"I've realized that my desirability does not define me; my strength does."
I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, which results in inflammation and damage to the digestive system, when I was 17.
My body was damaged on the inside, so I felt more pressure to look attractive on the outside. I dabbled in modeling, and the attention that I got from my appearance gave me the validation I thought I needed. Then, in 2013, my medicine stopped working and my digestive system did too. My doctor suggested putting in a temporary ostomy: a surgically created opening in the body that discharges waste into a special bag you wear—she believed it would give my intestines time to settle down and hopefully heal. An ostomy was the ultimate fear for me. It was the proverbial scarlet letter, but instead of an A for adultery, it would be an S for sh-t. I put it off, but my health got worse. I had the surgery in August 2015.
I didn't look at my stomach for the two days after. When I saw myself naked for the first time, I thought: How can I keep this from people? How can I be me with this thing hanging off of me? In the weeks after surgery, I hid from people. The ostomy produces smells and sounds that I can't control. And dressing was a challenge too. I remember going into my closet and looking at all my clothes. Crop tops, tight dresses, sheer fabrics. I couldn't wear any of it. I piled on the baggiest and darkest clothing I could find.
One bright light was my husband, Jeremy. We met in 2007, and he has been there through my best times and my worst, never ceasing to tell me how beautiful I am to him, ostomy or no. To be totally honest, our sex lifetook a hit because it's hard to have sex when you feel the absolute opposite of sexy. I had dark thoughts that he would find someone else, someone who wasn't sick all the time, who didn't have this thing attached to them, someone like the person I used to be. But in the end, all that insecurity forced us to communicate better, and I have gotten more comfortable in the bedroom.
Through all this, I've realized that my desirability does not define me; my strength does. A healthy body is a sexy body, and my ostomy helps keep me healthy. If it turns out I need a permanent one, I'm at peace with that. I even lovingly refer to my stoma—the part of my intestine that's outside of my body—as Steve.
I figure the more people who are exposed to ostomy bags, the less stigma the devices will have. Now, I put on a bikini with nothing to hide and no f-cks given. By 'exposing' myself, I can show the world and other women like me that this disease is not who we are.