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Dating After Stoma Surgery – It Starts With You!

With mental health awareness & self-care becoming increasingly prevalent in society today, it is no surprise that the relationship we develop with ourselves is becoming more talked about. I’m sure we’ve seen it everywhere that Valentine’s is fast approaching, so I thought it was high time to write a blog post on something that we can all relate to, single or not!

The relationship we have with ourselves is derived from a lot of factors. One of these factors is understandably stoma surgery & how it can change how we perceive ourselves.

“My body has changed since stoma surgery & has taken my body confidence with it.”

A lot of people go through a “grief” period after stoma surgery, where the feeling has been said to be like the grieving process amputees go through when they lose a limb. Whether this happens early days post-surgery or later down the line is different for the individual & some people may not experience this at all. I haven’t identifiably experienced grief in that sense myself, but perhaps more in the way of how my body used to be sometimes without my stoma. However, I wasn’t happy with how my body looked anyway down to being severely underweight and other reasons caused by bowel disease, so if anything I’ve never been able to be in a place where I could be happy with my body until after stoma surgery.

Getting used to different “plumbing”

I had my large intestine (colon), appendix, rectum and anus taken away when I had my stoma formed (panproctocolectomy), as well as a small bit of my small intestine. This meant I had to have my bum surgically sewn up as I would no longer pass waste out of there. This procedure is also known as the “barbie bum” or “ken butt” operation.

This has been strange to get used to from a body image point of view. I have a scar all along the crease of my bum and one on my abdomen to the left of my belly button as well. I also have numerous other scars from intravenous lines, abdominal drains & other reasons. Having scars can understandably affect how we see ourselves and there are days where I wish I didn’t have my scars, but on those days I try to focus on the fact that they demonstrate a battle I have won. They are warrior stripes!

It’s okay to have bad days

With both visible & invisible changes we undergo because of stoma surgery, we are bound to have bad days! Bad days are perfectly okay & this is something I previously wrote about for Pelican which you can read here. Bad days in a way help develop a stronger relationship with ourselves, as they help build our resilience and can challenge us to re-frame how we think in order to not let something negatively impact us as much. If we develop a stronger sense of self and learn to love our bodies, then this is something that when getting into a relationship happens can help us hugely. It’s understandable to be nervous about letting a partner see your body, but also remember that most of us have body hang-ups anyway regardless of whether we have had surgery. Someone who is worth your time will appreciate your body for everything you have been through, not want to change you. In fact, a lot of people will probably find you more beautiful because of what hasn’t defeated you.

Learning to accept the body you are in: Tips from those who have had stoma surgery

When I have been struggling with accepting my body (I still get those days), it has been so helpful to speak to others who have had stoma surgery. Their support has enabled me to feel more able to accept the body I am in & to try to embrace everything about how my journey has brought me to today.

I asked around & got some wonderful tips from these inspiring people:

Lynn B: “Always remember you are still you.”

Alannah-Jayne: “Love the skin you’re in.”

Lindsay Corless: “It’s hard at first but try stretchy leggings, they go with everything! That’s all I used to wear with a nice top and some nice shoes. That then gave me a boost to wear skinny jeans again. It takes time but it’ll come, that confident you!”

Alex McDougall: Alex described how he has 2 noticeable scars from a temporary stoma and he had been approached by a child asking him what they were for. He explained how the doctors did it to make him better and that this actually saved his life. “It dawned on me in that moment… I needed this. It’s a battle scar. I won that fight. There will be more fights ahead but I will get through.”

Sahara Fleetwood-Beresford: “I think it’s important to recognise what your body has been through, and thank it for working so hard to keep you alive. It may not instantly help gain body confidence, but being grateful for its strength is definitely a start! Personally, I’m now at a point where I’m so proud of my body for keeping going through all of the surgeries, and pushing on when I haven’t looked after it too well because of declining mental health etc, that I love it. That helps me see the beauty in it.”

Brenda Meakin: “Don’t think you’ll have to wear baggy, shapeless clothes.”

I always name 3 things I like about myself on days I’m really struggling and focus on those to get me through

When will I know when I’m ready to date?

There is no set rule & this is a very personal thing. I would say to go with how you feel & to trust your instincts because a lot of the time you will know when the time is right. Never feel forced & remember to do things at your own pace. You will probably never be 100% ready & probably never 100% accept the body you’re in, but you are a work in progress, and to be a work in progress is perfectly okay. If you never reach that 100%, that is also fine, but to understand that both good days & bad days come & go will help you within your journey.

You deserve to be proud of the body you are in.

As the band, Fireflight, wrote: “I’m not what I have done, I’m what I’ve overcome.”

Follow Amy on Instagram here and read her blog here

Read Respond’s Sex & Intimacy booklet

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