The New Mommy

I can remember it like it was yesterday. The cold, sterile room, the hint of hand sanitizer combined with the smell of latex gloves and a tiny squeaky voice with a lisp kept repeating, Mommy, through a speaker. But I was far away, lost in my thoughts and fears, while equally happy just to see his chubby little cheeks and a wide grin.

Adjusting to an ostomy bag

It had been three days since the first of the 3 surgeries had taken place. My total colectomy and insertion of a loop ostomy. In a flash, my colon was gone, and I had a stoma sitting next to my navel. I was pooping out of my stomach. I hadn’t looked at it yet. I couldn’t face it.

However, I felt strangely better. Better than I had felt in years. But I still couldn’t look at it. I didn’t know why I couldn’t look at the stoma, it had saved my life, and I was grateful for it. But I couldn’t look at it. I wanted to run home and put my arms around my little cherry cheeked chef and pretend that I hadn’t been taken apart and put back together like Frankenstein’s monster.

Anxiety about all that was going to change

But they weren’t gonna let me go until I could show them I could change my bag and dressing. What about showering? What about early mornings with a toddler? What if I have an accident while out with my child? What if he gets in the bed with me? Are there groceries at home? How long will I be on these pain pills? When will I stop bursting into tears whenever I think about the ostomy?

My anxiety during my recovery was through the roof. I’m a planner and had recently become the head of my household. Now they were suggesting a get a nurse and help with my little one and...I wasn’t ready. I changed my appliance on my own through tears and cursing, grabbed my packet of xeroxed copied materials, and headed home.

When I look at that time, I am so grateful for the time my family and friends spent helping me and Hippo adjust to our new post-surgical life. I needed to rest and heal, my recovery was going to take time. This was the hardest part to accept, but I knew I needed to get it done. Many parents coming out of surgery are often wondering what’s next. The beautiful thing is we are now living in an age where resources are available in more ways than one. Here’s a step by step recovery aid.

Tips to recover after surgery

Organize the family & household

Color coordinate your family calendar. Make sure you have all items on the master calendar and invite all caregivers and babysitters to schedules. There are family communication tools and calendars you can use, such as Cozi, Google Calendar, and Slack, to make sure everyone is on the same page. Create a system that is easy for your young ones to keep their schoolwork and essential paperwork you must see, but that can be accessed by everyone.

Utilize online shopping

Create shopping lists on your Amazon or Instacart apps for basic shopping needs. You can also set up automatic subscriptions on Amazon Prime that will help elevate the problem of having to remember to grocery shop. If the teacher needs an item purchased while you are recovering, ask her to send you an Amazon link, click and buy.

Create a recovery network

People often ask what they can do. I asked that people take turns taking Hippo to the park, instead of coming to see me. I also needed laundry done, banking is done and rides to and from the doctor. There was no Amazon, Instacart, or Uber when I was in recovery. However, if I were recovering now, instead of asking someone to go shopping, I would ask for a $10 donation to online grocery shopping, or Uber/Lyft rides to and from the doctor. When people asked if they could cook something, I asked them to make something that I could quickly eat up or something easy for Jax.

Order medical supplies before leaving the hospital

I was fortunate to have a mother who thinks two steps ahead. When I got home from the hospital, I had everything I needed, including medical supplies. But outside of ostomy supplies, what could I possibly need? Here’s a list of what worked for me:

  • Safe medical scissors
  • Medical paper tape
  • Adhesive remover wipes
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Gloves
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Waterproof pads
  • Squeezable water bottle
  • Shower chair*
  • 4x4 gauze pads
  • Disposable heat packs
  • Disposable cold packs

*(I was still very weak and only 98lbs when I had surgery)

I created a space in my bathroom with a cart for all ostomy related items. They were items I needed for a regular change, a spill or a leak or an emergency. I also kept salt, a disposable cold pack, and a bottle of Gatorade in case I felt faint. There was also a change of comfy pants and a change of underwear. When I got home, I was able to comfortably change my bag immediately because it was all set up.

Hold a family meeting

Talk to your kids about what is happening. I was completely uncomfortable with what had happened to me, but my child was excited for me! I had decided to talk to him about it because I didn’t want him to fear me because of my bag or resent me because I couldn’t lift him for a while. So we spoke about it. We used apps and the I Heart Guts plush colon to explain what was happening to mommy on the outside.

We dedicated a day where he would design a unique bag for mommy to wear. He sat with me during appliance changes while I air dried my skin with books or his new favorite movie. On occasion, he would yell out, “Mama issa pooping ‘gain!” He was only 2, but somehow he understood what was happening. As he’s grown its led to more in-depth conversations between us and with him and my doctors. I realized that IBD was affecting him, too, and he needed to have the confidence and resources to fight it as well.

Take your time

You may feel better as soon as the surgery happens. However, depending on your health before the surgery, your recovery time may be longer than expected. I didn’t begin feeling normal for about a year after I had the surgery. I didn’t take the time to really rest and recover, and I paid for it. Do not give yourself a timeline. Take the time you need. It’s not a race or a competition. Do what’s best for your body.

It’s okay to be mad

Everyone kept telling me to be grateful. I was grateful, I am grateful. Grateful to be alive. But I remember the first time I woke up to a leak with poop on my belly. It’s jarring. It’s scary. It’s strange. Your world is different in a sudden and abrupt change that you had no choice in.

It’s okay to be angry about the circumstances that brought you to this point. It’s normal to have a difficult time looking at the stoma or changing the bag. Know that you are not the first or the last to have conflicted feelings about your stoma. The acceptance will come, don’t worry, and don’t fake it. It’s your right to feel all of your feelings.

There’s so much of the unknown going into surgery. You can’t prepare enough for the emotional recovery, but perhaps you can find some things here that you can control in your recovery. Control what you can, accept what you cannot.

Know that although surgery is not a cure, it has been known to change people’s lives for the better significantly. So, you are taking that first step into a new experience for you and your family.

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