Finding Confidence and Rocking Your Own Style with an Ostomy

By Tricia Hottenstein

I was packing to head out on a short vacation to Atlantic City and had all my outfits ready in my brand new suitcase. But when I went to pack my swimsuit, I started thinking about walking around at a hotel pool with my ostomy bag sticking out. Something about a hotel pool as opposed to just walking on the beach made me uneasy. I figure I don’t know the people on the beach and they’ll never see me again. But in a hotel for several days? Those people would recognize me. They’d see me dressed up for a nice dinner and know that underneath all that jewelry and makeup, there was a person with an ostomy bag glued to their stomach. A person who earlier in the day had a wet ostomy bag sticking out between their swimsuit pieces. And let’s be honest. A wet ostomy bag is a revealing ostomy bag. There’s no questioning what’s hiding inside of it. Something about that wasn’t okay with me.

Generally speaking, I feel pretty confident about my ostomy. It saved my life and I went from a love-hate relationship with it, to a genuine love of it, to more of a state of ignorance that it even exists. I’m not shy about telling people my situation and I will often show it to people who ask questions. But when it comes to swimsuits, the struggle has been a little more mental. I’ve previously tried one-piece suits and I hate them. I hate the way they pull on my bag when they get wet, the way they stick to every crevice of my body, the way I constantly check to make sure my bag isn’t leaking the second it starts to puff up. I tried bikini styles. My body is not made for a bikini, and the more often I wore it, the more sure of this I was. And then, hallelujah! The high-waisted trend hit stores, and I found a happy medium. A high-waisted bottom to cover most of my bag while still allowing it to breathe, and a cute colorful top that would hopefully draw attention away from the bag peeking out from my bottoms.

I love that I didn’t need to strip a whole wet swimsuit off in order to empty my bag, and I could easily flip it out after the pool to dry it off (which is a necessity in order to keep my sensitive skin from getting angry). The high waist also gave multiple coverage options and I could choose when and how my bag would be displayed. I could tuck it into the bottoms and feel secure, or leave it out over top of the suit if need be. I chose to secure my bag slightly flipped up inside the bottoms with just the top sticking out. Now this I could rock. And I did. But around complete strangers who would be seeing me over and over again, while never actually talking to me to understand who I was and what I’ve been through? It bothered me.

I bought a pretty cover-up. I tried on several new suits, but none worked the wonders I’d hoped they would. I even considered stopping on the way to the shore to keep trying. And then the lights of Atlantic City sparkled before me, and the tropical drinks and palm trees were calling me from the pool. So I went for it. I wore the cover-up and walked to the pool. Of course, I got stuck with several people in the elevator and noticed their eyes glancing down, and my fidgeting was more than noticeable.

I walked in the pool room and found a chair in the corner. I ordered a drink, hopped in the hot tub, and looked around. And I noticed every single other female in there looking as insecure as me. Ladies with towels draped around them the second they were out of the water. Women with tee shirts instead of swimsuits. Some just sitting on the outskirts, partially hidden by palm trees, in regular clothing. And suddenly I was okay. Forget this bag on my stomach. Every single person has something about them they don’t always love. I’ve got stretch marks I don’t worry about, and plenty of extra flab that doesn’t bother me. But for some reason I was getting caught up over this little protrusion on my stomach; a scar of a war I fought hard against and finally won. And I love this thing!

I was honestly upset with myself over the few days for the waver in my self-confidence. I got out of the hot tub, walked around to the pool, and held my head up a whole lot higher. And everyone who’s eyes glanced downward? They looked at me genuinely, some smiled. Because people who rock their scars in public have already changed perceptions. Chronic illness is becoming less and less of a taboo subject. We’re shaking the world by the shoulders. And THAT is beautiful.

Tricia Hottenstein blogs about life as a mother and living with an ostomy at stomama.com

Our Ostomy Gives Us Power!

Ostomy Visitor talks clothing and embracing life

By Ellyn Mantell

As president of our Ostomy Support Group in Summit, New Jersey, I have met many future ostomates over the years since I have had mine, and we have met in various places, depending upon their health, etc. The one that stands out in my mind is a meeting at a shopping mall a few weeks prior to her ostomy, with Carol, a woman who wanted not only to see the stoma for herself but to understand how it would fit into her life. She loves clothes, as do I, and was frightened she would need not only to purchase a new wardrobe but to change her style of dress.

The best way to show my stoma to her was to go into a fitting room in a store. We brought in some clothes that were of interest to her, and I proceeded to try them on, demonstrating how my stoma (Lily, as I have named her) would fit neatly and snugly under the clothing. I was reminded that as soon as I had my ostomy four years ago, I gave away all of my belts and fitted pants. I was certain I would never wear them again, despite being told that wasn’t true. To the contrary, I saw pictures of great looking women with ostomies online in tight jeans with belted waists. It was just too hard to imagine myself wearing belts and jeans with a pouch, and since these women were not in front of me, I couldn’t ask them “how do they manipulate their appliance to be comfortable and secure?”

Knowing it would have been invaluable to me to actually see an abdomen in clothing, I wanted Carol to have the proper introduction to dealing with her wardrobe. We laughed as I told her of my quest to replace my jeans and belts over the years – since I have learned I can wear almost anything! In truth, my “go-to” outfit is most frequently leggings and tunics, dresses and full-legged pants with a tank, covered by cropped tops. I am what is known as “funky and fashion-forward dressing,” as I learned when I was the fashion trainer for Macy’s years ago, and happily, my style hasn’t had to change due to Lily, who requires a high-output pouch that is so long, and I am so short, that it rests on my thigh!

Wide-eyed, but a little more able to envision her own “Lily,” Carol and I left and grabbed some tea at the nearest Starbucks. We sat and talked about the changes she anticipated and feared, and then she asked me what I really, very truthfully, feel about being an ostomate? Without missing a beat, I very simply said POWERFUL! I told her that as I look around at the many people shopping, I know I have a secret, and that secret is that I am strong, a survivor, and I can help others. Knowing that gives me the most positive feeling, and I am grateful, and want to share it!

I have checked on and even visited Carol as she recovered from her surgeries – since there were a few. Sadly, there is no straight line for any of us, and depending upon the reason for the ostomy, recovery can have many twists and turns. My own led me to need to spend weeks in the hospital and then a rehab facility. But she is improving daily and gaining back her strength and determination. I know she will join our support group or another closer to her home. I also know that before too long, she, too, will be accomplishing her goal of like me, being trained to become an Ostomy Visitor…to meet with and help others learn how to cope with their ostomy, and how POWERFUL they truly are, as well!