In case you missed my second Cosmo post, here it is!
I am extremely proud to be a woman. Who wouldn’t be? We can do so many remarkable things that are unique to only us. The most fundamental characteristic is the ability to have children. We can make HUMANS, ya’ll! This is incredible! A mom friend of mine once told me that after the birth of her son she felt almost superhuman in her strength. I never forgot that. I knew women described some amazing feelings after giving birth, but superpowers?! I was listening!
I had always just assumed I would have children and have them young. My mom had all her kids by age 23 so it just felt natural to follow that path. In my mind, the minimal age difference between my mother and I was a main factor in us being so close. We are great friends and I could easily confide in her without too much generational translation. It was an ideal situation and one that made sense to emulate.
My plan was simple: fall in love, marry young, have kids, and then relax knowing I had fulfilled what I had assumed was my “womanly destiny.”
None of this happened. At least not in the way I’d imagined.
I did fall in love at a young age … with theater. At age 5, I saw a production of Annie and never looked back. I was intoxicated by every aspect of performing and couldn’t believe my luck that I locked down exactly what I wanted to do in life so early. Then, at age 17, I got into a passionate and committed relationship … with New York City. I set lofty goals and achieved them one by one. And while I focused on living this wild and unpredictable life, I sort of just assumed the baby desire would conveniently announce itself. Surely I would wake up one day with an actual man next to me and all of a sudden it would be baby time! But this revelation never came, and as I moved into upper-20s, I sometimes wondered why that feeling wasn’t nagging at me.
“You’re so young! You have plenty of time for kids! Your career is important!” I heard this from everyone, and I didn’t disagree. Sure, this wasn’t how my mom had done it, but I was part of a new generation! I could choose when I wanted to start a family. There was no reason in my mind to not believe this would be my path.
Again, my plan was thwarted.
As I listened to my oncologist explain how the chemotherapy that would be imperative to ridding my body of breast cancer could make it impossible to have children, I suddenly felt like every choice I ever made was a mistake. Why didn’t I make this a priority?! These words screeched through my brain on a loop. Being “so young” had turned into “time’s up!” in an instant.
My tumor was feeding on my estrogen so we had to starve that sucker out with a monthly shot that would put me into a medically induced state of menopause. The shot was also going to potentially protect my ovaries from the “poison” I would be introducing into my body through chemo. In the course of one day, my estrogen would hit rock bottom and my ovaries would be put to sleep for five years, rendering it not only virtually impossible to have a child but incredibly harmful to my body. A surge of estrogen from a pregnancy could kill me. Oh boy, this was doing wonders for my already complicated maternal instinct!
Thankfully, I had doctors who were very sensitive to this issue and a tumor that was happy to stay put for a while, which gave me a small but necessary window to freeze my eggs. I felt comfortable with this plan, as they would remain a desirable 30 years old even as I continued to age. Plus, a uterus never expires. My fertility doctor was confident that because of my age and general good health I could get up to 15 eggs saved in the one cycle I was allotted before I had to start treatment. I was going to be given a rare opportunity to push the reset button on my biological clock. For the first time since my diagnosis, I breathed a sigh of relief.
Unfortunately, a standard blood test found that even without cancer, my fertility was very low. By the time I’m 35, when we wake up my ovaries, I will have a slim chance of conceiving naturally. Hearing this news, I had finally had enough. The “positivity goggles” I had been wearing flew off. For the first time I allowed myself to dip my toe in the “WHY ME?!” pool. I had listened to my heart, and my body had betrayed me. It never spoke up! How could it give up on me without even letting me know? I threw myself a proper pity party but in cancer land there is very little room for this sort of behavior. And to be honest, it didn’t make me feel any better. I went forward with the fertility treatments, giving myself up to three shots in the abdomen every day for 10 days. Each time I prepared the syringe, my inner monologue vacillated between “My future kids better LOVE ME after all this crap I’m doing for them” and “Am I even sure I want to be a mother?” I was taking drastic measures to ensure a future that I couldn’t even envision as the right one for me.
The procedure itself was easy peasy. They put me under, and the whole thing was done in 15 minutes. My doctor was able to retrieve four eggs — certainly not 15, but better than nothing. Afterward, the fact that I had these frozen little potential futures made something click in me. I realized that I don’t have to regret anything. I had made the right choices for me with all information I had, just as I had my entire life. I wouldn’t have traded my career experiences for anything. They offered me joy, confidence, perseverance, financial autonomy, and chapters upon chapters of stories. Stories that one day I may tell to my children, though for now that particular future is just chilling, literally, while I fight to have any future at all.
One thing I learned in my quest for motherhood is this: A woman is not defined by her fertility. The ability to carry and birth a child is a miracle. But so is adoption. So is deciding motherhood is not your bag and instead you will nurture the hell out of your partner, your best friends, or your shoe collection. Maybe one day I will simply say, “My body doesn’t do that. Can I interest you in the millions of OTHER things it does?”
I never stopped having options. It just took cancer to open my eyes to how many I really have.
See original post at Cosmopolitan.com