Putting Motherhood on Hold: Cancer & Family Planning

I had been so caught up grieving my future as a mother, what I couldn’t have and what was lacking that I was missing out on opportunities to live and to thrive.

This post has been a long time coming, but I had been waiting until the inspiration struck in order to share this side of my story. After sitting down to read the first the first chapter of the wonderful new book “The Courage Club” by fellow survivor Katie Campbell, I knew it was time to bear my soul in the areas of fertility, family planning and my feelings on motherhood.

For as long as I can remember, motherhood served as the compass for my life. I always loved children. I’d spent my childhood, my education and many years of my first career in avenues dedicated to bettering the lives of children. All of these activities and passions took me towards my end goal of motherhood.

Along the way, I also looked for a partner in crime who shared my desire to start a family. Lucky for me, I hit the jackpot. It started slow and grew into an all in, head over heels, do anything for each other “Big Love”. In May 2014 we tied the knot.  Little did I know that the love I felt for him on that day would be challenged and grow exponentially with every hurdle we faced together over the next two and a half years.

After our wedding, we went on in typical married fashion with home projects, time with friends, a new puppy and saving to start a family. We thought we had it all planned out. We researched and read and better ourselves with the goal of being the ideal parents. My husband quit drinking, we modified our lifestyle and we saved a large sum of money so that I could stay home for the first year with a baby. We amassed a collection of pregnancy and baby books and constantly talked about what the next year would hold for our family.We shared our perspectives on parenting and talked about baby names. The only thing we were waiting on, was the OK from my doctor. I had been on an IUD for 2 years and she wanted me to wait 2-3 months after the removal before we started TTC (trying to conceive).

This just so happen to occur around the same time that we sold our home to a wonderful single mom with two boys and found ourselves  “homeless”. We were looking for a new home and a neighborhood perfect for raising a family. The housing market in our area was cut-throat and we couldn’t seem to catch a break. We put in offer after offer to no avail. Thankfully, my MIL took us in which immediately brought the baby making plans to a screeching halt. I began to feel stuck, depressed and lost in limbo land waiting for the next stage of our lives to begin. Finally, we snagged a home, our 5th offer and the best one yet. Though our living situation was doable, we couldn’t wait to get back to a space of our own and get back on our charted course. Little did we know that something larger than our housing woes would knock us off the tracks.

Cancer came barreling into our lives while we waiting to close on our new home. So many exciting new beginnings while we faced the ending of life as we knew it. My diagnosis and impending treatment put our plans of starting a family in immediate jeopardy. I was devastated. Not only was I suddenly fighting for my life but my goals of motherhood on which I based my entire being and self-worth were wretched from me in an instant. Unlike the treatment for my cancer, which was actionable, I could not shake the feelings of grief surrounding the impending loss of my fertility. I grieved for the life I had planned and the dreams I was forced to put on hold. I forced myself to carry on, unsure of how to define myself without the future we’d planning waiting for us around the corner.

Luckily, my doctors recognized the urgency of these fertility concerns due to my young age and they quickly provided us with a multidisciplinary team of experts to explain the options and guide us according to our decisions. Though, it was extremely expensive even with the “cancer discount”, we decided to proceed with Fertility Preservation. I went through one round of IVF hormone stimulation (to get my body to produce multiple eggs instead of the standard 1). After the hormone stimulation, and daily doctor’s visits checking my estrogen levels, we extracted all the eggs (8 in my case) and attempted to fertilize all of them. Out of the 8, 3 successfully fertilized and grew to a state acceptable for preservation. These two weeks were the most emotional and stressful time out of the entire treatment. The waiting was excruciating. My body was pumped full of hormones and everyday I was brought to tears by the slightest triggers. I felt my body had failed me again only producing 8 eggs, when the doctor had hoped for 10-20. My heart was racing each day, waiting for the lab to call with a report on our eggs and embryos. I knew the statistics were low and we’d be lucky to end up with a few fertilized and acceptable embryos, but when they said only 3 made it, it broke my heart. Those embryos represented all the hope I had for our future family. I wanted to have as many chances as possible to bring me comfort and security moving forward. Unfortunately, that was our only shot and I had to begin chemo the next week so we had no choice but to accept the results and move forward.

After the grief and sadness, would come anger, jealous and fear. Everyone around us seemed to be moving forward and we were stuck, held back and left behind. They were getting on with their lives, getting pregnant, having babies and planning for the future. As much as I wanted to be happy for them, it was soul crushing. The unfairness brought me so much anger and the root of all my anger all came back to fear. Who was I without the ability to have children? Would my marriage sustain? How would I find purpose in life without the goals of motherhood that I set out to achieve? Would I spend every day pining away for the far off day when the doctors would allow us that possibility?

While I wish I could say I had a grand epiphany, a magic moment that helped me move forward from this discomfort…the truth is far from it. I began journaling regularly, created a blog and made it a point to find ways of taking control of my life despite the fact that cancer threatened to break me. In the midsts of this turmoil, I came to love myself on a deeper level. I committed myself to self-compassion and self-love because I realized, I AM WORTH IT. As I found the strength to carry on, I grew more and more proud of myself. I found new levels of joy in my life the more I took control of my own happiness. I began to feel a little less lost. The more I connected with other survivors, and shared my story and my pain, the less alone I felt.

Little by little I stopped thinking about babies nonstop and began dedicating that time and emotion to rediscovering myself, my husband and finding new things I am passionate about. We made time to explore new interests, get involved in advocacy, and redefine our goals. As I grew emotionally and professional, I began to redefine success. I am now able to see more purpose in my life beyond motherhood and I am coming to value myself more. We still want children, but we have been able to reset the compass and move forward on a new path, one that doesn’t focus solely on motherhood, an area in which we currently have no choice or control. If all goes well with my health, we can reevaluate family planning after 3 years of hormone and ovarian suppression. That means September 2018 is our next checkpoint, but who’s counting? For now, we are focused on enjoying each day and finding new ways to strengthen our family of two (+ Sophie). I hope that by sharing my struggle with fertility and cancer you don’t feel so alone and that you too can find peace in time.

Side Note: During our Summer 2016 trip to Europe I came across these handmade lace baby booties in Brussels. I had recently drafted this post and I was drawn to these booties as a symbol of our hope for the future. 

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5 comments

  1. Jessie Bishop says:

    Another beautiful post, Anna. Thank you for sharing your lovely soul with us. You inspire me and I know how much this will speak to other survivors and to those in the midst of their battle.

  2. Joe says:

    2018 seems like it might be far away but you guys are probably going to live to be 100, and see your children’s children. Great picture of you guys on date night.

    As always thanks for sharing, always helps to put things in perspective.

    Take care, Joe

  3. Mac says:

    I love you hunny. We started with a 3 year waiting period, and now we’re down to almost two years. I’m so happy that we were able to communicate openly with each other and share our feelings so things didn’t build up and explode out of us.

    I feel like the discussions we had about family planning were the most intense because (like you said) we didn’t really have any choice – we had to postpone it. I’m greatful that we were able to get into the fertility clinic so quickly and we have some options down the road.

    Love always,
    Hubby

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