Health and wellness touch each of us differently. This is one person’s story.
I was 27 years old when I went off birth control in hopes of starting a family. But a few months into trying to conceive, my partner and I were hit with the news of my breast cancer diagnosis. Our world shattered.
I had seen myself as a mother for as long as I could remember, and it was heartbreaking to put these dreams on hold. As it turned out, I didn’t have a choice.
Survival became my top priority. Yet even while I fought for my life, my future as a mother was at the core of both my pain and hope for the future.
It was difficult to imagine a future beyond chemo
Before I began chemotherapy in August 2015, I was offered fertility preservation options. Due to the type of cancer I had, I knew I’d be on hormone-blocking medication for 5 to 10 years following active treatment.
Because we didn’t know how the chemotherapy would affect my ovarian function, and 5 to 10 years is a long time, we decided to freeze my eggs while they were still young. I also decided to start taking Lupron during chemotherapy in hopes of preserving my ovarian function.
When I did eventually begin my chemo treatment, it was hard to imagine a future passed that stage. I felt my dream of motherhood was being ripped away from me.
It was only with reflection, therapy, and time that I was able to develop new goals, explore my passions, and find a sense of fulfillment outside the realms of motherhood.
I never wanted to believe I’d be part of the 1 in 4
Two and a half years after I finished chemo and started hormone therapy, which left me in medical menopause, we were ready to broach the subject of pregnancy with my oncologist. Much to our surprise, she was supportive of our desires and approved a two-year break from my hormone therapy.
No pressure, just make sure you get pregnant and have a child in 2 years or…
Or what, my cancer may come back? While the pregnancy itself wouldn’t put me at risk, taking a break from the medication would.
There were no guarantees when we took a break from the medicine that I would have a normal cycle. So, when my period returned three months after I stopped taking the medication, we were overjoyed.
And in June 2018 we were elated to discover we were pregnant — all without scientific intervention. I was overcome with emotion to know my body maintained its ability to form and carry a child after everything I had been through.
But before we could even take time to celebrate and enjoy the bliss of pregnancy, we were challenged yet again. A mere 48 hours after our confirmed pregnancy, I was in the hospital with a ruptured ectopic pregnancy.
It’s a term I always feared. While I know now that 1 in 4 women my age will experience a miscarriage, I never wanted to believe it would be me. It wasn’t until I personally experienced it that I realized how many women around me have endured pregnancy loss. It was those women and many nights of tears, reflection, and therapy that helped me carry on and rebuild hope.
I regained a new sense of hope, only to find more grief
Fast-forward to fall 2018. Our attempts to naturally conceive again weren’t working, and the cancer clock was ticking. IVF seemed to be the way forward. The frozen embryo transfer (FET) cycle brought on a whole new set of fears and anxiety, but we did our best to enjoy every moment and maintain hope.
It’s amazing how the mind has a way of blocking out former pain and allowing someone to experience a renewed sense of hope. I’d go as far as to call it naivety. Of course there was residual panic and fear, but the moment we got the news we were pregnant, we fully embraced the joy of creating a life.
And then, a mere seven weeks after being told that the FET was successful, we were handed the news by my doctor.
“There is no heartbeat.”
We spent seven sweet weeks reveling in the joy of our growing embryo, preparing for the future, sharing this gift with those close to us, and developing an image of ourselves as parents — one we had waited so long to embrace.
Instead, I now find myself walking the same path I walked last year: the one of losing a child.
This loss didn’t make things easier, but it did give me the confidence to keep going
While in our minds the FET was supposed to work and we were supposed to be parents this time around, the truth is, that’s not how this works. The reality is that our path is out of our control, no matter how painful this notion might be.
So, how did we move forward? Cancer, IVF, and our miscarriage broke us emotionally and physically, but at the root of our sadness and exhaustion is a deep desire to share our love with a child and form a family of our own.
While it’s this desire that keeps us moving forward, it’s also my familiarity with loss and perseverance. While this didn’t make it easier, it did give me hope that someday I would heal. It gave me the confidence I needed to get up each morning and carry on.
How to keep going when it feels like there’s no moving forward
There were many steps over the past two months that helped me heal from my miscarriage. Sadly, there’s no magic pill you can take, and the sense of loss may never go away. But with time, it will take up less space in your heart and mind. Here’s what worked for me:
1. Talk about your loss
When I finally shared about our miscarriage, I felt a huge weight lifted. It didn’t take away the sadness, but it made it real. Once it was real, I felt more open to talk about it and grieve.
I was pregnant, it happened, and now it’s gone. I needed to talk through that experience in order to move forward.
2. Surround yourself with people who understand
Talking to, and being around, other women who have experienced pregnancy loss can help you feel less alone. No one’s story will replace your own, but it may help you feel supported and comforted.
3. Reach out to friends and family who will sit with you when you’re not OK
There will be times when you’re numb and just want to watch TV. And there will be other times you’ll want to sob or scream. Surround yourself with loved ones who understand and will just be there, no matter how you’re feeling.
4. Seek out a therapist
Look for a therapist who specializes in loss and infertility. Many fertility clinics can recommend someone. The woman my husband and I have seen has helped us navigate our grief together.
This will look different for each person. For me, it meant lots of time writing about my pain, reflecting on my loss, and meditating.
You might not be OK for a while. You may seem fine and then suddenly a woman buying diapers in the checkout line of Target will trigger an overwhelming wave of emotion in you. That’s OK. Crying is therapeutic and natural.
7. Commemorative action
Getting a tattoo, planting a tree, a special event: Think about how you can turn your loss into a powerful part of your life, something that will bring you hope and strength as you move forward.
8. Continue your routines
When you’re in the middle of your grief, it can be hard to see beyond tomorrow. The only thing you have to do each day is get up, eat, and sleep. Sometimes that will be all you can muster, and that’s OK.
By continuing your day-to-day routine, the sadness will slowly loosen its grip on your life. You’ll be able to make it through an hour without thinking about your loss.
The bottom line
While it’s sometimes difficult for me to see what lies ahead, I know full well that tomorrow I will live another day. I have to believe that someday we will be parents, no matter the path to get there.
I may have lost my babies, but it’s the memories of carrying them as they grew in my womb that I choose to cling to instead of the pain. My body is amazing and, if even for a short time, carried life. This joy and the memories of my pregnancies will bring me hope, no matter what our future brings.
Anna is a style enthusiast, lifestyle blogger, and breast cancer thriver. She shares her story and a message of self-love and wellness through her blog and social media, inspiring women around the globe to thrive in the face of adversity with strength, self-confidence, and style.