1) What is your personal experience with infertility/miscarriage?
Getting pregnant: My husband and I were married in 2012 and the naïve, didn’t know any better, blissfully ignorant to how hard it really is to make a baby me, started planning when we would be having our first little one. I calculated months, looked at all sorts of options, as if I actually had any control over when this perfect pregnancy I’d imagined in my head, would take place. With that, we decided we would start trying on our honeymoon and once the decision was made, I assumed we’d get pregnant, just like that. When it didn’t happen right away, I became consumed with the whys, hows, and anything getting pregnant related, after months of trying, we decided to seek some help and were referred to a fertility clinic within a hospital. At the clinic, we heard about all sorts of tests we would undergo, and options we would go over in detail when the time came, if it were necessary. We started with naturally monitoring my cycle once it was determined we should be able to conceive on our own. I finally got pregnant. The clinic called me and told me the blood work confirmed it, I was going to be a mom. Elated, I bought a book for my husband, it was a funny book about becoming a dad and I wrote a little message about when we were due. I started planning how I would announce it at Christmas to family and friends and overnight my obsession went from trying to get pregnant to being pregnant. I went in for another blood test a week later and sadly, my dreams were crushed. Just like that, I was no longer pregnant anymore.
The miscarriage was quick because it was so early, but the hurt and pain lasted much longer. We were devastated, though my husband moved on much faster than I could. I couldn’t look at babies or pregnant women, I avoided baby showers, baby stores, and then when my best friend announced she was pregnant, due just a few weeks after when I was supposed to have been due, I became even more depressed and then angry with myself for not being able to be happier for those around me. It felt selfish but I couldn’t get out of it. We decided up increase our chances and introduced drugs. A few cycles didn’t work and we opted for a break from drugs and to see what happens. Somehow, I got pregnant again. I allowed myself to be happy, to be excited, though I was cautious. I peed on sticks for 2 weeks so I could watch the line get darker, I took 3 blood tests to confirm my levels were increasing, and this time, I really felt pregnant. My husband took a little longer to get excited, he was being more cautious. We went in for an early ultrasound and heard the heartbeat. The sweetest sound I’ve ever heard, and with that, I was officially pregnant.
The pregnancy: My pregnancy was pretty textbook, I was tired in the first trimester but not too nauseous, I took vitamins and extra supplements to ensure baby and I were getting everything we needed, I ate well, rested, took care of myself and felt pretty healthy. At about 24 weeks, I suddenly had intense pain in my abdomen, pain so strong that a nurse thought I was in labor when I arrived at the hospital. I could not be, it was not time! I was admitted into L&D and they checked me out, baby was fine and they really couldn’t figure out what was wrong, I spent a night in the hospital, took some pain meds and they sent me home the next day. What I did find out, was that I had a cyst on my ovary. Surprised, I talked to my midwife, who informed me they had seen it on my 12 week scan but nobody told me. I was scared, I’d never had any cysts that I knew about, what did it mean, what could happen? I was assured it was nothing to be concerned about, it was a simple cyst and if it twisted or caused pain, it could safely be removed, so I was told we would monitor it.
I started developing pains in my legs, it was a mixture of restless legs and straight up pain. It was pain that kept me up at night, some nights so bad I would lie awake all night crying, sometimes applying heat or cold or whatever I could do to make it go away. I talked to my midwife. All normal she said. I started taking magnesium, in hopes that would help. Aside from the pains, everything else seemed to be fine, scans were good, baby was growing.
One day, approaching my 30th week, I had another weird episode with my vision, this time, I had to steady myself as I completely lost focus. Something wasn’t right. I messaged my midwife, who suggested I see my doctor and I got in with my doctor right away. She sent me for blood work and referred me to an eye doctor. I was working from home and suddenly felt my arm go numb, scared, I called my midwife. She suggested I go to a hospital, and as I was speaking with her, I realized my speech was a bit slurred. I called my husband and he came home to get me. We got to the hospital and went to L&D, the OB looked at me, suggested I might have Bell’s Palsy and not to worry as it was common in pregnancies and sent me for an MRI. They are scary and not for the claustrophobic. I was scared, my numb hand could barely feel my baby and though she appeared to be fine, I was terrified. I was sent to emergency where they confirmed I had had a stroke. At 30 weeks pregnant, I had had a stroke. I didn’t know what that meant, and frankly, they didn’t know what to do with me, they weren’t equipped to handle a premature baby so I was transferred to a hospital with more experience with high risk pregnancies and preemies.
That was the beginning my 3 week stay at that hospital. I saw, what felt like every specialist in the hospital. Neurologists, thrombosis, obstetricians, infectious diseases, eye doctors, you name it, they came by. I repeated my symptoms, my story, over and over and over. I had another MRI and several ultrasounds. I had blood clots all up and down my legs. My cyst was not a simple cyst after all, it was complex and seemed to be of concern. They couldn’t figure out what happened, why I’d had a stroke, why I had so many blood clots. I was put on anti-coagulants immediately, shots, twice a day. Doctors started ruling out issues. There were discussions about when I would have the baby, how I would have the baby, would I be open to a planned c-section?
The birth: I I went back in the night before my c-section, one more night before meeting my little girl. I was anxious, excited, terrified, all the things I’m sure all parents feel in anticipation of meeting their little ones. We had decided the cyst & one ovary were coming out so it was a bigger surgery than usual, I counted at least 18 people in the operating room. She came out screaming and healthy.
We were in hospital for four nights with her and then finally able to go home. The next week was a blissful blur of sleep, feeding, diapers and recovering from surgery. I knew we were going to be getting results of the surgery, I knew there was more to come, what had come of the cyst, was there anything else? Finally the call came… it was cancer. Even as I write this now, it feels like a punch in the gut. A week after my little girl was born, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I had an appointment with an oncologist at a hospital that specialized in cancer treatment for the next day, I was in shock. The next day, we found ourselves, with our 7-day old, sitting in a waiting room at a cancer hospital.
She explained what they found, what she recommended and what would happen next. I couldn’t tell you what it is she said. I had to make decisions about my fertility with a newborn in my arms, did I want more, did I want to try to preserve fertility, would I agree to the recommended full hysterectomy? We decided my health was more important and agreed on a full hysterectomy.
After the baby: And so my journey with cancer as a new mom began. Two weeks after my daughter was born, I was back in a hospital, this time closer to home, prepping for another major abdominal surgery. I was nowhere near healed from my c-section, and my abdomen was about to be cut open again. It was a long surgery, everything was removed, a lot of blood was lost, I needed transfusions and spent a week recovering in the hospital. My husband brought my daughter in to see me, she was a little peanut, weighing only about 6 pounds, I was supposed to be at home with her, struggling with regular new parent things, and instead, I was lying in a hospital, wondering whether I was going to live and who would be her mother.
I was able to go home on December 24th. It was Christmas eve, we had a house full of family, ready and waiting to help. I was in so much pain, and on a steady stream of painkillers but so happy to be home and be with my little babe.
A few weeks later I was sitting at another hospital for a “Chemo class”. A room full of people about to start their own journey with cancer, learning about what to expect, how to minimize side-effects, how to deal. My husband and I were sitting there, stunned, with a newborn. How had this happened, was this really happening? How was this fair?
With the second surgery, came staging, I officially had stage 3 ovarian cancer. Over the next six months, I completed six rounds of chemo and 26 rounds of radiation, my medical team recommended an aggressive approach for the most optimal survival chances. I lost all of my hair, got kick-started into menopause and planned my funeral and her future without me more than a few dark times while I spent more time at the cancer hospital than I care to again. I somehow balanced that with learning to be a Mother. Thankfully, we have an amazing family; they took turns coming to stay with us for a week at a time to help during treatment weeks when I had to be in the hospital and dealing with side-effects. When I finally finished treatments, it was a good day. I found mommy groups, community centers and did all the things I could to make the most of my time with my little one.
My daughter recently turned 3 and with that came another follow-up appointment for me. My oncologist and I shared a tear as we remembered how tiny she was when she met us, and how far I’ve come in 3 years. My most recent scans were great and I’m cancer-free. My husband throughout all of this has been my rock, the glue that has held us all together and my family that’s kept me going.
2) How has it made your life worse? How has it made your life better?
I’ll start with how it’s made my life better, knowing we are only having one, we cherish all the moments, we know we won’t have the stress of trying for another, we can throw all of our resources at her and make the most of every year and all the stages with her. This experience has taught us to enjoy everything more. Eat the cake, drink the wine, take the trips, we want to experience all that we can while also just taking time to relax and enjoy family and friends because things can change instantly.
On the flip-side, this experience has it’s dark moments, I am sad that I can’t give her a sibling, I’m sad that I’ll always worry about cancer and whether it will come back and whether I’ve passed something on to her. I’ve had very dark moments thinking about and planning what life might be like for my daughter and husband without me. It’s tough, it’s hard not to go there.
3) When & how did you realize that you were going to be able to carry on after infertility/miscarriage?
While there have been lows, looking at that little face and watching her grow has given me the motivation to carry on and to look for opportunities to do better and be better, whether that’s health-wise or in providing for her.
4) What have you learned through this experience?
We’ve learned to appreciate more, and that everyone has a story and their own challenges. I’ve learned just how hard some people have it when it comes to conceiving. Overall, I recognize that despite my challenges after pregnancy, I was quite lucky in that I was able to conceive at all.
5) What do you hold on to for hope/courage/strength on your bad days?
I quite literally squeeze my little one for strength and courage on my bad days. A hug from her reminds me of how far we’ve all come. I am often overwhelmed with worry though, I worry about what might happen to any of us, to her, to family and friends.
6) How do you feel about your experience with infertility on your good days?
I feel lucky that I was able to have one. She’s our miracle baby and quite possibly saved my life. Nobody knows if the cancer was there before her or if it came after she was conceived. Either way, hormones from pregnancy accelerated its growth and it’s a miracle she was born healthy and I’ve lived.
7) In what ways has your experience with infertility/miscarriage changed you as a person?
I hope that I’ve become more understanding and sympathetic to those struggling with infertility, I don’t ask the same questions I used to, realizing now how insensitive and triggering it might have been. I appreciate the time I have with family and friends and we welcome opportunities to travel and show her the world.
8) How have others responded to your infertility situations? Has it impacted your relationships? What are some things you’ve been told that have been helpful/harmful?
One of the lines I hate the most is: everything happens for a reason. I’ve heard that more than once and I typically shrug it off, but I hate it. What good reason could there be for cancer? There isn’t one. Also, telling someone to not stress when they’re struggling to make a baby. Seriously?
9) What is your favourite quote?
Here’s a quote I love:
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
― Maya Angelou