Meet Mona. She’s a stoma. Specifically, she’s Hannah Witton’s stoma.
Hannah is a vlogger and author of “Doing It: Let’s Talk About Sex.”
There’s a lot of mystery surrounding stomas (sometimes called an ostomy or ostomy bag), which led Hannah to make a bold and vulnerable decision: She shared Mona with her audience of over half a million viewers to demystify what stomas are like.
Hannah wanted her viewers — and people around the world — to see that life with a stoma isn’t so scary, and having one is nothing to be ashamed of.
That doesn’t mean it was easy to open up about, though.
‘It feels really intimate... I’m [technically] showing you my bum hole,’ she jokes. ‘This is my new bum hole!’
While not exactly a “bum hole,” Hannah’s description isn’t all that far off.
“Internet, meet Mona,” Hannah says. She reveals a bright red, moist bag that’s attached to an opening in her abdomen, which allows waste to leave her body and bypass the digestive system.
How, exactly, does it work? In the simplest possible terms, it involves taking a piece of either small intestine or colon that’s then sewn into the ostomy, or opening, with a pouch that attaches to collect waste.
In Hannah’s case, her stoma is actually an ileostomy. This means her stoma is made from the lower end of her small intestine. Hannah has ulcerative colitis, a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that happens when the lining of the small intestine becomes inflamed. She had her ileostomy after a severe flare-up.
Since her ileostomy surgery, Hannah has been getting used to her stoma — and it’s certainly been an adjustment.
She’s had to get used to what taking care of a stoma daily is like. Hannah changes her bag every day, though some people with stomas change their bag once or a couple times a week, depending on their body and needs.
One of her biggest challenges postsurgery has been adjusting to her new stamina and energy. Hannah began using a walking cane to help her get around after realizing the full impact surgery had on her body.
She recalls a particularly difficult day with a friend, trying to catch a train that was about to leave. While they just barely made it, that dash to the train exhausted her.
“My sprint just completely destroyed me. I was in a lot of pain and couldn’t really breathe. My heart rate went up so fast, like as if I’d just done some extreme exercise,” she explains.
Postsurgery, Hannah is learning to appreciate her new body and understand its capacity as she heals. “Big stuff just overwhelms me right now,” she says, which is a feeling that most people with disabilities and chronic illnesses can relate to at some point.
It’s a difficult transition, and Hannah sometimes wishes she could do more than she can. She’s had trouble motivating herself beyond smaller projects, like creating and uploading a video to her YouTube channel. “I don’t have the capacity to really embark on big projects,” she says.
By introducing Mona to the world, Hannah hopes to break down the stigma around life with a stoma.
After all, it’s stomas like Mona that give people like Hannah a better quality of life, which is something worth celebrating.
Hannah is still getting to know (and love) Mona. She’s still figuring out how to appreciate and accept her body, while allowing herself to feel complicated emotions about its challenges, too — like whether she thinks of her stoma as an accessory or a part of her body.
“I’m trying to get my head around how I should relate to [my stoma],” Hannah says.
Now she hopes that everyone who has a stoma feels like they can talk about their experiences — the good, the bad, and the outright weird — without shame.
Alaina Leary Alaina Leary is an editor, social media manager, and writer from Boston, Massachusetts. She’s currently the assistant editor of Equally Wed Magazine and a social media editor for the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books.