consult the family doctor, who looked for and didn’t find a physical problem causing constipation or pain.)
So Christmas Eve, before my breakdown in the bedroom, we’re getting Morrigan ready for a bath. We get the water in the tub, we get her clothes off, and then The Look comes over her face.
The one thing that makes this simpler is The Look, which is pretty much close to sheer terror and signals when she has to go–there’s no guesswork. The whole thing is awful, really, and I feel so bad for her. But I also feel so bad for Kevin and I because we’ve been so powerless up to this point.
In fact, that’s the whole reason I’m deviating from breast cancer discussions to describe this. Nobody anywhere has anything remotely helpful to say about what to say to get a 3-year-old to poop. “Reassure the child” is the extent of it in that Mayo clinic article I linked–hello, not helpful. I’m hoping maybe this blog post helps someone, somewhere, through the magic of the internet SEO or whatever. Or maybe I simply need to share one of the lights in this season of darkness in our lives.
Morrigan stands there naked, terrified to get into the water because she’s going to have to poop. Kevin convinces her to sit on her potty. I start spitballing different ideas.
Right now she adores Paw Patrol, especially Marshall, so I say, “Why don’t we pretend that you’re Marshall? Marshall always pushes out his poop when he has to go.”
“No! I’m not Marshall! I’m a Mommom bunny!” (This is a thing she’s been saying for a few months, too; don’t know why. We just roll with it.)
“Oh,” say I, “that’s right. Mommom bunnies also always push out their poop when they have to go.”
She’s dubious, but it gives her pause. Still, it’s not enough. She’s crying. Snot is running down her face, and I get her a tissue. She’s screaming that the poop is stuck; it’s stuck; it won’t come out; it just won’t.
Over the three days–with two poops on Christmas, yaaaaaaaaay–I hone my technique. But the reason I’m writing about it is that it comes down to actually coaching her through pushing out her poop.
And let me tell you.
Them poops were big.
It’s not wonder she was scared of it hurting. Those things would have hurt me. And the first one backs up the toilet.
Here’s what I figure out.
When she starts to cry, I tell her that the Paw Patrol puppies are coming to help her. I hold up my fingers one at a time as I go through their names. “Skye is coming,” one finger. “Rubble is in there, too,” second finger. I go up to all eight of them, including the secondary ones, Everest and Tracker. Yesterday, I couldn’t remember Chase and it drove me nuts. Never mind–it didn’t matter. Distracting her, shushing her when she starts crying, that is key.
I have to get her calmed down.
I’ve also been giving her fiber-only Metamucil, a half teaspoon of it mixed in the appropriate amount of water, toward the beginning of the ordeal. The fiber stimulates the bowels and bulks things up so that the next time, it’s not so hard. She asks for her medicine, mostly to stall, but it’s good because tomorrow, it’ll be easier. I also think it might elicit a Pavlovian response if I have to do it enough, which will help.
Once we get that out of the way, it’s time to push, I tell her.
“I can’t,” she says.
“But you can,” I say. “The puppies don’t say they can’t. When there’s a challenge, the puppies say, ‘I can!’ And they always save the day! No poop is too big, no pup is too small!”
“The poop is stuck,” she tells me. “It’s stuck.”
“I know,” I reply. Good thing I’ve watched all the episodes. “Remember when Jake got his foot stuck? The puppies came and rescued him. They didn’t give up and say, ‘He’s stuck. We’re not going to save him.’ No, they got him out. And even though his foot hurt, he was brave.”
“I’m not braaaaave!” she wails. “I’m scared!”
“That’s good,” I tell her, “because you can’t be brave if you’re not scared. If you’re not scared, you don’t need courage.”
Life lessons, here on the bathroom floor.
“Watch.” I ball up my fist. “Let’s pretend this is your poop.” I’m trying to get her to focus on me instead of the pain. “The puppies are inside, and they’re all going to push. Rubble has his bulldozer out.” I lift my hand up and mime a bulldozer coming at the ‘poop.’ “He’s going to push, but he needs you to push, too.”
“I’m not readyyyyyy,” she yells.
“It’s coming,” I’m moving my bulldozer hand closer. “Here we go. Push, push, push, push, push!”
Sometimes she pushes. Sometimes she doesn’t. I can tell because when she really does it, her face turns red. Those poops are big, yo. It’s heart-breaking to watch your little three-year-old suffer, which is exactly why I’m so happy we finally figured this out.
I repeat everything over and over. Every time she protests, I encourage her with a story about the puppies. When she starts to cry, I rhyme off their names and she quiets down. When she’s had a few minutes of rest, I tell her the Rubble’s bulldozer or Everest’s snowplow or Chase’s winch is coming.
The longest one of these takes us forty-five minutes.
The fourth time we do this–this time on Boxing Day–she initiates her own poops a couple times. And she pushes and pushes and finally–
It’s done! She does it! And her mood immediately improves, her face lights up, and she says to me, “I helped the puppies!”
Oh, that breaks my heart in both a good and a bad way. I want to tell her the truth. “No, darling, you did that all yourself.” But all I say is, “That’s right. And you should be so, so proud of yourself. You didn’t give up, you kept going, and now it’s done!”
I only wish I’d thought of this sooner. I only wish someone had told me I could actually coach her through a poop successfully–and how. We’ve talked to other parents who have had this problem, but we all just shrug our shoulders together and say, “It’s common. It’ll pass.” That’s what the doctors, the specialists have told us.
But no more. We have the tools. We can do this. She has the tools. She can do this. And I am so proud of her. It’s probably the worst pain she’s experienced in her short life, and she pushed through it.
My little warrior goddess; my little Morrigan.