New Body, Who Dis?
I’ve been a mother longer than I’ve had a j-pouch. So, facing drastic body changes was not new for me in 2012 when I started talk about having my colon removed. Ulcerative colitis drained me of any fat or muscle. Giving birth to an overdue, almost 9lb baby gave me stretch marks. When the enterostomal therapist or ET Nurse (a nurse who helps people who have a stoma) came to visit me in the hospital, I showed her my very soft, emaciated, tiger striped mom belly with confidence. I didn’t care what she thought about how it looked, she was just the lady that was gonna help me get better.
The stoma was temporary. There wasn’t an exact date, but eventually it would go away. I didn’t really let it bother me. In the meantime I went on the occasional first or second date with it, knowing that it was going to come off one day. All would be fine. I’d be the single mom with stretch marks and a couple of small scars. I hadn’t anticipated this.
I had grown accustomed to being very skinny. I had carried a healthy child, so I embraced my stretch marks. But suddenly I had more than soft mom belly and stretch marks. Instead of one C-section scar, I had two scars. One of which was very visible. My stomach was slightly out of proportion and I was gaining weight faster than I could catch up with. I didn’t recognize my body anymore. I was afraid of what I was seeing. So often right after major reconstruction surgery, like a colectomy, a patient falls victim to a form of, Body Dysmorphia. I was looking at my unrecognizable body with this thing hanging out my stomach. I wanted to scream. I wanted to hide. The more my stoma and scars stared back at me, the more I wanted to run away from myself. I didn’t want my body anymore. I didn’t want my old body anymore either. I was stuck.
Suddenly I meet someone. He was handsome and fun. Sweet, smart. A dad. We start talking. Lunch date here. Dinner date there. We are dating. The further along we go, the more nervous I become. My shirt is eventually going to have to come off. I’m going to have to show someone, other than my doctor, my post-surgical body. His initial reaction was not what I expected. He didn’t flinch. In fact, he seemed surprised that I would be embarrassed by my own body. But I realized that it was not enough, I couldn’t be comfortable with someone else’s view of my body. I had to be comfortable with my own view of my body. But how to do that when I couldn’t see past the scars and weight gain?
“Find the Silver Lining”
How cliché right? But it’s kind of the truth. I’m not necessarily saying that if you think happy thoughts, everything will miraculously get better. Start a path to creating a positive self body image. When you look at your body in the mirror and you see the scars, the sags, the stretch marks, discoloration, think about where you’ve been on your health journey. Consider all it took to get you to the scars. Think about how those scars have brought with them, relief. With my scars came my j-pouch. My j-pouch brought me a new life and better health.
“Fix What You Can. Ignore What You Cannot”
My scars may fade a little, but they are never going away. My stretch marks are fading, but they are never going away. However, my weight gain I can control a little bit more. I know that I tend to retain water very easily so I double my water and other hydrating foods. And I exercise in ways that suit my physical health. Walking my son to and from school on less painful days. Boxing sessions 1-2 times a week. Swimming on hot days. Physical therapy and pilates. Doing a little more on my good days and a little less on my bad days. The key is to find what works for me.
I decided to focus on changing my wardrobe. I didn’t like my look on the outside and the ways my clothes fit, so I changed it. I cut and colored my hair. Changed my makeup regimen. I splurge on lash extensions, add eyeliner, highlight under the eyes and matte lipstick. I found modern clothes that fit my mommy lifestyle, hide the things I don’t like and highlight what is working. I love that my weight gain has given me a more curvaceous figure. Looking in the mirror I’ve stopped searching for 25-year-old Brooke and started to embrace J-Pouch, Mommy Brooke.
Yes, I said it. You may be a patient, a mom, and all of those things. But you’re human first. Put something on that makes you feel sexy and fun. When you feel sexy inside, you change how you carry yourself on the outside. There are days I don’t feel like going on a date, but I know that if I put it off, I’ll never go. Subtracting joy and human interaction from your life is not healthy. Take a deep breath and wear whatever it is that makes you feel beautiful. And not just for a date. There is something you have or can do that will make you feel like a physically whole person every day. Find it, do it, wear it. For me it was my blue hair and haircut. Every day, I am wearing something that makes me feel a little prettier than I felt the day before.
There will always be those moments of frustration with our bodies and our health. The key is to not let those moments overwhelm you or take over. Find the beauty in the breakdown and enjoy your life.