Tuesday, 8 November 2016

The bigger and baggier the better

Today is not a good day. I’m having a wobble day. I knew it was bound to happen at some point. With the love of friends and all my fantastic #sunrisesforKim I have genuinely felt positive and hopeful over last few days, but today I woke up feeling different and I’m not sure why. I feel inexplicably edgy and nervy. (A bit like jelly...which I usually love!)


Maybe it’s the fact that I was woken by my son wailing in his cot. Josh was out running, I’m not supposed to lift him, but what choice did I have? I got him out. My side now aches. My fault, and the price of having not just a large laparoscopic scar healing, but a stoma as a further breach in my abdominal wall.

It upsets me that I can’t / shouldn’t pick up my child to comfort him when he’s bawling. I know it’s not forever and I would be stupid to risk further injury or a hernia. It would mean more surgery and would delay chemo. So lesson learned, I’m an idiot. I will not do it again…until the next time.

But, it’s not just that.

This morning my daughter caught sight of my stoma for the first time. I’ve explained the big scar before, and we’ve discussed mummy’s special tummy bags and the funny noises they make…but she hadn’t seen the actual stoma until today. I think I’ve tried to keep it hidden as I’m still getting comfortable with it myself, but as I returned from my shower wrapped in a towel she asked to see my tummy and I couldn’t think of a quick reason to deny her.

I opened my towel cautiously. With the simplicity and innocence that only small children can master she said “What is that on your tummy? It looks like a flower, a red flower.”
“It does” I replied
“How did it get there?”
“The doctor put it there for mummy”
“Is it to make your tummy better?”
“Yes, poppet, it’s part of helping mummy to get better.”

Conversation over she returned her attention to Princess / Fairy Peppa, yet as the key turned in the lock downstairs she called out to the nanny. “Ali, mummy has a flower on her tummy to make it better.” Innocence and acceptance of difference, what a powerful combination.

Neither of these incidents is particularly significant, however my third wobble came as I went to get dressed, and it was a rather bigger realisation.

My current uniform du jour is leggings and an oversized woolly jumper. Nothing unusual in that really. It’s now officially winter, and one of the perks of frosty mornings, is that you have an excuse to climb into the acceptable and portable version of a duvet…the chunky, knitted sweater.

Only at the moment, many of mine are two short, my stoma bag hangs out the bottom, which is not a
Not one of mine. Mark Jacobs.
great look. Some are too close-fitting and what was once an opportunity to be proud of my ongoing dedication to ParkRun and fitness, now feels like an invitation to point at the strange shape bulging out to the left of my belly button. They make me feel self-conscious.

I feel sad as I have always loved my collection of woolly knitwear, I add to it every year, yet some of my favourites are clearly going to be relegated to the ‘not this year’ pile.

We don’t often consciously realise the extent to which clothes are part of our identity until you can’t wear what you want to wear.

For me that first happened when I was pregnant, during and after which I was desperate to get back to my collection of fitted power dresses. With kick ass heels they made me feel strong and invincible. Only post birth and on maternity leave there is no call for fitted dresses that make you feel ready to take on the world, plus dry-clean only items and baby sick are a terrible combination. As an adjunct thought, breast-feeding in such attire really would, I suspect, have caused quite a sensation in Shropshire. Far better to stick to the convenient and discreet tops that have been designed specifically with breast-feeding in mind. (So discreet in fact that I occasionally had people, often older couples, come up to admire the baby seemingly dozing on in my arms, only for me to have to point out that he/she was in fact ‘attached’ and not asleep. Oops).

I digress. For me clothing is part of how we define ourselves and part of how we are perceived. I feel frustrated that after two pregnancies, and two periods of breast-feeding, I now have another ‘obstacle’ around which I am forced to juggle my wardrobe choices. Hopefully it’s not forever. It’s a long way off but they’ve told me that post-treatment they hope my stoma can be reversed. So many seasons of dressing for my stoma lie ahead, and summer in particular fills me with unusual dread as the world strips off to offer its pale skin to the sporadic sunny interludes that occasionally punctuate our British rain. Usually I’d be the first to seek out my Vitamin D fix, braving pneumonia in the hope of a sun tan in spring, but I suspect bikinis are not going to be on my packing list next year.


But there is no point dwelling on such things. Summer is a long way off. No point worrying about that now when I have more important and closer mountains to climb. So in the meantime, I will be grateful for winter and for the few baggy sweaters in my wardrobe that do fit the bill and the climate. Cuddling into a big old jumper so no one can see what’s going on underneath is part of today’s ‘Fake it til you make it’ strategy.

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