The Longest Shortest Time

No Shit

My daughter has always known how to scream. I mean really scream. I started this blog talking about Sasha’s propensity to sound like Fay Wray as a baby. Back then she’d scream that way when she couldn’t figure out how to eat. These days it’s about other things. My friend wearing a polar bear mask. Thunderclaps. And then this other thing that all started with a normal old bath.

Two weeks ago—on the 4th of July, speaking of loud, scary noises—Sasha was playing in the tub on her hands and knees. I saw her glance behind her and wondered, Is something about to happen? And then something did. A big brown something. And when I say big, I mean it was the size of her arm. It was almost impossible to imagine that it came from her. She whipped around, saw it. Instant Fay Wray.

I yanked her out of the tub, dried her off, and tried to console her, telling her it was just an accident and it was okay while Daddy had the fun job of cleaning the tub. Then they flushed the remnants down the toilet. Aside from the surprise of it all, it really didn’t seem like a big deal. Funny, even. My husband and I had to suppress laughs during storytime.

Little did we know, a brand new longest shortest time was brewing. At first Sasha didn’t want to get back in the tub, which was fine. I figured we’d just let it go until she got over it and was ready. But then she wasn’t eating much. Or pooping at all. It was about a week before it dawned on me that she wasn’t simply constipated. After several days of prune juice and plums, I wondered if all of the moaning and groaning, doubled over on the floor—the crying out, “Mommy hold me!”—was not because she couldn’t get her poop out but because she was holding it in. I’ve read about this phenomenon before and never paid much attention to it because it was hard for me to imagine a child—or my child—doing it.

I asked her if she was trying to get the poop out or keep it in and she confirmed: Keep it in.

Why? I asked

Because I’m afraid I’ll poop in the tub, she said.

But you’re not in the tub, I reasoned.

It didn’t matter.

Things really ramped up last week when we visited a friend who has a son Sasha’s age and a newborn. My friend lifted her shirt to breastfeed the baby and Sasha turned her back to my friend, grasping her own chest in what looked like fear. She also freaked out when the little boy her age was wearing a pirate’s eye patch. Clearly, something bodily was going on with her. Bothering her in a big way.

Yes, clearly. That night I tried having her stand in a couple inches of water just so I could rinse her. When that didn’t work, I made an unsuccessful attempt at shampooing her over the sink. We wound up doing a sponge bath on the bathmat (what we’ve been doing ever since then, too) but she was already shampooed so I stuck her in the tub just to rinse her hair for 10 seconds. At which point she threw up into her mouth, her jaw chattered like a scared cartoon character, and she screamed until she could only muster a whisper.

I started contacting my resources. I emailed her pediatrician. I emailed her old pediatrician from Philly. I emailed a social worker who leads mommy-toddler playgroups. Her ped said: suppository. Her old ped said: laxatives. I get it, they’re doctors, they’re going to suggest a pharmaceutical approach. But it didn’t feel right to me. Taking that control away from her and basically saying, You won’t poop? Okay, fine. I’ll make you poop. The laxatives I could pull off, but the suppository? How would I explain it to her? I couldn’t think of a way that she would buy. And it didn’t feel right to lie about this anyway. I really believed that this was a psychological issue at its root (though the peds didn’t like my suggestion that I try talking to a child psychologist) and I had faith that we could solve this with the proper guidance. While I waited to hear back from the social worker, I tried some other things and waited for that prune juice to kick in.

We read these books:

She wants the rainbow undies at the end SO BADLY.

She wants the rainbow undies at the end SO BADLY.


She loves to answer the question about what whale poop looks like: "BIG!"

She loves to answer the question about what whale poop looks like: “BIG!”

We also called lots of people we know and asked them if they poop: our landlords, our neighbors, Grammy and Pops. Grammy even told us that my brother pooped in the tub when he was a baby. Sasha nodded solemnly and added that my sister-in-law had cleaned it up for him. My breastfeeding friend told Sasha that her little boy once pooped in the tub and that it never happened again after that. I told her that now that she knew what it felt like when she was about to poop, I didn’t think she’d ever poop in the tub again either.

But she remained unconvinced.

Yesterday I wound up having a phone call with the social worker I mentioned. What she said was very helpful but also complicated and I want to devote ample time to that, so I will make that a separate post.

Let me just wrap this up by saying, I got pretty worked up reading online about what long-term poop withholding can do to a child physically and emotionally. I worried that I would have to give her the suppository. But I read this one post by a child psychologist (Googling sometimes yields good results!) that made a lot of sense to me and suggested doing NOTHING. To just totally ignore the doubled-over moaning and groaning. To tell her, I’m sorry I’ve been trying to get you to poo. That was wrong. You are in charge of your own poo and I know you’ll do it when you’re ready.

Let me tell you. I don’t know if it was that or the prune juice, but ten minutes later she pooped. And then two more times that day. And it’s been fine and regular ever since.

Now we just need to tackle that bath.

Anyone have similar experiences?

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