When I Tried to Find a Wedding Dress That Also Fit My Ostomy Bags
Last month, I officially tied the knot. As I look back on our wedding photos, I just can’t believe it’s already happened. I see the joy in my eyes, the love beaming off of my husband’s bright red face and my gown big enough to cover a small army. I remember stressing myself to tears on feeling beautiful or just feeling comfortable in my own skin as I went through gown after gown. I remember crying to myself that I’d never last a second in that tight-beaded bodice without something going wrong. I remember wishing I had chosen December as my wedding month as an excuse to bury myself in a huge furry winter-white cape.
I didn’t have the worries I remember my other married friends had about fitting into their wedding gowns. My worry was something I felt hardly anyone could relate to. It wasn’t just me squeezing into my wedding gown on that magical day — it would also be 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 hold up her dress in the daintiest fashion. I was so self-conscious about my medical situation that 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 or my medical appliances wouldn’t fit into my dress the proper way.
As a bride, I longed to feel beautiful and feminine — or like a life-size Barbie doll complete with voluptuous, womanly curves. I felt the internal pressure to fit into the gowns I saw while flipping through in bridal magazines. Every photograph I looked at seemed to blare messages of skintight satin and buttoned-up bodices. How would a backless gown look with a colossal surgical scar running down my back? After lying on my right side for six months while I lay in bed comatose, I had severe neuropathy, which made me an exclusive Asics sneakers fan. Every wedding magazine brimming full of 6-inch stilettos made me feel horrible about myself.
The more magazines I browsed, the worse I felt. My self-contempt brought me to the point where I was starting to believe the man I’m marrying was annoyed with me. After I realized the love of my life — who has always loved me no matter what and 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, I started to shift my thinking. Everyone celebrating with me on my wedding day is there to cheer me and my husband on. 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?
Then I realized I was trying to prove something to myself. Everyone else in my life just wanted me happy and healthy. I wanted to show myself that despite my medical circumstances, I could feel “normal.” But really, what is normal? Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and all colors and circumstances. It’s something all women deserve. And I wasn’t going to let me get in the way of my own happiness on my wedding day.
We may have good intentions, but strong, passionate and beautiful women pressure ourselves every day. Once we tune out those internal voices, we discover a beautiful truth. The people who 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. The trick was having my dress fitted in a way that would give me some kind of figure, but with leave enough room for my ostomy bags, which expanded whenever I ate. After a snide comment from a bridesmaid that “I can always just not eat that day,” a brief pity-party and a little me time, I told myself the dress will look as beautiful as I feel 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 skintight, but it fit me in all the right places, embracing the medical bags that had 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 am.