The alarm is angry drunk loud. It is called an Enuresis Alarm. Beginning in the 1930s, the alarm functioned as a bedwetting treatment, used to wake (thrust) a child out of a deep sleep, alerting them that they wet the bed! It worked by attaching a sensor to the bed, a pad, or your underwear. Once wet, the sensor alerts. I recall that the version I used looks like a vintage baby monitor. The alarm was attached to a pad-and-bell alarm, which meant that the sensor pad was positioned in the bed between the waterproof mattress pad and the fitted sheet beneath me.
I worked my way up to this deafening, discordant, psychological warfare. For months, maybe my entire short life, I wet the bed. There were no Pull Ups or 5 year old child size diapers back then. I would have probably peed through them anyway. Honestly, I wet the bed so much that I dreaded going to bed.
At least one hour before bed, I resolved not to drink any liquids. Then I would find myself standing next to the kitchen sink, gulping down a refreshing glass of water. I can hear my parents’ voices,
“Beth, please, please stop. Do not drink any more. You will wet the bed.”
Once my bed wetting became a thing, I was advised,
“Beth, if you wet the bed, quietly change your pajamas. See if you can sleep on your (wet) sheets. If they are really soaked, you can get us. Remember, you don’t want to wake your sister.” (She and I shared a room.)
I was probably four or barely five years old. I was a barometer of the world around me. I dreaded that my older sister would be witness to my middle-of-the-night disruptions. I mean, she endured my fear of the dark. Because of me, we kept the door propped open and the hall light on. She was also aware of my vivid nightmares wherein alligators would eat my family, which always seemed strange because we lived in Minnesota. How much more could I ask of her? (A lot).
On those frequent bed-wetting nights, I recall that she heard the alarm before I did. I can picture her disorientingly calling my name,
“Beth, Beth, wake up. Beth! Please! Beth! WAKE UP!”
They must have heard her or the alarm because seconds later my parents’ footsteps weakly clumped down the hallway. “Not again!” sighs my step dad, (who I call dad), as he flips on my bedroom light.
“Bethy, Bethy, you need to wake up,” My mom urges.
The alarm’s bleating is all encompassing. Utterly discombobulated, I try to move. My body feels like it’s stuck in quicksand.
“Turn that thing off!” Dad yells, referring to the alarm.
I watch the cord fly as it is yanked out of the wall. I am pulled out of my bed. I sit on the pile of wet sheets, out of the way.
“Bethy, you are all wet. Stand up,” Mom says.
“None of the other kids wet the bed,” one of them murmurs.
“Can you find any clean sheets? She does this every night. We need to keep a pile of clean sheets. It’s expensive to wash all of these sheets constantly. We need to think of something else,” Dad insists.
At that, like the chaos during a hospital’s Code Blue, Mom runs into the hallway. I hear the accordion doors open and then the sound of her hands as they furiously dig through our linen closet. She returns with a mismatched set of twin sheets. My dad grabs and hurriedly examines them.
“Where is the mattress pad? Why didn’t you get the mattress pad? Do we have a clean one?”
Mom runs back into the hall and returns seconds later with a pile of sheets. Handing them to him she urges,
“Use these as a mattress pad.”
Hastily he begins remaking my bed.
“I hope she doesn’t wet the bed again. I don’t want her to pee on the mattress.” I hear him mumble.
Dad pauses. Mom walks over and finishes making the bed.
“Beth, someday you are going to have to do this yourself,” Dad says.
Mom interrupts, “Bethy, come here. We need to get you out of these wet clothes.”
Like a searing smack to an elbow, I am alert. Immediately I feel exposed.
“I do not want to take my clothes off.” I think.
I want to be dry. So I awkwardly take off my soaking pajamas and soggy underwear. I put on my dry pajamas. As I change, I look over and notice my sister. She is sitting up, wiping her eyes. She looks tired. I stare. She looks really sweet in her nightgown and tussled hair. Now I am horrified. I hear the voice in my head,
“Beth, you did this to her.” I start to cry.
“Mom, when will my bed be ready?” I ask.
I scan our twin beds with complementary yellow and green handmade comforters. I am really tired and wish I could climb into my sister’s dry bed. The yellow walls seem brighter. I cannot escape. Everyone is there because of me.
“Bed’s ready,” Dad effusively says.
I climb in. My sister is already back to sleep. My parents leave the room, turn off the light.
“Please leave the door open,” I plead. (They do.)
A few weeks later, I found myself in the hospital. I was told I was there to have a special surgery to fix my bed wetting. Something about scar tissue. I remember people coming to visit me, and someone bought me a stuffed animal. I do recall getting an enema and the nurse explaining that they would insert a tube.
“This way we can make sure everything is out of you.”
I was awestruck as I watched the container fill with the contents of my insides. I know I was put under general anesthesia. I remember fighting the anesthesiologist as they put a big, black mask over my face.
The surgery did not fix my bed wetting. Nevertheless, by the next year, when I was six, I stopped wetting the bed (like most kids do at that age).
Fast forward to now:
Recently, my husband looked at me, alarmed.
“You are holding your breath. Do you know you are holding your breath?”
I have been coughing since June. I have been coughing so hard that I would vomit. When I cough, I feel peoples’ stares. Several people have insisted that it was my cough that made them sick. I often lead a conversation with,
“You might hear me cough. I assure you I am not sick. If you would feel more comfortable, I am happy to leave.”
My big secret: I also cough so hard that I would leak. And what I mean by leak is I would pee a little. I didn’t want to, but I began wearing pads. I also began holding my breath. Holding my breath seemed to make it all stop, at least the coughing.
Then I remembered that years ago, and after my c-sections, I had done pelvic floor physical therapy. Consequently, every time I coughed, I brought back to mind the exercises: Now every time I coughed, I determined to kegel my way out of every leaky, pee-filled moment. For months I existed in a slight panic, always knowing an extra bad coughing spell would equate to that much more urine. Resolved, I continued holding my breath and power kegeling every all-consuming coughing spell.
Then I heard it again.
“You are holding your breath.”
It was my doctor. She was trying to listen to my lungs.
“Oh, I do that. My husband says that I hold my breath.” I left out about the pee. She already knew about the cough. “I often coughed myself to sleep. I am so tired of coughing that I hold my breath.” I opined. “You need to stop holding your breath. You need to breathe,” my doctor advised. I tried to breathe. “In through your nose. Out through your mouth. Your chest shouldn’t move.” My chest moved.
By October I was determined to breathe. That is when I found myself enrolled in eight physical therapy sessions. “I hold my breath. I have this cough. I think my pelvic floor could use a tune up.” I told my male PT. “I don’t do that.” He said. “I assumed so. I wanted to give you the big picture.” I answered. Without missing a beat, he asked if I had been to therapy.
“Coughing can give people real PTSD.”
I felt he was onto something. I also felt my tears. I tried to say something else.
“I’m sure some core work would help. Core work always helps.” He said.
In the next breath, he had me doing planks. My diaphragm hurt. I started to cough. My body was not ready. I began canceling our appointments.
Last week I made my way to a legitimate pelvic floor physical therapist. She is going to help me get my pelvic floor muscles back to their original strength and function. Yes. This also means better bladder control. We talked about how I hold my breath. I expected her to have me do some core work, planks or kegels. Instead, we talked.
“People in your situation think they need to hold tight and strengthen their muscles. These muscles are stuck in a fight or flight mode. What is going to help you not leak is to relax, breathe and heal.”
That is what I needed to hear. Over and over again I need to hear these words: “relax, breathe and heal.” As I relax and embrace my scars and my secrets, I also wish I had a time machine. I wish I could go back and tell little, freckle-faced me,
“Bethy, it is going to be ok. Relax, breathe. Your bed wetting days will pass. You will heal.”
Honestly, I wish anyone would have said,
“Hey Bethy, it is ok to wet the bed. Wetting the bed is normal and what some kids do.”
I cannot time machine myself back. What I can do is move forward. I can learn to relax my pelvic floor. And when I think the next cough or hard swallow will kill me, I can take a cleansing breath. I will be ok. Because I practiced the other day, I know this. I coughed. I choked. Then I remembered,
“Relax, breathe. You will heal.”
I am getting there.