Jo Driver found that ulcerative colitis was an unexpected precursor to motherhood.
I was ten weeks’ pregnant when I had my first – and last – attack of colitis. Not content with having the usual morning sickness, indigestion, backache etc, I decided to be more dramatic!
However, having the colitis and the subsequent sub-total colectomy and ileostomy (at 12 weeks’ pregnant!) certainly prepared me for motherhood. Getting up numerous times in the night to go to the toilet was good training for the sleepless nights to come. Emptying my bag made changing nappies seem like child’s play.
There were other advantages, too. Of course, I had no piles or constipation to worry about. Plus I avoided the condescending pats on the stomach, because people were too afraid to touch something embarrassing! And no messy “accidents” at the birth, no worry afterwards about straining and bursting my stitches (mothers will know what I’m talking about here). I was also complimented on how clean my stitches were – strange, that!
Of course, there were some disadvantages: having to wear a garish, patterned pink, gold and green maternity swimming costume to “hide” my bag; having to have an indecently long stoma so that I could see it over my bump (I felt like a hermaphrodite!); best of all was having a bowel obstruction at 7 months’ pregnant , and being told I was in premature labour! I have to say, labour was less painful. Still, they gave me lots of entonox for the pain – highly recommended, or should I say a recommended high?! Obstetricians, midwives, delivery suite, scans – I don’t know – all that fuss for baby muesli….. Premature labour, my foot.
Anyway, back to my attack of colitis at ten weeks’ pregnant. To avoid puncturing my colon, it was decided after two weeks that I should have the operation. I christened my stoma George. The nurses were pleased at his arrival – they were all starting to get severe RSI from writing details on my stool chart.
George was very well behaved, unlike the stoma I had after my next op, the temporary loop ileostomy and formation of my pouch. I called him George II, although I think George III would have been more appropriate, as he was completely mad.
He would have outbursts in public – he didn’t care where: backs of taxis, barbecues, friends’ sofas, an Indian restaurant. That last one was the best – I had already used up my spare bag and I was miles from home. I decided that to avoid needing a skin graft, I’d better get to the nearest A&E (which, in my case, stands for Accidents and Effluence). Of course, I wasn’t really a priority on a busy Saturday night and resorted to sitting on a pile of magazines to soak up my “homemade curry” (I sat on a pile of Hello! magazines, on the grounds that what was coming out of my stoma would blend in nicely…).
Eventually, after a few hours (ouch!), I was taken to a room and shown a range of bags. I’d pull the curtain and try one on – no good, next please and what about shoes to match? They were all colostomy bags, but better than nothing. My poor husband had to drive from Enfield to Penge in the middle of the night, stopping off at shops on the way for bottles of water – he needed them to dilute his alcohol content, because he hadn’t planned on driving, and I don’t need to tell you what I needed them for. Poor George, it wasn’t his fault – he was just a funny shape and very close to my skin. And of course, it was all worth it in the end. But I must admit, I started making so many deposits, I thought I’d been reincarnated as a pigeon.
Conversely, my pouch has been impeccably behaved. Apart from getting an infection after its formation, and therefore not leaving St Marks until Christmas Eve – I’ll go to any lengths to get my husband to cook Christmas dinner! – my pouch has been wonderful. As are Mr Nicholls and his team; all the stoma nurses that looked after me; Mr Swift and Mr Hurley, and their teams from the Mayday in Croyden, and Mr Theodossi and his team from the same hospital. Oh, and of course Mr Clarkson, my obstetrician, who must have spent a few nerve-wracking hours overseeing my colectomy.
Yes, I’m glad I didn’t decide to become an eternal ostomist. OK, so I need soundproofing on my bathroom walls; my homemade curry results in “Poucho Marks” on the sheets (so strictly for when I’m on my own), and I’m buying shares in Sudocrem. But I made the right choice.
So if having an ileostomy isn’t your bag and you want to start using those bendy bag closures as freezer bag ties (very handy), go for it if you can. You don’t have anything to lose, apart from a few months off work! Blast the resulting itchiness…BOTTOMS UP!
By the way, my pregnancy went smoothly after my blip at 7 months and I gave birth naturally to a beautiful baby girl ( naturally to a girl – they’re stronger in the womb!). She’s now five and a half, with gorgeous red curly hair and blue grey eyes. Sally Louise, you were worth every bit of my story, and thank God for making you so strong…