Riding the merry-go-round

From ear infections to gastro bugs, the early years of raising a family can feel like a merry-go-round of nose wiping, medicine dispensing, sleepless nights and doctor’s visits. But what about those health issues that can stick around – asthma, eczema, severe allergies, silent reflux and sleep apnoea, to name just a few? Managing your child’s chronic health condition can be an exhausting, disheartening, even an isolating business, as my husband and I have learned as parents of two children who suffer from chronic constipation, among other health issues.
I am sharing the story of our family’s battle against long-term constipation here because I want to help other families – families like ours with children for whom constipation is the norm, causing anxiety, discomfort and sometimes even damage.
Constipation is not a glamorous subject, and certainly isn’t discussed widely in the community as, say, asthma or allergies are. Nor is it a subject I knew anything much about just over three years ago. But it is one that is never far from my thoughts these days as my husband and I do all that we can to keep our children performing one of the most basic human functions: eliminating the body’s waste.
Constipation in children is not uncommon. Usually it’s an acute problem, passing within a couple of weeks, resolved perhaps by increasing the child’s water intake, incorporating more fibre in their diet, perhaps identifying a source of food intolerance. Toilet training can throw up problems too – the word ‘withholding’ takes on a whole new meaning when you are in a stand-off with your wilful toddler who refuses to let go of a poo. Sometimes a laxative medication is needed for a while. But what happens when the condition remains, month after month, year after year?
Signs that our girls had slow bowels were present during their first year while the girls were exclusively breastfed. But the constipation properly set in with the introduction of solids. With every dropped breastfeed, each of our daughters pooed less, strained more, and tore, again and again. By twelve months each one had learned to fear passing stools; by fifteen months they were actively withholding, a diabolical behaviour with an already inefficient bowel. By eighteen months, both had become entirely dependent on an osmotic laxative. Now at the ages of 21 months and three and a half years, even with the stool-softening medication, both children can still become impacted, requiring clear-outs. The slightest reduction in their base dose of medication, we have found, and their systems can halt.
Chronic constipation affects our children’s appetite, behaviour and sleep. Every bowel movement is a precious thing: it promises a better effort at the next meal; less clingy, withdrawn or volatile behaviour; a blessed decent night’s sleep. As the poo backs up within them, it brings not only discomfort, but also skin flare-ups and runny noses. We’re frequent visitors at our doctor’s, the dietician’s, the gastroenterologist’s, and most recently at the allergist’s, and although we have found excellent medical support, no one has a solution to our daughters’ problem. We’ve been told the girls may need to manage the condition all their lives.
Chronic constipation can be a difficult issue for others to understand. The children appear healthy, and largely they are, yet they still have a significant health problem that needs close attention. It is time consuming, frustrating and relentless. I worry I have become a terrible, absent friend. Often my sole purpose is to get us all through the day as best I can.
Over the years we have received so many suggestions from non-professionals on how to resolve our children’s constipation. The bottom line is, if the answer was as simple as pear or prune juice, I would not be writing this. Natural remedies may work wonders for most children experiencing acute constipation, and adults too; however, at least right now, if our two children do not take medication, quite simply they will end up in hospital.
Six months ago I was a founding member of an online support group for parents of children suffering from long-term constipation, sparked by a thread within Inner West Mums. Within months the group had members from across the world, now totalling more than 50. Some members are relatively new to the fight against constipation; others have spent years trying to resolve their children’s issues. Although my children’s issues pale in comparison with those of many within the group, I can relate entirely to the feelings of constant stress and disappointment. And I know that by sharing my concern, maybe a few insights from my experience, I can help those parents, just as they help me. The group has become a wonderful source of information, support and friendship.
In writing openly about my family’s experience here, I hope to raise awareness of this little-discussed, difficult condition. If you have concerns about your child’s gut health, I urge you to speak to your GP or paediatrician. If they are not taking your concerns seriously, find another one who can support you and your child well. Although it seems there are unfortunately no quick fixes for our daughters’ condition, having access to a proactive GP and the specialised knowledge of a paediatric gastroenterologist has made a world of difference for our family. For any parents with children who suffer from chronic constipation wishing to join the group mentioned above, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me.
More from Ginny Grant:
No Judgements, please
Triumph or Trauma
When is enough, enough?
Friends, Near or Far
My ( Child’s) Kitchen Rules

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  • Dimi
    11/01/2016 at 11:50 am

    i can relate. I have a child with chronic constipation and would love to be added into their constipation group. Thanks

    • Ginny Grant
      12/01/2016 at 1:52 am

      Dimi, just search ‘Chronic Constipation in Children Support Group’ on Facebook and request to join the group. Cheers, Ginny

  • Clare jones
    11/01/2016 at 12:10 pm

    You have made me feel so much better about our situation !!!

    • Ginny Grant
      12/01/2016 at 1:55 am

      Clare, you are definitely not alone in this!

  • Elizabeth
    13/01/2016 at 11:56 am

    Such an important and brave piece Ginny. You and family have been through a lot! So good to raise awareness and help others in the same situation. Bless you. x

    • Ginny Grant
      14/01/2016 at 10:53 pm

      Thanks for your kind words, Elizabeth. x

  • Jemma
    13/01/2016 at 12:03 pm

    Hi, thank you for your honest article about a subject not often spoke about. My 7 month old is experiencing chronic constipation and I would love to be added to the group to learn about some ways to help him from people going through the same thing with their children (you’re so right…prune juice just doesn’t cut it with some kiddies!) thanks!

    • Ginny Grant
      14/01/2016 at 10:54 pm

      Thanks, Jemma. To join the group, just search ‘Chronic constipation in children support group’ on FB (we are the only one!) Send a request and I or the other admin will approve you. Meet you there! x

  • Wilhelmina Ford
    14/01/2016 at 4:54 am

    I would love to be added as your story is so similar and relatable for my 14 month old.

    • Ginny
      15/01/2016 at 9:25 am

      Wilhelmina, just search the FB group ‘Chronic constipation in children support group’ and send a request to join. Cheers, Ginny

  • Anna
    19/01/2016 at 3:45 pm

    I too would like to be added, my 5 yo daughter has battled all her life with this all consuming condition, I’m overjoyed to say that we finally have made a breakthrough, I took an aggressive approach after much research, and numerous proceedures that didn’t shed any light, nor explanation, nor solution; Australian dr’s /physio/gp’s don’t favour this protocol, labelling it invasive……my life and my daughters quality of life has dramatically improved, the difference in her being is remarkable.

    • Ginny Grant
      27/01/2016 at 10:08 am

      Anna, sorry for the slow response – I don’t get notifications about these comments and only just saw your note. To join the group, just search ‘Chronic constipation in children support group’ on FB and send a request. Look forward to hearing more about your experience (and progress – amazing!) there.

  • My (Child’s) Kitchen Rules | Iwm
    01/03/2016 at 2:51 am

    […] Riding the Merry Go Round […]

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  • […] from Ginny: The Early Days Not water – Tears No Judgements, please Triumph or Trauma Riding the Merry go Round Friends, Near or Far When is Enough, Enough? My ( Child’s) Kitchen […]

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