As I struggle thru chemo I find myself reliving other episodes of survival in my life, particularly ones that required emotional endurance. In the forefront of my mind lately is one of the most difficult chapters of my life -- the saga of my struggle to become a mother.
We went thru years of infertility before finally having our two beautiful children. I started trying to get pregnant when I was 33, and after spending a frustrating year with no luck we began the search for medical answers. That process was to take us four more years.
Eventually it was discovered there were multiple yet simple reasons for our inability to conceive, and a couple months after a hysteroscopic procedure I miraculously got pregnant the "old fashioned way" as they say. It had taken three years by that time, only to sort of happen suddenly by accident. We were elated.
But sadly it was not to be.
From the start the doctor could tell there was a problem and he predicted I might miscarry. Then about a week before Christmas there was definitively no heartbeat. We were devastated. I suffered thru the holidays waiting for "it" to happen, but New Year's came and went and no miscarriage. I had some minor anatomical issues that made a D&C more difficult than typical and the fear was that my womb would be irreparably damaged if the doctor was too, shall we say, zealous. But a D&C was carefully performed...and unfortunately didn't work. I was still technically pregnant. The doctor thought maybe just the dilation of my cervix from the surgery would induce the miscarriage so we waited some more. And then some more. Finally as a last resort a dose of a chemotherapy drug was administered (ironic, isn't it?) Apparently this is a common practice for safely ending topical or tubal pregnancies that surgery can't be done for, so they hoped it would work on me.
Within a few days, along with being horrifically sick from the chemo, I experienced what to me was a very violent miscarriage. I'll spare you the details.
But here's the unbelievable part: it still didn't completely work. My hormones continued to be at pregnancy levels even tho the baby had been, without a doubt, no longer alive for quite some time. My body just wouldn't let go. So to add to my intense emotional torture it took months of intermittent bleeding, months of going for weekly blood tests before my hormone levels dropped back to normal...months of technically being pregnant with a baby that was long dead.
Torture doesn't even begin to cover it. To this day I cannot adequately describe the anguish I went thru, nor do I want to. There are just no words. I also try not to wonder now what that prolonged hormonal cocktail did to my body in terms of cancer -- I can't go there, I just can't.
After that it took us quite a while to even think of trying again. But eventually we got up our courage and stamina. We were duely rewarded...using IUI on the first try we conceived our precious Megan. While her birth was fraught with more drama, in the end I can say unequivocally it was SO worth every excruciating moment. Every single one of them. We are hugely blessed.
Because of everything that had happened we figured that was it. Why tempt fate? We had a healthy baby girl and we were a family. Megan would be an only child.
Then about 4+ years ago, Michael's union got locked out while they were negotiating a new contract. He was out of work a few months. He was home alot. We had more time together and, well, you know :) Suddenly, out of the blue at age 42 I found myself pregnant again! Once again, it was the "old fashioned way".
But once again, it was not to be.
As a high risk pregnancy each week we'd go for the ultrasound and hope for growth, hope to see the heartbeat. After just a few weeks it stopped. You can imagine our fear -- I could't envision going thru that awful ordeal again. Thankfully, this time the D&C accomplished what needed to be done. I was spared some of the suffering...some of it.
But that baby, however briefly it lived in my womb, made almost as much an impact on my life as if it had been born. Because if it hadn't been for that baby, for that unexpected pregnancy, I never would have thought about trying again. It made me think about having another child, opened my heart to the idea. I contemplated whether or not I could go thru all that I might have to in order to bring another precious child into our family and decided that I wanted to go for it, that I longed for another baby. If it hadn't been for losing that child I never would have tried to get pregnant with Daniel. That baby paved the way for the family that surrounds me today.
There was to be one more miscarriage in the process before Daniel was successfully conceived...but it too was medically uneventful, not even requiring a D& C. I can't explain now why a second miscarriage didn't daunt me more, why I kept going despite it. I remember looking at Meggie and thinking about how wonderful she was, how it would all be worth it in the end. Obviously I'm glad it didn't deter me every time I look at my beautiful boy now.
These three unborn children will always be a part of me and I love them, wouldn't trade their brief existence in my life if I could. They shaped the way their live siblings came into this world. (And might I add here that I happen to be pro-choice and am not trying to romanticize the biological realities -- clearly these pregnancies would have resulted in much wanted children.)
Finally, my last pregnancy....with Daniel it took two tries of IUI -- but then there he was, that precious little blip on the ultrasound screen week after week after wonderful week. I had some problems, all unrelated to eachother...minor ones in the first trimester and then the discovery of a potential major health issue later -- plus a few hairy moments at his birth when the cord was wrapped round his little neck 4 times! But all along tragedy was averted and Daniel is the beaming light of our lives...his father, sister and I adore him and feel like he was always here. We can't imagine our family without him.
When people ask me how many children I have I say two, of course. But each and every time I think of the others...the ones that in some sense heralded their brother and sister's arrival, the ones that taught me the meaning of healing and endurance, that showed me what I was really made out of -- strong stuff that bends and twists but doesn't break easily.