“I have a pooch.” “My thighs are huge.” “I have NO butt.” “My nose is too long.”"My hair is a mess.” “I don’t like my smile.” Things my girlfriends and I have all said to each other while looking in the mirror. Now imagine how that is compounded when you have an ostomy. “I look like a freak.” “No guys will ever date me.” “I wonder if anyone else can see it…”"There’s no way I can hide this.” Even without an ileostomy, many women worry about they appear to others. I won’t lie to you; I am one of them. I’ve sat at the kitchen table flipping through VOGUE wondering how in the world those women get so slender and gorgeous. I’ve poured over every television ad for botox and implants and goodness knows what else to keep women looking young and fresh. The standards are high. I am looking at this strictly from a female POV. I do not speak for the male community, although I am sure they face this dilemma on some level in their own way. When you have an ileostomy/colostomy, your self-image can change dramatically, but only if YOU let it.
When I first got out of the hospital and started putting on something besides a hospital gown, it was a disaster. Aside from the fact that many of my clothes are too big now, I couldn’t find a way to wear my bag comfortably and so it was kept out of sight. My initial reaction was this: I cried in front of my mirror for about ten minutes, silently swearing that I would not be going out for the three months I had to have this ileostomy. My boyfriend would find me unappealing. My friends would stare. Awkward questions abound. All of a sudden, several things happened in quick succession. My favorite pair of jeans began sliding off my hips. My stoma issued a wicked, rattling “brrrrrrrt,” and I began to laugh at myself.
I knew it was going to be okay. I opened up to the fact that I was reacting like any young female would in this situation. There were, in fact, a few ways to make my bag discreet when I went out and to feel comfortable with my body in this state.
I started with the underwear. I’m a boyshort/hipster kind of girl when it comes to underwear. I knew this would have to change for me. My mother and I ventured into the world of waist-high Flexees, something I didn’t think I’d have to do until I was…let’s just say more mature. I’ll tell you…I’m so glad we did! They are a miracle in the making. No wonder so many women swear by them. They are soft, comfortable, not too tight so they don’t rub against your stoma, and conceal seamlessly. I noticed you won’t have much trouble hiding your bag with a one piece system, but as I prefer the two-piece, I had to find function and comfort in other realms. All I do when I go out now is pull a pair of flesh tone Flexees on, tuck my bag carefully inside, and off I go! Problem one solved! Nobody notices. Nobody asks questions. Even I sometimes forget I have it.
As for feeling comfortable with myself….that I admit, is STILL a “work-in-progress”. My boyfriend can tell me a hundred times (I think he has by now, bless him) that I am pretty and he doesn’t care about the bag or the stoma or the noises and that he’d continue to love me if I had it forever. (And, I assure you, ladies, he is a real guy and no, he is definitely not available.) Despite his constant reassurance, I can still look in the mirror and feel somewhat downcast by what I see. In those moments, I literally tell myself: “THIS IS ONLY TEMPORARY. YOU ARE STILL YOU. IT COULD BE WORSE. SHUT THE HELL UP!” After that, I usually carry on without complaint.
For those who are single with an ileostomy/colostomy, I believe it can be even more of a hurdle to overcome. To dare to share your situation with someone new is absolutely your choice and rejection is something we all fear. The message, however, is the same. YOU ARE STILL YOU.
I recognize that I could be a lot worse off. This ileostomy is simply the chance to let my good friend the j-pouch heal and become accustomed to his new surroundings. Come December, the ileostomy will be gone and I will be ready to face the world again in a brand new way. In the spirit of good self-esteem, I have thrown out all my magazines. I try not to think about what society expects me to look like anymore. WE ARE UNIQUE. There is nothing wrong with us. Those who have permanent ileostomies/colostomies go on to have careers, get married, and have children. No big deal! There is no shame in it. It does not define us as individuals. We don’t have to feel bad about ourselves. It’s not something that is easy to adjust to. But, like every other obstacle in life, we can either rise to the occasion and surpass it, or turn back.
As for intimacy, I hope to devote a whole post to intimacy with an ileostomy soon. Keep checking back for updates!
And now, for a cause very near and dear to my guts. If you’ve been following the blog, you are already acutely aware of my involvement with the CCFA’s Team Challenge Marathon for Crohn’s and Colitis. I have joined in the fray with my own fundraising page for the cause. Please, please, please, check it out to learn more and make a contribution. Last weekend, my mother and I attended the family day training session. Some of the walkers and runners brought their children; we all made signs and held our pom poms high to cheer on the team of mothers, fathers, best friends, and siblings as they trained with the fabulous coaches. With motivation like that, they’ll be ready for that marathon in no time! So spread the word to your friends, families, and co-workers! We can all make a huge difference and hopefully put a stop to the rampaging wrath of IBD. I’ll keep the site on the side bar as well for anyone who’s interested. Thank you so much for your consideration!