I describe my 11-year-old son as a “carefree cutie pie” because that’s how he looks to the outside world. Always with a big smile and a kind word. But the world hasn’t been nearly as nice to him in return.

He was born with a rare digestive disorder and birth defect, which has made his life more painful than most.

Another boy the same age with a similar diagnosis, named Seven Bridges, suffered even more.

Seven wore a colostomy bag, just like my son used to. I know very well that bags aren’t fun, especially when you’re an active little boy. They can leak. They can tear. They smell bad and can give you rashes. They balloon up whenever you pass gas, and sometimes even pop. But they’re a necessary inconvenience for those who need them to survive. Wouldn’t you rather have a healthy kid with a bag than the alternative?

It’s hard to talk openly about colostomy bags, or digestive problems in general. They’re mostly invisible to the average observer and aren’t exactly polite conversation. 

Yet, even if we don’t talk about them, bathroom issues are part of life for so many people. The National Institutes of Health estimates that millions have been diagnosed with conditions like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and other digestive issues. The Ostomy Canada Association says approximately 70,000 patients undergo some form of ostomy surgery each year in the United States and Canada, and The United Ostomy Association estimates a half million Americans are living with a stoma (and thus, a bag) right now.

Seven was only 10 years old in January when the bullying, because of his colostomy bag, became so devastating he took his own life. This child endured 26 surgeries in his decade on the planet. Yet, it was the kids at school whose words and actions caused a fifth-grader so much pain and suffering he couldn’t take it anymore.

Let that sink in.

My son gets to do something Seven never will: go to sixth grade. He turned 11. He will get to experience the joys and woes of middle school and becoming a teenager. 

Our journey hasn’t been easy, either. In fact, the medical stuff has been especially tough lately. This summer, our insurance denied my son’s treatment. We sought a second opinion, and now our doctors don’t agree on the next steps, and we’re stuck in the middle. Another big surgery is a real possibility. 

And that keeps me up at night. 

But then I remember Seven and his 26 surgeries. And it makes me step back and think about my son’s mental health and quality of life, and how we can’t neglect that important piece of his care and well-being. 

It’s easy to get mired in the medical gunk. To become hyper-focused on research, and meds, and surgeries, and possible risks and outcomes. And feel sorry for ourselves because of everything that’s gone wrong or is still unknown. 

But we, in fact, are the lucky ones. We still have time.

So I talk with my son about how we can prepare for the school year and whatever challenges are bound to come with it. We brainstorm what strategies we can use when his medical issues flare-up or his difficult situation starts getting the best of him. I tell him he doesn’t have to smile or put on a brave face (though he always does). 

This year, we also sat down and had a very frank discussion with his teachers about what it’s really like to live with an invisible, chronic bowel condition. He knows now he can use the bathroom with a wave of his hand, instead of asking for permission or waiting for designated breaks. He knows he won’t get in trouble if he needs to hang out in the nurse’s office for a bit or even call me to come and get him.

And we continue to surround my son with friends and adults who have his back.

Because I think of Seven. Every day when I send my son to school, I think of Seven.

He could be my kid. He could be your kid.

And it’s heartbreaking. We need to do better for children living with invisible diseases. Aren’t they suffering enough already?

As we head into another school year, let’s remember everyone has struggles we know nothing about. Let’s choose our words and actions carefully and teach our kids to do the same. 

Let’s lift each other up.

And ask for help. Or be there to listen, really listen, with patience, empathy, and love.

Let’s think of Seven and choose kindness. Always.

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

If you liked this, you'll love our book, SO GOD MADE A MOTHER available now!

Order Now

Check out our new Keepsake Companion Journal that pairs with our So God Made a Mother book!

Order Now
So God Made a Mother's Story Keepsake Journal

Her View From Home

Millions of mothers connected by love, friendship, family and faith. Join our growing community. 1,000+ writers strong. We pay too!   Find more information on how you can become a writer on Her View From Home at https://herviewfromhome.com/contact-us/write-for-her//

Here’s to the Friends Who Don’t Hide Their Messy Parts

In: Friendship, Motherhood
Two women sit in a field with arms around each other

To the friend who invited me over without picking her house up beforehand . . . thank you.  You had no way of knowing, but I’ve been especially weighed down by the feeling of “I can’t keep up” lately—and when I walked into your beautiful home and saw dishes in the sink and laundry scattered here and there, I let out the deepest exhale I didn’t even realize I was holding in.  Because seeing your mess? Your less-than-perfect? It didn’t make me think any differently of you, but it did allow me to give myself the grace I desperately needed....

Keep Reading

This Is a Mom’s Brain in the Middle of the Night

In: Living, Motherhood
Woman looking at smartphone in the middle of the night

Dear husband, let me introduce you to your wife, insomnia edition. You see me not sleeping. You see me “playing” on my phone. Here’s what my brain is actually doing . . .  It’s 2 a.m., I wake up thinking, “I need to make an appointment” (it can be as mundane and stupid as a haircut or more importantly, a specialist appointment for one of the kids). I try to go back to sleep, promising myself I will remember. Lying there, I tell myself I won’t forget. I will remember, don’t worry. Fifteen minutes go by . . . On...

Keep Reading

It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye

In: Grief, Living, Loss
Small dog with head hanging out car window, color photo

Our dog Carlos has slowed down considerably within the last few months. He’s always been outspoken and opinionated–a typical firstborn trait–and to hear him snoring most of the day and tolerating things he normally wouldn’t tolerate (i.e. being carried from place to place by my son, forklift-style) put me on notice that he’s in the fourth quarter. Carlos looks and acts like an Ewok from the Star Wars franchise. According to Wikipedia, Ewoks are clever, inquisitive, and inventive. Carlos checks all three boxes. As a puppy, we tried crate training, but it never took. It wasn’t for lack of trying....

Keep Reading

Her Future Will Not Be My Broken Past

In: Living, Motherhood
Mother and daughter hold hands by water, silhouette photo

Forty years ago, you were an innocent child. You were brought into this world for a purpose. Your innocence is robbed before kindergarten by a trusted relative. You are broken and bruised by those entrusted to protect you. You are extremely emotional in your childhood, but no one listens to understand. As you grow into your teenage years, emotions are bottled up out of fear. You lean into promiscuous behavior because that is the only way you know how to get men to love you. Because of abuse that no one took you out of, you stay around those who...

Keep Reading

Mom’s Special Recipe Means More This Year

In: Grown Children, Living
Bowl full of breadcrumbs and celery, color photo

Three weeks before Easter, my family and I stood in the hallway talking to a team of doctors whom we had flagged down. We were anxiously inquiring about my mom, who was in the ICU on life support. We hadn’t been able to connect with the doctors for over 48 hours, so it was important for us to check in and see what was going on. The head doctor began discussing everything they had observed in the scans and what it meant for my mom’s quality of life. Every word made our hearts break. The doctor continued to talk about...

Keep Reading

I’m a Mom Who Reads and is Raising Readers

In: Living, Motherhood
Mom with infant daughter on bed, reading a book, color photo

Since childhood, I’ve been lost in a world of books. My first true memory of falling in love with a book was when my mom read aloud Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. With each voice she used, I fell deep into the world of imagination, and I’ve never seemed to come up for air. My reading journey has ebbed and flowed as my life has gone through different seasons, but I’ve always seemed to carry a book with me wherever I went. When I entered motherhood and gave my whole life over to my kids, I needed something that...

Keep Reading

You Have to Feel before You Can Heal

In: Living
Depressed woman in bed

“Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.” -Cheryl Strayed How do you heal? You let the pain pass through you. You feel your feelings....

Keep Reading

I Didn’t Know How Much I Needed Other Mothers

In: Friendship, Living, Motherhood
Two mom friends smiling at each other

I read somewhere the other day that when a child is born, a parent is too. In my first few months being a mother, I’m learning just how odd that sentiment is. In an instant, I became someone new. Not only that, but I became part of a group I didn’t realize existed. That sounds wrong. Of course, mothers existed. But this community of mothers? I had no idea. It took us a long time to get where we are today. Throughout our journey with infertility, I knew in my heart I was meant to be a mother. I knew that...

Keep Reading

To the Extended Family That Shows Up: We Couldn’t Do This Without You

In: Kids, Living, Motherhood
Family visiting new baby in a hospital room

This picture—my heart all but bursts every time I see it.  It was taken five years ago on the day our daughter was born. In it, my husband is giving her her very first bath while our proud extended family looks on. It was a sweet moment on a hugely special day, but gosh–what was captured in this photo is so much more than that. This photo represents everything I could have ever hoped for my kids: That they would have an extended family who shows up in their lives and loves them so deeply.  That they would have grandparents,...

Keep Reading

Please Don’t Tell a Couple Trying to Conceive to Just Relax

In: Friendship, Living, Motherhood
Black-and-white photo of medical supplies

This is a plea. A plea to those who know someone who is struggling with infertility. So, if you’re reading this, this is directed right to you. Please, for the love of everything, when someone tells you they are struggling to conceive, do not tell them to “just relax.” I know it’s the cliche, default term most blurt out because they don’t know what else to say. It’s awkward to discuss for some. I’m 10000% positive it is coming from a good place and is meant to be calming and reassuring, and you really do believe it’s true because a...

Keep Reading