This is a topic fraught with so many sensitive issues and let me say up front that I am not an expert on any of it. What I am is a woman, a daughter, a wife, and a mom.
Some background on me … I delayed having children on purpose because I wanted to build my career and to spend quality time with my husband. When we got married in 2008, we were both out of our 20s; well, I turned 30 a few months after we got married. When we were ready to conceive and I stopped taking birth control, we thought it would happen quickly. It didn’t. So, we went down the road of testing and monitoring my fertility closely. I quickly grew to resent the charts and forced timed intercourse that only highlighted my continued failures.
Still, no pregnancy.
We then went to a fertility specialist and went down the road of medication; fortunately, just the oral kind. It took time and there were lots of delays, many times we got our hopes up only to be disappointed, and there were many many pregnancy tests. Going every day for a vaginal ultrasound around the time of fertility was super difficult to work into my schedule and wasn’t fun.
Then, yes, we got pregnant and our eldest boy was born in 2013. Once we decided that we wanted to give him a sibling, it was back through the fertility rollercoaster once again. Different this time was that I was nursing and refused to wean just to get pregnant. (I was a difficult patient long before I got cancer!). This time, because I was nursing, I had to give myself daily shots. After months of trying and lots of shots, we were finally able to get pregnant again and our youngest son was born in 2015.
Our two boys are exceedingly precious to us, even more so because of all the effort and time and angst to get pregnant. Nursing was even more important to me because it felt like it made up for my body not doing what it was told.
Fertility was the first time my body failed to do what was supposed to be natural and normal. Finding out that I have Stage IV metastatic breast cancer was the second time my body failed me.
When we met with my breast surgeon so that she could give me the results of the breast biopsy and tell me I had breast cancer, she asked us about fertility and what our family plans were. We didn’t know how blessed we were that she was up front and discussed our options with us directly and candidly at the very beginning. Since we’d been on the fence about the possibility of a third child, the diagnosis gave us a pretty clear and definitive answer about that. At the time, it didn’t seem like another loss, but it was.
No, my experience was not to be told I would never be a mother.
No, no information was withheld from me so that it was too late to preserve my fertility.
Yes, I have two amazing little boys who I was able to carry to term.
No, I’ve not had to suffer the loss of a child through miscarriage.
And yet, the end of the possibility of my body nourishing another child was a major blow. Immediately, the largest change was that I had to immediately wean both of my boys. We’d been nursing for 4 years, the last two years as a tandem threesome. Nursing was literally inextricably intertwined with how I mothered my children and the adjustment was devastating. Since nursing was how both of my boys drifted off to sleep each and every night of their lives, bedtime was torturous as we adjusted to weaning and the fact that I had cancer all at once.
I think the devastation of learning I have a terminal diagnosis along with the devastation of weaning masked the sadness of learning that there wouldn’t be another child of my body who shared the traits of both my husband and I. Once some of the shock wore off, I was able to feel some of that loss.
Fertility, infertility and secondary infertility are becoming less of a taboo subject over time. Women are speaking up more and more about the toll these losses take and how silence about these losses only makes them worse. So much worse. I’m not sure we ever really get over these losses and having to hide how hard it can be is probably the worst way to handle it.
Being given a terminal diagnosis means that I’ve had to grieve the loss of so many things. Even things that I didn’t really even realize that I wanted. We have to continue talking about loss, talking about grief, talking about how dealing with these things can affect all of us. Only when we get things out in the open to be able to examine them, grieve them properly and then put the loss in the appropriate context can we move forward with the grief. No one truly moves past grief, it just becomes a part of us in a more manageable way.
For now, I will focus on the amazing gifts I’ve been given, EMBRACE the reality of the here and now, and offer support when I can to those who are still grieving. When women support other women, truly amazing things happen.