I am rather a sociable being and love the bones of my friends. Having a poorly child will show you very quickly who the real ones are, the ones that reach out. The ones that have the difficult conversations then entertain your anxieties and dramatics in times of hardship. Child-care has always been an achilles heal for us with a child with both an ostomy and a feeding tube. Friends over the years have offered to learn how to change a stoma bag to be able to baby sit, but to put that responsibility onto someone is huge, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. From our perspective, we wouldn’t dream of asking someone who has a newborn, a younger child, a busy work and family life or health conditions of their own. It is a huge undertaking. I always want to make sure that the person wouldn’t negatively affect their own family life by trying help mine.
When I met Michaella our boys started Nursery class together and we clicked straight away. I have been blessed with my friendships over the years and didn’t realise this beautiful Mum who had the greatest taste in dungarees would become such an essential part of my life. Role on 2 years and her offer of childcare and taking on stoma care has meant I have been able to return to work! I know he is with someone who he feels safe and secure with, and who can carry out his cares and be trusted 100%. Not only is she the best second Mum to Jake, but also is the founder of Peg Pals, where Michaella designs and paints by hand peg dolls and creates commissions.
You can imagine how touched I was when she presented me with my very own peg pal representing my own ostomy in the most beautiful way. It takes pride of place in my kitchen and is something I will always treasure. She was part of my support network when I had my ostomy surgery during the first covid lockdown. From this, I wanted to explore with Michaella how best to support a friend having such major surgery:
What inspired you to start Peg Pals?
I started by making them for my two children. Watching them play so imaginatively with them encouraged me to start a small business to see if others might enjoy them too. I’m a lover of wooden toys. I love how open ended they can be.
How does the commission process work?
I ask for a photo of the customer if they are willing to share one. Ask any significant details about them. Do they wear glasses, have freckles or any other features they would like me to include. I do a quick sketch and then crack on with painting.
What are your thoughts on the representation of disabled people in toys?
I think it’s getting better. Barbie now has a range of toys that is more inclusive but there is still a long way to go. It brings a little one such joy when they find a toy that’s like them. That shares their disability be that visible or hidden. They feel less alone and more accepted. It’s good for their self esteem and their mental health.
Did you know what a stoma was before and what have you learnt?
Yes I did know what a stoma was, but I’ve since learnt how to empty and change a bag if needed for Jake. How it can affect the skin around the stoma. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing how it has given you a new outlook on life and how much happier and healthier you are after having yours done.
How can parents introduce disabled people in through play?
I think parents shouldn’t over think it. It’s normal for children to be inquisitive about disabilities. Answer their questions the best you can or do some research together. I believe most people with a disability would be happy to explain to a child a little more about their disability. Just make it a part of your usual play. Maybe playing doctors would be a good start. Kids are caring little things and love to be helpful. You’ll be amazed how open minded they can be.
How could a peg pal of a child’s special educational needs help a child?
I’d hope that the child would live to have a little peg pal just like them. A friend to take with them everywhere. Helps them with their confidence and to make them realise they are special too.
What advice you would give to someone who is supporting their friend after stoma surgery?
To be available to listen, it’s a huge change and emotions will be all over the place. Remind them that they strong and beautiful inside and out. That they will heal and they need to take things slowly. Go shopping for new clothes with them if needed. Make it fun, it’s a new adventure for them. Don’t forget to laugh!
Thank you to Michaella and her family for all the support and care they have shown our family over the last few years. We treasure you in our hearts.
Until next time, Rach