This is a special episode, one that talks about the in-between spaces of motherhood. With the upcoming Mother’s Day Holiday, we talk easily and often about the things that make motherhood – both the mother figures in our lives and our positions as mothers – remarkable and revered. We don’t talk about the in-between spaces of motherhood in such ways, leaving those spaces to wavering voices and hushed tones. Life with breast cancer further challenges any positions of either fertility or family expansion. Whether it is the moment we are robbed of the chance to have a child, be it the first child or second, or third, those losses are no less valid. Or it is the choice to have a child despite the life long challenge, and often, spectre, of cancer co-existing with one’s family. Whether it is a loss of a pregnancy in the first trimester, second, or third, or the unimaginable existence of the loss of a child. Those of us who exist on these roads feel the deeply solitary anguish of loss that recognizes that our roles in relationship to motherhood are not black and white, but tempered with shades of gray that vacillate with our emotions, positions, understanding, and grief.
My husband and I were trying to get pregnant with a second child when we learned of my breast cancer diagnosis. Nine months later, instead of welcoming a new human into our lives, I underwent a total hysterectomy, removing my ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, and cervix, which rendered me completely sterile, infertile, and in permanent menopause. While friends grow their families, my son, who is 3 and a half, asks when I will have another baby in my tummy, and if he can have a brother or sister. He would have been an incredible big brother, and my heart wells with tears that I can’t shed in front of him, as I explain to him that we can’t have any more babies in our family. He doesn’t understand, but my infertility will affect him for the rest of his life as he navigates the world as an only child. I carry immense pain with me, knowing that I cannot give him a sibling. It is not a pain that can be lessened or mitigated, but one that must be carried, adjusted throughout time to manage the burden so that it does not continuously cut too deep and leave marks that are too raw. But it never leaves.
This episode is dedicated to my guest today, Anna Crollman, her husband Mac, and their babies – babies lost, babies that may come into the world in the future, and the babies they hold in their heart. At the time we recorded this episode, Anna was undergoing a frozen embryo transfer in the hope of becoming pregnant. While the transfer was successful, Anna lost the baby around 7 weeks, her second loss after suffering a traumatic ectopic pregnancy in 2018. Anna and her husband anticipate moving forward with another transfer, as Anna can only be off hormone suppressants for a fixed period of time. This episode honors Anna’s space as a mother, and her motherhood, where she has been, where she exists now, and space she may occupy in the future, in whatever manner it holds for her. This episode is also dedicated to all of those people who are living the in-between spaces of motherhood, whose hearts carry empty space for hopes and dreams that have not manifested themselves in the manner they yearn for. I see you, I hear you, and I recognize your motherhood, in whatever ways you choose.
Anna is a blogger, breast cancer survivor, and motivational speaker specializing in wellness, beauty and style content. She uses her compelling experience of facing breast cancer in her twenties to inspire young women to overcome adversity with strength, confidence, and style. Anna founded and runs My Cancer Chic, a platform providing resources, inspiration, and community for your young women facing adversity.
Anna was diagnosed in July 2015 with stage IIB triple positive breast cancer despite having no family history of pre-menopausal breast cancer and no genetic mutations. She had a single mastectomy, fertility preservation, 6 rounds of TCH chemo, followed by a second mastectomy on the non-cancerous side. At that point she had implants put in and had them for 6-8 months, then had the implant exchange surgery, followed by revisions and fat grafting a year later. In January 2018 Anna went off Lupron and Femara – hormone-blocking drugs – which she had been on since her diagnosis. She got pregnant in June, but sadly, that pregnancy ended in an ectopic pregnancy, requiring emergency surgery to remove one of Anna’s fallopian tubes. Anna and her husband began IVF with their frozen embryos shortly before we recorded this episode, and Anna became pregnant again, only to lose yet another baby in the first trimester. Despite all of these challenges, Anna has remained a beacon of light and hope, not only for herself but to those around her navigating similar challenges. I had the wonderful fortune of meeting Anna in person in March at the Young Survival Coalition 2019 Summit in Austin, Texas, and can attest to the fact that she is, in fact, just as sweet and genuine in person as she is over social media.
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