Learning that you need an ostomy to help manage your inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) might seem daunting at first. The surgery redirects poop to exit through a stoma (an opening on your lower abdomen) and into a pouch, meaning you’ll use the bathroom differently from what you’re used to. It’s a big change to the way your body functions, and it’s totally natural to wonder if it will impact your career, relationships, or whatever else it is you’ve got happening.
Please know, first and foremost, that the procedure is overwhelmingly positive for most people. According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation (CCF), an ostomy can—and likely will—improve your quality of life if you’ve been struggling with chronic diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, and other painful symptoms associated with IBD, including Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. And approximately 725,000 to 1 million people in the US live with an ostomy, so you’re far from alone.1
Some aspects of day-to-day life after ostomy surgery might not feel intuitive at first. But with time, patience, and—as many people who’ve been there will tell you—positivity, it’s totally possible to stay active, social, and thriving after surgery. Here, four people share why they’re glad they made the call to have an ostomy.
“I didn’t know anyone who had ever been pregnant with an ostomy.”
Meghan Cary Brown, a 31-year-old diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at 13 years old, saw her quality of life “rapidly decline” in high school due to “horrible” stomach pains and bloody diarrhea. “I couldn’t even get out of bed,” she tells SELF. At 24, after several unsuccessful medication courses, a colonoscopy revealed that Brown had precancerous tissue deep in her colon. She needed to get part of her colon removed.
Though Brown “was adamantly against” surgery, her doctor—who learned that Brown wanted to have children—helped change her mind. “He said, ‘Imagine being a young mom with small children, and you find out you have cancer,’” she says.