Gaining control

Emily, my oldest, wets the bed once in a while.

When she started kindergarten, she still wet the bed every night. She was determined to get dry. Given her genes, I didn’t think she would do it by willpower, but I backed her all the way.

I made an appointment with her pediatrician. I called to give him some background: I wet the bed, albeit not for a reason likely to be relevant to Emily. My siblings wet the bed, some until high school. With that background, he talked to Emily. He encouraged her, but warned her that it might just not be her time yet.

At his suggestion, we tried an alarm and wakeups and a bathroom visit a half-hour before bed and again immediately before bed. The alarm seemed to be a breakthrough, but it ended up just training her to wake up while she was wetting. Her sleep-brain never made the connection to wake a little bit earlier. It also showed that she was sometimes wetting twice a night. Waking her up in the night only made her (and me) irritable.

No matter how calm I’ve been, no matter how much I’ve reassured her, no matter that it hasn’t kept her from anything she has wanted to do, no matter that she understands that it is just hormones and that she will outgrow it, it bothers her. I don’t know if it bothers her that her little brother (who she regards as criminally irresponsible and immature) doesn’t wet the bed, but it couldn’t help. Her brother would never say anything about it (it wouldn’t even occur to him), but she knows that he doesn’t wear pullups and doesn’t carry wet sheets to the laundry.

I was beginning to feel the anxiety that I see and hear in so many parents’ discussions. Wetting the bed at 8 (or even 9) is hardly unusual. It was almost certain that she would outgrow it. Still, I could remember my own despair at waking up in a puddle at age 14. I’ve learned to live with it, and it isn’t a big deal to me. Still, it could be crushing for a girl of 8 or 9.

Sleepovers have been a great boost to her confidence. They proved to her that wetting the bed really was not a big deal — that it could be managed so discreetly that no one would know and that it need not interfere with her friendships and social life.

Over the last year, she has slowly gained control. She stopped wearing pullups last fall, except when she is away from home or if she’s wet in the previous few nights (her wetting runs in streaks).

I’ve been of two minds on telling her that I wet the bed: She’s the only person (besides Mom, my husband and my doctors) that I would dream of discussing it with. But would she be reassured, or would she despair?

Last week, I sent her to camp with a bunch of pullups and Ziplocs. Maybe it will be the last time she wears them.


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