I’m only vaguely embarrassed to admit that I wet the bed until a ripe old age when I was younger. I don’t think the condition survived into double digits, but if it didn’t, it came pretty damn close. So after reading today’s…let’s call it “fecally frank” article about bed-wetting in Slate, I had to wonder: maybe my parents were right. Maybe I really was just full of crap at that age.
Our culture has two reactions to potty problems: Either these problems represent a parental failure, or they are not actually problems but rather a normal (if bothersome) part of growing up. Parents are led to believe that kids are kids—they get busy playing and forget to go potty. They wet the bed, but that’s normal for their age.
In reality, potty-trained kids should not have accidents any more often than you or I do. And while overnight dryness often happens well after a child is toilet trained, bedwetting at age 6 should not be dismissed with, “You’re a deep sleeper. Be patient—you’ll grow out of it.”
Accidents and bed-wetting have the same root cause: chronically holding poop or pee or both. A rectal poop mass squishes the bladder and messes with its nerves; holding pee thickens the bladder wall, shrinking the bladder’s capacity to hold urine and triggering hiccuplike contractions. The upshot: wet undies and bed sheets.
Here’s the interesting part: [pediatric kidney specialist Sean] O’Regan noted in his papers that the parents of his patients had no inkling their children were backed up. Yet these kids were so clogged that they could not feel, in their rectums, the presence of balloons inflated to the size of a small cantaloupe.
O’Regan’s research tells you why constipation is so easily missed. Often, the rectum simply expands to compensate, like a squirrel’s cheeks or a snake’s belly. So much poop builds up that even though the child may still poop regularly, she never completely empties. Many severely clogged kids poop two or three times a day. Parents and doctors are fooled into thinking all is well.
Ummm, it goes on. Fascinating, in a gross sort of way.