• Meghan Douglass

Let's Talk About Poo

I'm assuming most people are going to be put off by the title of this post, but I'm hoping some will be left curious enough to read this. I have a valid reason for wanting to talk about poo and I'm hoping by the end of this, it is something you become just a little bit more comfortable talking about.

My son and I were born with a condition known as Imperforate Anus/Anorectal Malformation (for more information please read my post Demystifying Rare Diseases: Imperforate Anus/Anorectal Malformation). As I'm sure you can guess from the name it has to do with the anus, and everyone knows what the anus is used for, poo. This has meant for me that poo talk was something that was normalised in our house. It had to be because the consequences were too high if it wasn't discussed everyday.

Something that goes hand in hand with this condition, for most people, is severe constipation. This meant it was crucial for my parents to know if I had done a poo or not each day. They had to ask the question every day so they could work out if I needed more laxatives or an enema, and the same situation has already started with my son, so history is repeating itself. By having to ask the question everyday, talking about poo became a very normal part of my life and I know this is not the case for most people.

In general "polite" society there is a massive stigma around talking about any bodily function but poo seems to be one of the least discussed. There are many medical condition, other than the one we suffer from, that involve poo and problems with poo and these people would also have to talk about what they are going through to family, doctors and nurses. At the end of the day, let's be honest about it, EVERYBODY POOS. Not one person on the planet doesn't poo so why is there this constant shame around the topic?

People with a colostomy bag have to try and hide their bags but they are noisy (my son had a colostomy bag). They have no control of output of gas or fecal matter. The noise can, at times be difficult to cover up. What for most is a private act done only in a toilet becomes a much more public act, and then there are the times a bag explodes or leaks while you're on the go. I remember when this would happen with my son, there were times we both got covered in poo.

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about where the stigma around poo comes from. It's something everyone has to do but something no one ever wants to talk about. When you have small children and you begin toilet training, poo becomes very normal in the household for a while to help with teaching them to go. You ask them if they need to go poo, so it's talked about a lot. But for some reason as they grow up, this all starts to change. The talk about poo stops and they hit a certain age where people start to discourage discussions about poo.

Why is this? I understand poo is yucky, don't get me wrong, I know poo stinks and can be really gross and is considered a private bodily function but again it happens to literally all of us. Yeah I'll say it, shit happens! So why can't we discuss it? Why are we so ashamed of a normal, very healthy, bodily function.

There has always been a similar stigma with women's periods as well but over the past few years there seems to be a slight shift in this. It is becoming more present in advertising, and women are encouraged not to feel ashamed of a bodily function that is completely normal and healthy. Again, it can be a little gross, but it happens to around 50% of the population at least once so why create a level of stigma that can cause feelings of shame.

My biggest issue with the stigma around poo talk is the shame it creates for those of us with less control over it when it happens or how it happens. The sheer fear of being found out that you were the one who stank out the toilet at work is mortifying. Many people with bowel conditions can't always control when it happens without risk of having an even greater embarrassment from soiling themselves.

Disabled toilets have been a lifesaver for me in this respect, but every time you walk out of a disabled toilet you get scared someone will see you and they will somehow know what you were doing in there, or you will get a strange look because you aren't in a wheelchair. Some of these fears and feelings may just be my own, but I suspect they plague a lot of people and for different reasons.

The stigma has caused me to be self conscious my whole life (I'm sure there were other things that affected this too). I'm so used to talking about poo, I don't always remember to filter my words when I'm around other people, especially if I'm feeling comfortable, so I get funny looks for talking about the "yucky" things no one wants to hear about. Then I get self conscious and clam up. I completely understand it may not be their normal, what I don't understand is why it is OK for other people to make me feel bad because it is my normal.

I am who I am and I've done my best to find ways to cope with and survive the difficulties I've faced throughout my life and for me, this means talking about the "yucky". So why is it OK for people to make me feel like that isn't OK? To make me feel like I'm weird and strange and don't quite fit in. I guess it's because I am the outlier and everyone else is closer to what is considered the societal norm. Is this fair? Personally I don't think so, but again, everyone will have varying opinions on that too.

We are all products of what we have had to face in life and the biggest message I would like to put out to everyone is to try to be more tolerant and accepting of people. That goes both ways. I would hope I have never made someone feel bad for not wanting to hear about the "yucky", but at the same time I wish people could find a kinder way to change the conversation. It's not fun to feel judged, or like you're the weirdo in the room so I hope people can be a little more conscious of how they talk to others.

Maybe the way we are with our children something we could learn from and strive towards for a lot of reasons. Maybe people wouldn't have to hide behind a false image perfection and could feel more secure in being who they truly are, poos and all.

Over generations, what has considered polite in society has certainly shifted. Language has changed immensely as well as the way we dress and act. Society is a constantly evolving beast so I hope for the next generation's sake, they don't have to hide behind a wall of shame and can be their true, beautiful selves. Maybe we would have fewer mental health problems if we could get to a place like this. Help lift some of the stigma and shame.

This goes a lot further than just being able to talk about poo and a lot deeper, but maybe it's a good place to start because it is something we all do. I'm not suggesting everyone has to dictate every bowel movement but just start to lift some of the stigma. Hopefully I still have some readers after this post and if you like what you read please subscribe. Feel free to comment if you have any personal experience in this, I'd be really interested to hear it.


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