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In 2016, I remember Christmas shopping with my roommate Danielle for her young nieces and being repulsed by the number of toys and clothes that had poop emojis. I could not comprehend how our society embraced a smiling poop and why it became one of the most popular emojis in existence. For the first time ever the toy industry was in the toilet — literally. Is nobody other than me embarrassed about what our culture deems acceptable?

Fast forward two years, it's now 2018. I’m married with four step-kids and the two youngest girls are seven and four. I discover that my injuries due to a violent sexual assault when I was 17 are continuing to compromise my health and the only treatment option is colostomy surgery. One of my biggest fears of having an ostomy is that my step-kids will think I'm gross and won't understand why I go to the bathroom in a different way. Even for me, this was difficult to grasp how it all worked and why I needed it. I couldn’t imagine explaining pooping in a bag to them.

I had to figure out how to go from being a step-mom who constantly said talking about poop and farting was gross and inappropriate, to somehow normalizing the conversation and finding a way to laugh about it. This was going to be especially important as a new ostomate since my days never seemed to go according to plan. Adapting to my new normal meant navigating through hundreds of different ostomy products to find one that worked for me. It was hard figuring out how to empty the bag in a public restroom which doesn’t offer enough space or privacy. I also had to deal with loud quacking noises coming from my stoma at the most inopportune times. And when my bag got full at the store, I felt like I needed to rush because I didn’t want employees stopping to ask if I was hiding anything underneath my shirt.

Sometimes the best way to cope with a difficult situation is to find the humor in it.

Sometimes the best way to cope with a difficult situation is to find the humor in it.

Initially, I bought the girls an Awesome Ollie teddy bear who has an ostomy. This was a great way of introducing them to the concept, and at the time, I really believed that would be the extent of the "poop" conversation. My plan going into the surgery was that my colostomy would just be something I had, but not something we talked about. I guess my thinking was if we didn’t talk about it, that somehow it wouldn’t exist. That was until my first time emptying the bag at the hospital when I completely missed the toilet and feces covered the walls. With shame and guilt, I had to call my nurse in for help. At that moment, I fully expected her to look at the mess and scold me for being such a nuisance, but instead, she had a huge grin on her face and started laughing. I can’t tell you how grateful I was because that single interaction completely changed the way I viewed my colostomy. She taught me that I should expect moments where my stoma would decide it was in charge and make a mess of things, and that the only way to move forward was to embrace it and learn to laugh when the unexpected happens. I realized that my new normal was going to be the topic of conversation in our house for a long time. My step-daughters have fully embraced my colostomy, especially the 4-year-old. Wherever we go, the first thing she does is locate the bathroom in case I need to use it.

In September 2018, I was eight weeks post-op and already getting a head start on Christmas shopping. I had made a list of toys for the kids but the first presents I bought were a poop emoji plush toy, “Poopies” unicorn poop slime, “Poopeez Kerplopplis” collectibles and a “Don’t Step In It” game. The toy industry turned potty-driven trends into something fun and semi-appropriate to talk about. This has helped me cope with my colostomy in more ways than one. As I was putting the items in my cart, a woman walked past me and commented that she couldn’t understand why poop toys were even made. I smiled at her and said, “I’m grateful for them because it helps me talk to my step-kids about the colostomy surgery that saved my life.”

This post appeared on The Mighty.