I’ve pushed this post away for a long time. While it’s no secret to many who know me that infertility is an issue I face as a result of my cancer treatment, I think the layers involved surprise us all. I tell my story for a few reasons:
– writing is healing
– others out there will be facing the same thing too
– there is a Peace that passes all understanding available to all
The story starts here. I woke up, somewhat foggy, to my parents gazing over me in my hospital bed. Although I didn’t expect to hear that doctors had found cancer again, the look in my parents’ faces wasn’t too convincing. The good news was that indeed, no cancer had been found on this second surgery that suspended my ovaries into my abdomen. The bad news was that the surgery itself, performed to save my hormone function before radiation, had just made me medically sterile.
My mom looked like she had seen a ghost. My dad looked so guilty. All the while the doctor reminded them that this was a life or death situation – she had to focus on saving my life at that point. My ability to create future lives was null. They were upset, but as they broke the news to me, my 17-year-old self wasn’t bothered. I was happy to be alive, and parenthood was so far off my radar. I figured that it was one less hurdle I’d have to deal with.
I lived with this perspective for many, many years. Even when I got married, Mike had been with me through all of this and was supportive. We knew what we were getting into (or not getting into) as we tied the knot and discussed family planning. We saw our situation as special and unique. We felt invincible. I was thankful for a testimony and a story of survival. We’d tell people that we were planning to adopt one day when asked about kids. We “high-fived” over the fact that I’d never have to be pregnant. It was our special treat, all until it started to hit me one day.
Whether someone has faced infertility because of cancer or not because of cancer, the emotions are the same – they just come at different times. As we started to research options for adoption a few years after we were married, I took notice of how many agencies addressed the emotions tied to infertility at the beginning of their orientation meetings. Early into the process, I would shrug it off and feel so thankful (and unfortunately prideful) that I didn’t have to go through the pain of infertility – the feelings of mourning, loss, depression, jealousy, and oh so many other monsters. I knew early on that I was infertile, we skipped the years of trying with no result. But as the years have gone on, our personal family tree has grown, and many friends have maxed out our church nursery’s capacity, I’ve begun to understand the stories I once saw on those adoption orientation videos. I am no different. My invincibility has slowly slipped away. I’ve realized that nobody who faces infertility is immune to what comes with it.
As our journey to parenthood has become something that we really consider and start to want, we’ve had to face some big issues. I’ve had to drop my pride and acknowledge that I do feel the sadness and grief when it comes to this issue. While I’m not particularly devastated that I can’t carry my own child physically, I do get sad sometimes when I think about how we’ll miss out on the experience in general. The “she looks like you,” or “when are you due?” or “feel him kicking here,” comments will never be guided our way. And while in complete honesty that IS hard on some days, I have come to find one thing that helps.
Sinners become free when they accept Jesus and recognize their sin. Alcoholics become sober when they recognize their addition. And as an infertile woman, I’ve found so much healing in identifying and recognizing one big word: LOSS. For so many years, I’ve tried to be Super Woman and let all things bounce off me. And in a way, you have to do that if you’re going to get through surgeries, treatments, scopes, scans, and more surgeries. I thought it worked the same way with emotional issues such as infertility. But I’ve thought wrong. I can’t be bullet proof toward everything.
I’ve finally come to terms and accepted that I feel loss over this issue. A loss that isn’t only mine, as I know that our families have to feel some of this loss too. And while it is sad, it is hard sometimes, and it’s downright frustrating, accepting our situation has helped me start to pick my head up and look forward to what’s ahead. We do have the opportunity for a very unique path to parenthood. I don’t have to go through a physical pregnancy to become a parent. And in the meantime until that day does come, I get to be Aunt B to so many kiddos who touch my life in such special ways.
I share my story not to gain pity nor admiration, but to be honest with one of the deepest-level issues that my cancer has touched. I don’t talk about it much in person because it’s hard to know what to say. It’s not like someone has actually died, yet in a way the emotions are still the same. Plus, the last thing you want as an infertile person is to make a fertile person feel guilty. And while that seems silly, it’s more common than not.
I can’t really tie this up with a pretty bow and say that the issue is dealt with, and I face it no more. But I do share that I’ve come through the phases of indifference, then denial, then mourning, then jealousy, then bitterness, then sadness, then accepting the loss, and now to looking forward to what’s ahead once again. I know that at any point I might jump back into a former phase and have to work through it all again. And while it’s a battle that I continue to face, I know that just like the scar running down my abdomen, the pain associated with it will fade over time.
God’s got big plans for us. I know that with all of my heart. And while some days might be an emotional bump in the road, I still hang on to the knowledge that all of this is part of His perfect plan and has happened for a reason. One day, this will all make perfect sense, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
A quick answer to questions I am asked often:
– Yes, we COULD TRY TO have our own biological children if we chose extensive infertility treatments. We’re uncomfortable with this high-risk, pricey option and have always planned to look into adoption.
– Yes, I still have a period. Moving the ovaries up saved the function, just made the natural path of the egg longer, thus making it (near) impossible to conceive naturally. The surgery was successful in moving the hormones. No, the surgery cannot be reversed, and if it did, it would be more extensive than trying to extract the eggs would be.
– This was almost 10 years ago. Now, many doctors encourage young patients to preserve eggs before treatment. I think enough awareness of survivors losing fertility post-treatment has helped people now facing similar situations. I would recommend to anyone who is younger and of child-bearing age to consider preserving eggs/sperm before treatments. You don’t have to, and search your heart and what you feel about it. But – I recommend at least exploring the options and being confident in a decision you make – not a decision that is made for you.