Ellie has been doing great in so many respects over the past two weeks that the fact that she was still suffering from constipation sort of flew under my radar. I was aware that she was not going for several days, but I let it slide just because she was sleeping so well and was so happy during the day. Big mistake.
Last night was the end of the third day of no pooping. After dinner she seemed to have a BM and asked for a new diaper. She was really, really upset and we assumed it was because she was bothered by her dirty diaper. When we got her upstairs and I opened her diaper it was immediately apparent why she was screaming.
Her bowl movement was bulging out of her anus, but was too big and hard to come out. She was hysterical and Ian and I had no idea what to do. We stood her up and I hugged her while Ian rubbed her back. If you have kids you might recognize this cry - she was doing the cry where her mouth was wide open and pulled back, her eyes were bulging out and she seemed to be crying but for long stretches wasn't making a sound. It was really frightening.
After a while she was able to pass some of the poop. I decided to give her an enema to see if she could get more out. I wish I didn't have to give her an enema when she was so upset (every other time I've done one she's happily cooperated) and I worried I was traumatizing her. In order to get her to lay down for a while and let the enema work, I hovered over her and let her nurse while she laid on the floor. (Yet another "Thank God we are still nursing" moments.) After that, she walked up and down the hallway with Ian, going to look out the front window and then the back window and stopping to sob. We became panicked when the enema work quickly and called our nutritional counselor (no answer) and our insurance's advice nurse line (not helpful).
Finally, about a half an hour after giving the enema Ellie passed another huge, hard poop and instantly felt better. She stopped crying and started chatting with us as if nothing had happened. It's amazing how resilient this kid is. I was traumatized for the rest of the night, but she just bounced right back.
After Ellie went to bed I got to thinking. What is going on? She has been doing so well in every other respect. Two weeks ago we started supplementing with magnesium, which is supposed to help resolve constipation. I thought back. It had started working. She has been pooping fine except for two episodes of constipation, both lasting three days, and both following her toddler co-op she goes to on Thursday mornings. Hmmmm....
Two weeks ago Ellie started spending solo time at some friends houses. The mamas who take turns watching the toddler have all been briefed on Ellie's food issues and made it a point to report to me that she didn't eat anything but her own snack during her time in their homes. But both times the moms informed me that they had played with Play Doh. That instinctual mother voice inside me instantly freaked out both times. "Play Doh!" it said. "Oh no! There's wheat in Play Doh!" Then another voice chimed in "Don't worry so much," it said. "Ellie can be a normal kid and can play with Play Doh. She's not eating the Play Doh. If you tell the moms no more Play Doh you're going to look like a weirdo and make your kid an outcast." Unfortunately I let the second voice win.
But looking back the timing of the constipation and the Play Doh is just too striking to ignore. The fact that it happened twice really solidifies things. I had always associated Celiac Disease (which Ellie has not been diagnosed with) and gluten sensitivity with diarrhea for some reason. But a quick Google search showed me there are lots of people who experience constipation as a symptom of gluten sensitivity. This article discusses gluten sensitivity and constipation especially in babies and toddlers.
Play Doh is essentially just water, salt and flour. Our nutrition counselor called me back this morning and we hashed out what happened and my Play Doh theory. "It seems to be connected," I told her, "but am I crazy? I feel crazy."
"No, you're not crazy," she reassured me. She went on to explain how we can absorb food even through our skin and for some people that level of exposure can cause problems. She told me about a little boy whose family she counseled. He attended a Waldorf school and a big tradition at the school was "bread day" when all the kids help out kneading the bread. She worked with the school to get the boy's classroom gluten free for snacks but for some reason the school wouldn't budge on bread day and the boy ended up having to leave the school because bread day made him so sick. So I'm not crazy.
This feels like a frustrating setback for us. I realize we have no idea how sensitive Ellie is to gluten because I've done a damn good job of keeping it out of her life. Sometimes it's easy to wonder if all of this diet stuff is really necessary, but an incident like this is helpful to show that, yes, Ellie is really sick and, yes, (hopefully!) we are healing her.