As life has gone on since my diagnosis, we have slowly, painstakingly, started etching out our new normal. Our routines have changed so much in the last few months, and will surely continue to change in the months to come, a symptom less of cancer and more of life. My husband and I wake up in the mornings to the generally cheery chatter of our toddler and we all have breakfast together at the table, wiping up spilled milk in between bites of toast and sips of coffee. There are school days, appointment days, play dates, and adventures, rainy days with movies and books on the couch, and sunny, beautiful days with open windows and late-evening sunsets during dinner. In the evenings, we pick up dishes and toys, clamor upstairs, and chase after a tired little boy who does not yet want to go to bed. He giggles as we run after him and catch his lanky toddler limbs in one big scoop. All three of us fall together onto the bed in a laughing pile. All three of us. Our family.
When we moved into our house last fall, out of our tiny one-bedroom apartment, we had grand plans for the newfound space we had just acquired. Almost all of our decisions were peppered with “well, when we have our second baby….,” a milestone around which we had planned the next few years of our life together. After all of our closing costs, we had tucked away just enough money to meet our deductible for the following year. Money to be used for bringing another baby into the world. Money to complete our family. We met our deductible, but will never bring home the baby.
On November 9th, 2017, when I went in for my breast ultrasound, we had already started trying to get pregnant. I joked with the breast tech that I had hoped the next time I felt the coldness of the ultrasound gel on my skin, it would show a little blob of a fetus, then eventually, a fully formed baby, a sister or brother for Felix. She did not smile back at me, perhaps knowing from the screen information I had yet to learn.
In some ways, the routines molding our life mirror the routines of a life we will never have, and never know. There is fatigue, nausea, blood work, monthly doctor visits, and regular scans. Those visits, those symptoms, will continue as long as they have to, with no end in sight. It feels so strange to go through such similar motions for a future I never expected. We will not welcome a baby into our home in the summer or fall, as we had hoped and planned for. My life is now pregnant with unknowns.
These days, I have assumed the mantle of metastatic breast cancer, and struggle less with it as a large part of my current identity. Through this understanding, I have started the grieving process fresh as I grapple with the ramifications of the complete loss of my fertility. Because my cancer is driven by estrogen in my body, a large part of my therapy has put me into immediate and permanent menopause, and saddled me with medications that shut down all estrogen production in my body. I am completely and permanently infertile. However, unlike many women who struggle with infertility, there was no period of trying to get pregnant without success, no testing, no questioning, no possibilities of a pregnancy happening on its own. I am an outsider to those growing their families, and an outsider within the infertility community as well; the road to having children, for us, had come to an end.
This secondary loss, the loss of my fertility, feels like salt in the wound. My inability to bear another child has been a tremendous source of pain and struggle for me in recent weeks. I cringe when someone, well-intentioned but nosy, engages with me about the likelihood of a sibling for my son. My life, and my family’s existence, does not contain the space to begin the journey to add to our family. It’s not a judgment on those who do, or can, or will, but a reflection of our reality. I love my son with every fiber of my being, and do not take for granted his presence in my life. But in the space that co-exists with the joy I feel as a mother, watching my little boy learn, explore, and grow, I mourn the loss of the baby that never existed.