Last month, I officially tied the knot. As I look back on my wedding photos, I just can't believe it's already happened.
I can see the joy in my eyes, the love beaming off of my husband's bright red face and my gown that was big enough to cover a small army.
I had stressed about feeling beautiful, or just feeling comfortable in my own skin, as I went through gown after gown. I cried after I thought I'd never last a second in that tight, beaded bodice without something going wrong.
I wished I had chosen December as my wedding month, just so I would have an excuse to bury myself in a huge, furry, winter-white cape.
I didn't share the same worries my married friends had about fitting into their wedding gowns. I felt like no one could relate to me.
It wasn't just me who would be squeezing into my wedding gown on that magical day; I would be accompanied by not one, but two, ostomy bags.
Running to the bathroom for any bride is a chore. It takes a very devoted bridesmaid to accompany the belle of the ball, and she has to hold up her dress in the daintiest fashion.
But, I was so self-conscious about my medical situation, I didn't want anyone's assistance.
I was petrified my gown might drop in the toilet, or I wouldn't be able to get to a bathroom in time. I was also worried my medical appliances wouldn't fit into my dress the proper way.
As a bride, I longed to feel beautiful and feminine, or a life-size Barbie Doll complete with voluptuous, womanly curves.
I felt the pressure to fit into the gowns I saw as I flipped through bridal magazines. Every photograph I looked at seemed to promote skin-tight satin and buttoned-up bodices.
How would a backless gown look with a colossal surgical scar running down my back?
How could I wear 6-inch stilettos after going through severe neuropathy, which I experienced after being left on my right side for six months while I laid in a bed, comatose?
The more magazines I browsed, the worse I felt.
My self-contempt pushed me to the point where I started to believe the man I was marrying was annoyed with me.
After I realized the love of my life -- the man who thinks I'm the sexiest when I wake up in the morning, and my hair is frizzier than a giant pom-pom -- is marrying me for me, my mindset shifted.
All the people celebrating with me on my wedding day were going to be there to cheer on me and my husband. They love who we are, and they love who we are together.
Brandon is already mine; he told me he fell in love with me the day he met me. Who was I trying to impress? What was I trying to prove?
I realized I had this need to prove to myself that despite my medical circumstances, I could feel "normal." But, really, what is normal?
Beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, colors and circumstances, and it's something all women deserve. And I was not going to let myself get in the way of my own happiness on my wedding day.
We may have good intentions, but as strong, passionate and beautiful women, we pressure ourselves every day. Once we tune out those internal voices, we discover a beautiful truth.
The people that matter in our lives are the people who love us for who we are.
The only expectations we need to put on ourselves are the expectations to always listen to our hearts (and our mothers).
As for my wedding dress, I had this fantasy of a tight-fitting bodice with an enormous, fairytale ballgown. I basically wanted to look like a giant wedding cake.
I had to have my dress fitted in a way that would give me some kind of figure, but with enough give for my ostomy bags, which expanded whenever I ate.
After a snide comment from a bridesmaid that I could "always just not eat that day," a brief pity-party and a little me-time, I told myself the dress would look as beautiful as I felt in it.
And so, with my medical situation in mind, the dressmaker and I were able to meet in the middle.
My dress was not "skin-tight," but it fit me in all the right places and embraced the medical bags that saved my life years ago.
Looking back on my wedding day, I cry when I see myself floating across the dance floor in that giant cake of a dress.
I look beautiful, happy and in love. And that's because I was, and I still am.
Beautiful, happy and in love. Isn't that what every bride-to-be dreams of? I had just spent months infinitely scrolling through Pinterest pages and ripping out magazine ads with the newest backless bridal designs. I had schlepped to department stores, sample sales, bridal shops and seamstresses, struggling to keep my balance as I stepped into this large ocean of tuile. It wasn't my future husband I was trying to impress - considering that my white Asics are my "dress up shoes." It wasn't my mother or my patient maid of honor who did everything she could to make me feel like every other bride.
But what was every other bride supposed to feel like? By who's standards was I getting married? Was the wedding industry telling me I wasn't ready to be married, or was I delving into a subconscious concern that I myself was hiding? Was I not "healthy" enough to be a wife? Is love between me and my husband simply not enough?
The short story is that I did get married. And I don't feel any different. My scars haven't faded and my ostomies certainly haven't disappeared. Brandon thought I looked stunning in my gown, but no more stunning than I do with my North Face fleece on. (Well, maybe a little.)
I felt beautiful in my dress and I felt married. I was a proud, glowing happy bride -- in the body I have. When I first had my ostomy, I didn't know what it was. Worse, I didn't know anyone else who had one -- I felt alien. I started feeling normal when I realized there were so many other young and fearless females in my same position. My ostomy is my quirk, my lifesaver, it is my uniqueness, and for women all over the world, it is our uniqueness.
Maybe when we pick our wedding gowns, we should focus on that -- highlighting our uniqueness.