It’s Mother’s Day today and I have to admit that it can be a bit of a challenging day for me. As progressive as I am and know that one is not defined solely on one aspect of their life, not being a mother is well a mother. After all it’s a day explicitly for celebrating our mother’s, but what is a mother?
Babies are popping up everywhere, and kids are extra cute at least it seems so especially today. There is nothing like other people’s joy serving as painful reminder of the things you cannot have. Please don’t get me wrong, I am overjoyed for their happiness and the blessing of that new life, but it’s just that it’s an in your face reminder that I will never be a “mother” and some days it just feels like cancer just robs you of everything.
For a while I thought that this sense of loss was more about feeling what it is like to be pregnant than actually being a mother, but I now know that it is the whole cycle of life that I am missing out on.
Early on in my diagnosis, I had the wherewithal to ask about fertility preservation. I was referred to an onco-fertility specialist literally days before my first treatment. I remember vividly sitting in the Dr.’s office, thinking I had everything under control until “harvesting, embryos, and sperm donors” were mentioned. I actually started having a panic attack. My head swam with questions, “What if I meet someone and they don’t want my sperm donor embryos,” “What kind of qualities do I look for in a donor”, “What do I do with my embryos if I don’t use them?” “I can’t donate them, pieces of me will be out there, but I don’t know if I can destroy them,” the thoughts were consuming.
Breathe, just breathe I thought.
My saving grace was my oncologist deciding that there just wasn’t time to delay three weeks to harvest my eggs. So they shut my reproductive system down while I did chemo. It seems strange to have such a monumental decision made for me, but it was a relief that I didn’t have to decide, I realize now, I wasn’t ready and as much as I wanted to consider the options, the truth was, there wasn’t time and I didn’t have anyone to turn to for unbiased advice.
After treatment was finished, I saw the fertility specialist again to revisit whether I wanted to harvest and preserve my eggs. At that time, I decided that I would harvest eggs, but I didn’t have the finances to proceed and although I would be getting the cancer discount of 50% off the regular price, I waited.
Once again, the decision was made for me, my cancer was back, this time it had spread and I realized that I might not get out of this alive. Parenthood would have to be something that was sacrificed in order to save my own life. Even though it’s now eight years later and I am stable and married, my choices are still limited to acceptance of my infertility, except now I am actively trying to prevent pregnancy.
It is amazing how things can come full circle. Having the option of being a mother taken away from me made me want it so much more, but having been through treatment and knowing I will live the rest of my life with cancer and the possibility of recurrence or progression at anytime I am steadfast in deciding not to have a child. I mean, how can I possibly put a child through losing their mother, or risk passing on my faulty genes or risk my own life just trying? Had I never encountered cancer, I wouldn’t have a problem trying to get pregnant at 39, but that is not the case.
Even if I could get pregnant, my ovaries have been exposed to so much radiation from scans and treatment my eggs would be fried, they have been exposed to systemic chemotherapy, and they are 39 years old, the odds of having a healthy pregnancy is not be in my favour. As it stands, the treatment I’m on counter-indicates pregnancy. The drug inhibits a protein (ironically ALK) that is used during fetal development and the effects on a growing fetus are unknown but likely detrimental. I could stop treatment, but that would mean I’d have to stop my meds for as long as it takes to clear out of my system, plus the time it would take to get pregnant and finally another nine months until delivery. I might be lucky enough have the cancer not grow or grow slowly enough to make it to delivery and restart treatment, but then there are no guarantees that I’d respond to treatment again. It would be playing Russian roulette.
Maybe it is a selfish decision, maybe it is for the best, but there is nothing like holding and smelling a new baby to make you doubt your decisions. I don’t know what it is about the new baby smell that triggers every cell in my biology to want a baby, but it does and it’s hard to resist that siren’s call. For a long time, I couldn’t bring myself to attend baby showers or even hold a newborn because it was so upsetting, but I have gotten better. Knowing something in your brain doesn’t make it any easier to knowing it in your heart. I don’t regret any of my decisions and it has taken a long time to get to a place of acceptance. I still have my bad days, today is one of them.
I am very lucky though, I am healthy and happy and have a wonderful little family (Me, my Patrick and all the fur babies, Lacey, Finn, Mischa and Borat), and have been blessed with a most incredible mother who raised and cared for me (still does) in good times and in bad and taught me how to be a strong woman. I have a wonderful mother-in-law who is kind and thoughtful and who so openly embraced me as a daughter and know through her son what an amazing mom she is. I have so many women in my life who inspire me to be great and to do great thing because of their example of sacrifice and grace. So I don’t have my own biological children and never will, but I have known the kind of love it takes to be a mother.
To all the would be moms and mothers who have lost children, adoptive moms, and surrogate moms you deserve to be celebrated today too. So to all the mother’s out there in whatever way you are defined, Happy Mother’s day to you.