Like the majority of the population I was born with a colon. However, unlike the majority of the population, I no longer have one.
I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis when I was 28 years old. And if you are unfamiliar with this autoimmune disease, it is a chronic inflammatory disease where the lining of the large intestine, or colon, is inflamed and develops little ulcers that, in my case, constantly bleed.
An autoimmune disease is basically your body hating on you. And instead of your immune system producing cells and proteins that protect you from infection, the cells attack good bacteria and your intestines themselves. And just our luck, they don't know why you get these diseases, nor are there any real cures.
Ulcerative Colitis symptoms can vary from intense abdominal pain, frequent bathroom visits, to inflammation of all other parts of the body, just to name a few. Imagine your elbows and ankles swelling up and resembling baseballs, spending 90 percent of your day in the restroom in excruciating pain, while spending the other 10 percent of your day in bed with heating pads on your stomach, just hoping the pain will subside long enough to be able to eat a little soup without feeling sick.
There are, of course, many other symptoms and different levels of case severity, but this is my story, and this is what happened to me.
Out of all of the treatments for Ulcerative Colitis, the most dreaded and feared by all is the corticosteroid Prednisone. While at high doses it did effectively put my disease in remission, the side effects were almost as painful and horrific as the colitis itself. We're talking weight gain, hair growth (in places women typically do not like hair, can you say chin whiskers?), pimples, joint pain, insomnia.
And if you have never had experience with moon face... well, consider yourself lucky. Moon face is when excess fat deposits hang out all over your face, giving the appearance of a halo of puff all over. Hence, moon face.
After trying to live -- not merely exist -- on all of these medications, it was clear to me it was time for the last resort: Cut that sickly sucker out of there.
I now have a j-pouch. Essentially, my surgeon removed my diseased colon and took my healthy small intestine and fashioned it into a pouch, sewed it in place inside my lower abdominal cavity, and now that acts as if it were my colon (with a few differences: the pouch being the size of a fist, where as your colon is five feet long. So by design, the pouch simply cannot hold as much).
Yes, the surgeries (I had mine done in three stages) are far more complicated than that, and you have to be the right candidate for it (if there is any disease in your small intestine at all, the surgery is not recommended), but it basically changed my life.
After nine months and some recovery time, I was pretty much back to my pre-colitis days. However, the one thing that continued to haunt me was the main reason I almost declined having the surgery in the first place: infertility.
Due to the location of the surgeries (right near your reproductive area), a large portion of women have infertility issues post-surgery because of the potential for scar tissue on the fallopian tubes and ovaries.
This scared the crap out of me.
My whole life, ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a mother. How could I opt for this solution to one problem, only to create a painful and difficult new one to solve? Mind you, I wasn't even dating anyone at the time. But still, this is something women think about -- whether you're in a relationship or not.
In the end, my disease made the decision for me. When I ended up in the hospital, pretty much unable to function, I decided to go through with it. It was one of the best decisions of my life. Everything changed after that. The main one being, I was able to exist without massive and continuous pain. Yeah, that makes a big difference in your day-to-day life.
Looking back, there are only a few other life events that changed me the way that this did: meeting my husband a year after all of my surgeries and giving birth to my beautiful (and healthy!) daughter two years after that.
After all my fears, I was one of the lucky ones. And I was able to get pregnant with ease, in Greece, on my honeymoon (I like to think of her earliest moments of life feasting on feta cheese, pita and tzatziki). So now I am a colon-less mother and wife.
My disease came back in another form a few years ago. I now have Crohn's disease. My health and the maintenance of it is complicated and ongoing, to say the least. Trying to keep my ever growing list of symptoms at bay can be a full-time job in itself. When your other full-time job is staying home and raising a rambunctious one year old, sometimes my body, literally, just can't handle it.
But as I write this, I can hear my daughter trying to talk to her Elmo doll in her crib, and my God, I don't know if I've ever heard anything more beautiful than that. Every day, it makes me appreciate life and how fragile and beautiful it all is.
And, of course, the true silver lining about living with these diseases? No amount -- and I mean no amount -- of baby poop can phase me. Little girl, you've got nothing on me.