The Unimaginable Choice
When you are living with a serious illness, there are numerous choices you have to make. Decisions that affect how you are going to feel and how you will look to the outside world. Choices with unforeseen consequences (after all, that’s why they call it the “practice of medicine”) and long-term effects. Some of those choices change you, for the rest of your life. You carry them with you. They become a part of you. Lossiversaries.
At the age of 13, when I first started to have significant health issues, my doctors told my parents my ability to conceive children was severely limited. I remember my mother asking the doctor if that meant I could NEVER have kids, or if it would be difficult. My doctor said there is always hope and the occasional miracle, in my case, it would be difficult. Not really an answer but one my mother was willing to accept for the time being.
I fell in love at the age of 19. The kind of love that only comes around once in a lifetime. I was upfront and honest about my illness and its challenges. David did not care. He said it did not matter. Less than two years later, six weeks before our wedding, David was killed in a freak accident. My life was forever changed. My illness no longer mattered. Grief took over.
Everyone deals with the grip of grief differently. There are lots of books about how to handle it, but the truth is, your grief is your own. There are no shortcuts. I threw myself into my career. I did find love again. We had the discussion, the one about the fact that having children may be difficult, but I would do everything within my power to conceive. My husband came from a big and loving family. I tried in vitro twice. The early days of in vitro turned your body into some kind of medical experiment akin to Frankenstein. Not covered by insurance, the process was incredibly expensive. Both times failed. The doctor told me it was not possible for me to conceive. My husband, my partner in life, looked at me that day, and I knew it was over. Somehow, I was less of person, less of a woman because I could not naturally conceive a child and carry on the bloodline. As archaic as that may sound, it's still a thing. Along with the loss of two in vitro’s, I lost another partner.
I moved to Nashville. I fell in love with the city and with another person. Someone who had children. Pressure off. Wrong. You see, I never mourned the loss of those in vitro.
I did not face the fact that I had lost something. A part of me. I looked in the mirror and saw the same person. And yet, emptiness. A feeling that I was less than a whole woman. I now lived in a culture that instantly judged. “How old are you?” “Are you married?” “Why don’t you have any children?” The questions and judgments invading my psyche as if I was a child being scolded by my mother. I built up walls. Stock answers. I told no one about my illness.
I started working in the music industry. The male-dominated music industry. I thought working for a progressive start up would be refreshing. Could I share my illness? Is there a chance I’ve found a place that valued the measure of me, and not the illness itself? I took some time to melt into the culture and then..whammo. Out of remission and back into treatment. I was determined not to let it affect me or my work. I told one person. That person told someone else. No longer a secret, my days were now filled with men who looked at me as less of a person, and gave me that look..you know that look..cancer face. I retreated once again.
Back in remission and then it happens. The impossible. The no-way-it could-ever-happen-impossible. I become pregnant. The news was not met with joy from my spouse at the time as he did not want any children. That did not matter to me. This was a miracle. I did all the right things. Tons of checkups, all the right vitamins, exercise, sleep, the works. I made it past the first trimester and thought…it’s a miracle. I did it. No more judging. No more stares. No more weird and awkward conversations with friends who had kids.
Then it happened. The spots. The pain. The hospital. The look from the doctor as he pulled the curtain around me. I hugged my little belly. He delivered the news. You have a choice to make; you can carry this child to term, but the likelihood that you will bleed out is extremely high. You will probably die in childbirth. Your body has been through so much, and the strain on your system is too great. You have a choice to make. An unimaginable choice. Do I choose the child or me? What kind of a choice is that? It’s not a yes or no answer or a multiple choice question. You don’t have the luxury of time or anyone to turn to as you consider the options. Because choosing a child or choosing your life, does not seem like an option. Where’s the third choice? There isn’t one. There is no either or. Life of another or your life.
As I lay in that bed thinking about what this unimaginable choice meant, I considered the fact that if I chose me, I would end the cycle. The cycle of cancer for women in my family (yes, the child was a girl). I would not pass on this difficult and frustrating illness to my child. She would never have to face the fear, pain or debilitating side effects of medication. She would never lose her glorious mane (the likelihood that she would be born a redhead was high). I wanted to live. With time not on my side, I made the unimaginable choice.
18 years ago today, I chose me.
I do not regret that choice. I ended the cycle. The cancer bloodline stops with me. There is not a day that goes by that I do not mourn that loss. I do not look in the mirror and see a woman who is less. I see someone who made an unimaginable choice. A responsible choice. A choice I’ll live with for the rest of my life.