As the children are spending time with their grandparents for the next couple of days I’m taking the opportunity to write about some other things. I hope you don’t mind. There are no funny comments or smiley pictures. I hope you still read on.
I want to write about a little known but relatively common childhood health problem called encopresis. You’ve never heard of it, I imagine, so I’m going to do my best to explain it and, hopefully, you will be better informed by the end of this post. Put very simply encopresis is childhood constipation and soiling….except it is never simple.
In this condition, for various reasons, very often unknown, a child becomes constipated. This can be because of a reluctance to use the toilet and with holding stools. Sometimes this is because of a fear of toilets, stress or anxiety. Over time the child becomes chronically constipated and this leads to the bowel becoming overstretched. This can cause terrific pain for the child, loss of appetite, vomiting, and irritability. This then leads to a loss of sensation for when the child needs to go to the toilet and they are left with a degree of bowel incontinence. It can also lead to bladder problems if a compacted bowel presses on the bladder.
Children who are affected by the condition suffer greatly both physically and emotionally as the condition takes its toll on their confidence and self esteem. They want to gain control over their toileting but they keep on having accidents. This can occur multiple times a day. Other children can be cruel if they notice a foul smell and this drives down the child’s self esteem even further. These children can show negative behaviour as a result of their emotional health being so fragile. They can often try to be very controlling in an attempt to feel in control of something, knowing they do not have control of their toileting. They are being robbed of their carefree childhoods.
For families dealing with the condition their whole lives can become affected. It can be difficult to travel too far away from home in case the child has an accident. There are copious amounts of washing. Underwear, clothing, bedding, carpets, furniture must all be regularly cleaned – sometimes during the night. Bathrooms must be cleaned multiple times a day. The extra cost of replacing clothes which are too soiled to wash can be very difficult. There are lots of medical appointments to attend, admissions, procedures, consultations and more. Often parents are called upon to come in to school to help a child who has soiled during the school day. Many don’t work for this reason. It is difficult (although not impossible) to get disability benefits for this condition.
Visiting friends homes, sleepovers, attending parties, residentials and camps can become almost impossible for families to facilitate. Holidays are difficult and consideration must be given to whether washing facilities are available. Days out are a challenge and families have to plan ahead to make sure they are always near somewhere they can change their child.
Some families feel they cannot have guests in their homes as it is too embarrassing and practically difficult. The child’s medication regime, toilet sitting times, high fibre diets (5-a-day and then some!) can become overwhelming. Parents are often dealing with a child who’s behaviour is also a challenge. On top of all of that, the condition is so little known that it is hard for parents to find anyone to talk to about what they are going through. They can become isolated.
They feel guilty that they haven’t properly toilet trained their child. They feel that others will criticise and judge them and their child. They desperately want their child to get better. They feel helpless that their child suffers and they can’t make it better. They are exhausted by all the washing and cleaning and dealing with their child’s challenging behaviour. They are frustrated. They are are hopeless. They are alone.
We are one of these families. We have been one of these families for almost 6 years. I believe there is hope. I believe these children will get better. I believe in a God who heals, comforts, provides and sustains. Our child isn’t yet healed but we have not given up hope. If you’ve read this because you are one of these families I want you to know there is always hope – and please get in touch with me via the comments if I can help you. If you’ve never heard of encopresis I hope you feel better informed and better equipped to empathise with those who are suffering.
I hope that this post helps someone. I still hope.
“And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
Romans 5:2-5 NIVUK