In early March, CBC (that’s Canada’s national broadcaster for the uninitiated) released a story about living with an ostomy. The story focused on a young woman, Brittany Ferreira’s experience having her colon removed in her early twenties and her resulting struggle with body image.
The story ran with the headline “I’ll never be normal now.” This understandably upset quite a few members of the ostomy community. Notably, Uncover Ostomy’s Jessica Grossman criticized the headline and how the article seemed to negatively portray life with an ostomy.
The story details Ferreira’s early struggle with Crohn’s disease and the insecurities she now faces living with an ostomy. She acknowledges the surgery saved her life, but also doesn’t underplay the hardship that comes with being a young woman with an ileostomy.
Grossman was contacted for the article, but was not featured in the final product. I wish the CBC had reconsidered, because there is a lot of truth in her criticism. Mainstream media rarely portrays ostomies in a positive light. More often than not, they’re used as a way to ostracize or get a cheap laugh.
I’ll be the first to admit that I took issue with the piece—namely the big, bold “WARNING - CONTAINS EXPLICIT CONTENT” at the top of the page. The explicit content in question? A picture of Ferreira with her pouch showing. (The “warning” has since been removed).
However, I stopped short of criticizing the content of the article. Even though this article was no counter to the many negative ostomy stories, I couldn’t bring myself to. Because at the heart of it, Brittany Ferreira’s story sounded a lot like my story.
Let me elaborate a little. I was two days away from turning 17 when I had my colon removed. I knew I had to have the surgery. But that didn’t stop me from feeling afraid.
I was afraid of having a “poop bag on my stomach.” I had never met anyone with an ostomy. I had no idea what my life would look like with one. The nurse handed me a brochure about living with an ostomy with an image of an old couple on the front. It didn’t make me feel better.
She also gave me a magazine about teens with ostomies, but I decided the stories in there were all made up. They were just trying to make me think this was something that happened to young people. (I was obviously still a little high off my grade 11 sociology class).
I knew I needed to have an ostomy if I wanted to live. But that didn’t mean I wanted it.
When my six-year ostomy anniversary passes in June, I’ll be on the cusp of turning 23. But those feelings of sadness, regret and yes, even that I’m not “normal” are still pop up occasionally.
I have days where I still hate my ostomy, even though I know I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for it. I have days where I wish I could just wear a goddamn bikini. I have days where I look at my sister’s perfectly “normal” stomach and feel a pang of jealousy. I have days where I think I’ve worked up the nerve to finally start dating but stop short because I’m worried a guy will be turned off by my pouch.
These aren’t rational feelings. But they’re still how I feel sometimes.
As the gap between my pre- and post-ostomy life widens, I get those feelings less and less. I’ve met other people (in my age group!) with ostomies and j-pouches and more. I have close friends who “get it.” I’ve posted pictures with my pouch showing and received absolutely zero rude comments. Life with an ostomy obviously wasn’t my first choice, but it’s not a bad way to live.
I agree with Jess Grossman when she says there are more negative portrayals of ostomies in the media than there are positive ones. There needs to be a shift, and it starts with giving people who live and have lived with ostomies the power to speak up (instead of letting, say, the Family Guy writers’ room have all the power).
There’s no “right” way to have an ostomy—everybody’s experience with an ostomy is different. I can only speak to mine. And I hope Brittany Ferreira and Jess Grossman continue to speak to theirs.