A few days ago, a 10-year-old boy named Seven Bridges died by suicide after being bullied relentlessly for his colostomy bag and chronic bowel condition.
Tragedies involving kids are quick to bring tears these days, but this one just sucked the air right out of me. This could have been my son.
L only had his ileostomy for three and a half months. We were lucky that his surgeon was able to reconnect his gut so quickly. He still carries the scar, but he doesn’t remember the stoma. But we know all too well that nothing is certain on this GI roller coaster, and if his remaining bowel perforates, if his current partial blockage turns into the real deal, if he loses more bowel – we could be right back there.
In the wake of this week’s tragedy, people with ostomies posted a flood of pictures showing their bags — usually carefully hidden away — to spread a message of love, support, and body acceptance. I looked back through L’s NICU pictures, planning to join in, and realized that I don’t have a single clear photo of his ostomy bag. I took a picture of the exposed stoma on his belly during a bag change so he could later understand where his scar came from, but for all the time I spent agonizing over keeping his bag attached and leak-free, I have no visual record of it aside from the occasional bag photo bomb like the ones below, where you can just barely see the tip of it sticking out between his empty hand and the rattle in the picture on the right, or can see a tiny corner of the wafer sneaking into the shot at the bottom of the picture on the left.
I hated his ostomy bag. It leaked. It would never stay attached. It trapped gastric juices and ate away the skin around his stoma. An ostomy can be a real pain in the belly. But an ostomy is anything but shameful. L’s ileostomy saved his life.
An ostomy is hope. An ostomy is a badge of courage. An ostomy means you are a survivor. In a world of NOT KNOWING, that vibrant pink stoma is the best visual reassurance you will ever have that your remaining bowel is functional and thriving. An ostomy means your story is not over yet.
If you hear your kids mention a classmate who is “weird” or “gross,” don’t brush them off. Ask questions. Teach kindness. Normalize illness, disability, and difference. Spread love.