By Hanna Nicholls
For some women, poops or “BMs,” as I like to call them, have been a taboo subject of conversation for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been a private pooper, and the topic used to make me uncomfortable to even speak about. My parents still like to tell stories where as a toddler I would disappear and they would find me hiding somewhere, usually behind my dad’s desk, where I could poop in peace. I developed this quirk early on.
I’m not sure how old I was when the search for pooping in peace began, but at twenty-five, it’s something I still look for in times of need. However, this need of mine has been challenged by giardia, an intestinal infection caused by a parasite that is picked up in backcountry streams, lakes and other water supply systems. I contracted giardia after a two-month hiking trip that my partner Graham and I were on a few years ago during which we neglected to *always* clean our drinking water. It takes a few weeks for symptoms to show up, so before I was officially diagnosed, I thought I was eating terribly and my body was telling me to (literally) get my shit together. One experience that has become a very fond memory of mine was on the tail end of our trip as we were passing through Jasper, Alberta. We went to this great Mexican restaurant where I had the best tacos I’ve ever eaten and all self-control was thrown out the window for the night. The next morning we were at the tourist information centre when I was struck with a very urgent need to use the bathroom. I’m talking an SOS state of emergency situation. So I went into the centre, and with sweaty, shaking hands I picked up a map that I didn’t need and calmly asked the attendant where the washroom was while I used every ounce of self-control I had to keep a steady voice. She replied, “Oh, no washroom here! It’s across the street and just down the road. Sorry!” I practically threw the map at her and ran out the door and across the street trying my absolute best to avoid my version of Maya Rudolph’s shitting-in-the-street Bridesmaids scene. Thankfully I made it to the bathroom. A very public and busy restroom, however.
It wasn’t until a few weeks later when we were home that I thought maybe I had giardia. I was developing an alarming relationship with my bathroom and it was controlling my morning routine. I said to Graham, “I think I have giardia?” “No way you have giardia” – Graham, an almost doctor, said to me as I tried not to shit my pants every day. Then it happened. I shit my pants! I. Shit. My. Pants. I was at home and in sweatpants, but it was the strangest feeling to have no control over your body and I remember feeling mortified even though there were no witnesses to my pants-shitting.
Long story short, I was diagnosed with giardia. Even with antibiotics, it can take a few *MONTHS* for symptoms to clear up and I’m one of the lucky individuals who developed a lactose intolerance post infection.
On top of forever changing my relationship with dairy, giardia has challenged my need for private BM spaces. When I first started exhibiting symptoms, it controlled my days and I lived in fear of shitting my pants in public. Two years post infection I still deal with a lot of the negative outcomes (mostly not being able to eat as much cheese as I want and lactose-free milk is mediocre at best), but it’s also impacted my life in a very positive way. Before giardia, the thought of pooping in public was anxiety-inducing. And in the early stages of my relationship with Graham, I couldn’t poop around him, and poop at his apartment? Forget it. Before our trip, I would think of how I would ever be able to poop in peace while on the road with him. It was stressful and consuming. Giardia has since helped me discover how liberating it is to let the stress of pooping around people and having people know that you poop, go. Why are we embarrassed to talk about it? Why do we let it dictate even an ounce of our lives? Of our relationships? This topic may seem frivolous, but the pants-shitting incident has led me to question such values, and think about pooping in the context of societal norms and ideals of femininity and gender. Although I still treasure a private place for me to have a BM in peace, I have a much healthier relationship with my body and the fact that it’s OK to poop, and even more – it’s OK to poop in public and for people to know about it. Everybody poops.