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Going public about my ostomy bag is the best thing I’ve ever done

Be confident and embrace what has saved your life.

Hearing that a 22-year-old has been under general anesthetic more than 20 times seems ridiculous, but that’s what happened to me. I've been in and out of the hospital since I was born because of imperforate anus, a birth defect where the rectum is malformed. Colostomy surgery was performed on me when I was just a day old. I also had a condition called persistent cloaca which is a rare congenital disorder where the rectum, vagina, and urinary tract fuse creating a malfunction. I had major surgery at birth and then had my colostomy reversed along with vaginoplasty at age two, followed by more procedures in my teens.

Growing up was tough with the health problems I had, mainly chronic constipation, so every day I was given laxatives and enemas. In school, nobody knew about this because I kept my condition very well hidden — apart from a bloated stomach which was rather obvious! In my late teens, the enemas and laxatives stopped working, so after many hospital visits and evaluations, I was asked to try peristeen (anal irrigation). It didn’t help.

From my late teens into my 20s, the symptoms were harder to control and stopped me from enjoying time with my friends. The stress of school made the symptoms a lot worse too. In 2014, I was admitted into the hospital because I did not have a bowel movement for three straight weeks. I stayed there for five weeks getting two enemas a day and taking laxatives, plus a manual evacuation under general anesthetic once a week. Everything failed. I went into surgery again for a temporary ileostomy to let my intestine heal after doctors cut a mass out of my colon. Having an ostomy terrified me because before I could easily hide my illness, but now with a bag, I felt I couldn’t do that anymore. Deep down I didn’t want to hide. I was 20-years-old and fed up of hiding what is basically me!

Coming out publicly about my ostomy is the best thing I’ve ever done. Even though there's a negative stigma about ostomies, for me personally, ostomy life is the best life! Last year I felt so good that I actually did a photoshoot with a lingerie company. I would've never had the confidence to do anything like this before my surgery.

In 2016 I elected to have a proctocolectomy to remove my entire colon, rectum, and anal canal. This type of stoma surgery is permanent and resulted in an ileostomy. It was the best decision I’ve ever made even though recovery was hard. The fact that I don't need medication, or enemas, or running to the toilet in agony on a daily basis is such a relief. Hopefully, that will be the last surgery so I can say goodbye to the hospital (my second home) for a long time.

My personal opinion is: as long as you focus on the positives in life, things will go positive for you. I’ve been in an amazingly loving relationship 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. But first, I had to love myself before anyone else could. Be confident and embrace what has saved your life.