Every so often I will hear a conversation about romantic relationships while living with an ostomy. Often someone will say they were left because of their ostomy, or that they’ve resigned themselves to being alone because no one could love them now. And I have one thing to say to them: STOP IT. An ostomy does not make you unlovable. It doesn’t make you anything other than another human with your own set of experiences. That ostomy is simply a symbol of the life you have lived and who you have become through those experiences.
Now full disclosure before I get too far into this: I was married when I went through surgery to get my ostomy, so I have not gone through the dating process with one; however, I believe what I am writing is true no matter what point you are at in a relationship.
Sometimes, it’s not the ostomy.
When you go through something that necessitates getting an ostomy—whether it’s a chronic condition like IBD or some sort of trauma—that’s a lot for a person to handle. It may bring up feelings of “why me?” or resentment towards God or the world. Constant pain can make anyone feel frustrated. Having difficulty after surgery can lead to depression, feeling sorry for yourself, and lashing out at others. All of these can cause issues in a relationship. If you were someone whose partner left after your surgery, I am not at all saying that you are at fault. What I am saying is that going through this can change people, and when people change, the relationship changes and sometimes that relationship no longer works. So, if you were someone who was left and you felt they left because you now have an ostomy, there may be a lot more at play than simply that.
If you were truly left or rejected by someone because you have an ostomy, then they did you a favor.
If the simple fact that you have an ostomy freaked somebody out to the point they left, then they were not the right person. And in my opinion, it’s much better to know that now then to find it out years later. If someone goes running because of an ostomy bag, then you know what? All of those wedding vows… “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health” mean jack shit to this person. Would you really want to be with someone who can’t honestly say those vows and mean them? To me, it just shows they are a shallow person whose intimacy is only skin deep and that’s not the kind of person I would want to spend the rest of my life with.
I don’t think I’m lucky that I found someone “special.”
My husband is an incredible man. He’s been through a lot with me, driving me back and forth to the hospital dozens of times, spending hours sitting in surgical waiting rooms. I feel very grateful that I found someone who loves me the way that he does. But I don’t think my husband is some special breed of person who is willing to go through all of this. Of course I am very grateful for my husband and all that he has done for me. I consider myself very blessed to have found him and I do consider him to be someone special, but it’s not because he stayed with me after all of the sickness and surgeries. I consider him the same kind of special that every person who finds the right partner considers them. I think he is a good man and an honest man who takes his vows seriously. When he said, “in sickness and in health,” he meant it. That’s what love and commitment is all about.
I know dating is not easy, especially when you throw an ostomy into the mix. I know I would be unsure of myself in the situation of having to tell a potential partner about this part of me that’s different. I won’t pretend that I know what it feels like to be rejected by a romantic partner because of my ostomy; I know that would hurt so much and would make the idea of putting yourself out there again much more difficult. But in the end, you have to realize that no matter what happens, it’s for the best. If the person runs, then good; at least you know what kind of person they are and you can go ahead and move on to find the right person, rather than wasting your time on them.
Finally, I don’t believe in being loved “in spite of” your ostomy; it’s a part of who you are and any partner should understand that and accept it for that. But I think the first step is learning how to accept the ostomy ourselves. Because if you can’t be accepting of your own ostomy, how can you expect someone else to? We have to understand and appreciate that living with an ostomy, whether temporary or permanent, has forever altered our life. Those changes will stick with us, no matter what comes our way… from this day forward… for better or for worse.