I call myself a real-life Barbie.
Not because I have blonde hair or the iconic doll’s unrealistic proportions, but because, just like her, I don’t have a functioning bum.
Barbie butt surgery — as it has been called by those who’ve undergone it — is a term for the slightly scarier sounding proctectomy surgery, the partial or total removal of a person’s rectum, which leaves one with nothing but a scar between their cheeks.
Like I said, no functioning bum — just like Barbie.
I know the question you’ll be asking: how do I poo if I don’t have a ‘normal’ bum? The answer is that there’s another secret hidden beneath my clothes.
I have a stoma, which means a part of my small intestine pokes out of my stomach and a little bag collects all my poo, taking my bum completely out of the equation.
Yes, it feels a little strange at times to talk so candidly about my poo situation, but we all do it – I just do it a bit differently.
How my ulcerative colitis made me bloated and bloody
There was a time when I had no idea what a stoma was or that you could even have your rectum removed. That was back in 2020, before I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
I’d just met the love of my life at the start of the year, and things were going great. I lived with my adorable three-year-old son, and at work I felt like I was growing and learning. But as we all entered the pandemic, I was entering an altogether different unfamiliar world. I just didn’t know it at first.
In March, a regularly bloated belly turned into severe stomach cramps, and those cramps became bloody diarrhoea. Literally bloody.
By June 2020, the odd day of symptoms had become a daily occurrence. I was often left writhing in pain while sitting on the toilet; my insides felt like they were turning over. Some days I was lucky if I even made it to the toilet.
I didn’t ignore my symptoms. But we all know how hard it was to be seen by a doctor, let alone a hospital, during the pandemic.
In July, I was finally admitted to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. One day later I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. Nine days after that I underwent life-saving surgery to remove my large intestine — all but my rectum — and my stoma was created.
The whole experience happened quickly. It was terrifying but necessary to prevent my large intestine from perforating.
Dying wasn’t an option; I had too much to live for and I knew it.
“Do what you have to do to get me home to my son,” I said to my doctors.
Learning to live with my new ‘plumbing’
I want to make it known now that this is not my story of woe.
It’s a story of endurance, positivity and loving yourself. Waking up to my stoma also awakened a kind of love in myself that I didn’t know I was capable of feeling.
My stoma took away the pain and embarrassment and gave me back some dignity and quality of life.
Don’t get me wrong; I had some very teary days in the beginning, but those tears soon dried when I realised I could still live my life normally. My plumbing was different, but I could still be a mother and do the things I wanted to do.
My mum always says when life knocks you down you just have to keep on fighting. I listened to her words, dug deep for inner strength and got back on my feet.
Faced with a difficult choice
After my stoma surgery, life went on and a new life was created too. Seven months post-op, I became pregnant with my daughter. The world kept turning and I kept pushing forward.
However, in February 2023, I had to make a choice. Would I make my stoma permanent, meaning would I undergo the Barbie butt surgery, or would I have surgery to create a J-pouch and say goodbye to my stoma — maybe forever?
Say goodbye to the stoma bag, right? A J-pouch would let me live without it and my surgeon would use my small intestine to create a sort of inner stoma bag that would allow me to go for a poo using my bum again. But there was always a chance that surgery could fail.
‘My body made the decision for me’
Do you believe in fate? I do. Weeks later, while contemplating my options, I experienced a second huge flare-up of IBD.
The little bit of rectum that was left untouched in my first bowel surgery — the part that left me with the option of a J-pouch — went off. And I mean off on one. Medication helped a bit to begin with, but it didn’t free me from my pain.
I think that was fate. My body had made the decision for me. In May, I underwent Barbie butt surgery and took one step closer to becoming more like the doll I loved growing up. But it hit hard.
As I sobbed to my fiancé, he reminded me: “Samantha, you keep saying you just want to come home to get back to our normal life — that life is with your stoma bag. Your stoma bag is normal to you now.”
A lightbulb moment: my inner strength rose and my courage was mustered.
I was scared, but I’d embraced big changes to my body already and I knew what I had to do.
I had to accept my fate and learn to love my body again, learn to appreciate my body again… and appreciate the honour of being alive once more. Now, eight months later, I love my bum.
Recovery, and a new chapter free of pain
Recovering was a journey, and I’m not saying it was easy, but I want anyone who reads this who may be facing the same surgeries to know that while it might be hard at times, you can get through it. You can get to the other side of recovery.
When people face stoma surgery or have their stomas made permanent, plenty of them think their lives are over.
But it could just be the beginning of a bright new chapter free from pain and trauma.
It’s a chance to learn how to really love and accept yourself. We’re all different and we are all beautiful.
A bag on your belly or a missing rectum should never define you.
These surgeries are major and they are life-changing, but they don’t need to change who you are or how you live your life.
A brighter future thanks to my Barbie butt
I have been on a journey of growth, and I have embraced my Barbie butt.
I have accepted it for what it is. A life-changing surgery, yes, but who sees me on the toilet anyway? No longer do I live in fear of flare-ups.
Never again will I feel the agonising pain of inflammatory bowel disease.
Today, thanks to my Barbie butt (and my stoma bag too) I can look ahead to my future and know that IBD will never stand in my way again.
Nice try IBD, but you can’t keep this girl down. I look after my two children. I work full-time. I socialise. I exercise. I live life.
Like Barbie says, I can be anything I want to be.
Samantha Leckie is sharing her health journey on Instagram under the handle @guttedforguts_abdn.