Hearing that a 22-year-old has been under general anesthetic more than 20 times seems ridiculous, but that’s what happened to me. Since birth, I've been in and out of the hospital because I was born with imperforate anus, a birth defect where the rectum is malformed. I had pull-through surgery and a colostomy given to me at 24 hours old.
I was also born with persistent cloaca which is a complex anorectal congenital disorder in which the rectum, vagina and urinary tract meet and fuse creating a malfunction. I had major surgery at birth and as a toddler. I had my colostomy was reversed along with vaginoplasty at age two, and then another at 14.
Growing up the problems that I had included chronic constipation, so I've been on numerous laxatives daily and been given many enemas. In school, nobody knew about this because I kept it hidden very well — apart from my bloated stomach, which was rather obvious! In my late teens, the enemas and laxatives were not working and after many hospital visits, I was asked to try peristeen (anal irrigation). I tried using this system for half a year. It didn’t help.
In my late teens into adult years, my health was getting harder to control. Having these problems (and the fact they were invisible illnesses) stopped me from enjoying time with my friends. The stress of school just made the symptoms a lot worse. In 2014 I was admitted into the hospital due to not having a bowel movement for three straight weeks. I stayed there for five weeks getting two enemas a day and laxatives, plus a manual evacuation under general anesthetic once a week. Everything failed.
I was then given a temporary ileostomy so the doctors could cut a mass out of my colon and let it heal. Having an ostomy scared me so much because before I could easily hide my illness from everyone but with a bag, I couldn’t really do that. Deep down I didn’t want to hide anymore. I was 20 and fed up of hiding what is basically me!
Coming out publicly about my ileostomy is the best thing I’ve ever done. Yes, there's still a negative stigma about ostomies but from personal experience, ostomy life is the best life! I feel healthy. Last year I did a photo shoot for a new lingerie company. I would've never had the confidence to do anything like this before my surgery.
In June 2016 I had an operation called panproctocolectomy to remove my entire colon, rectum and anal canal. This type of stoma is permanent. It was the best decision I’ve ever made even though recovery was hard. The fact that I don't need medication – or have enemas or run to the toilet in agony – on a daily basis is what keeps me positive. Hopefully, that was the last surgery. Thanks to my ileostomy I can say goodbye to my second home (the hospital) for a long time.
I’ve been in an amazingly loving relationship for a year now with someone who doesn’t even make an ostomy a "thing." To him it’s nothing. I just go to the toilet a bit differently than normal. My boyfriend is one of my biggest supporters.
My personal opinion is that as long as you think of the positives of this life things will always go positive for you. After all, you have to love yourself before anyone else can. Be confident and embrace what has saved your life.