Mourning the Child I Never Had Because of Cancer
The worst thing about survival for me has been coming to terms with losing the ability to have children.
It wasn’t an easy loss. It didn’t come on slowly. I didn’t have the opportunity to come to grips with it.
I woke up from surgery not knowing what happened when I went under. I went to sleep with the doctor telling me he was going to just remove scar tissue and save what he could so I could have babies, but I woke up a cancer survivor who had a total hysterectomy.
And in the hospital where I had surgery, every time a baby is born they play “Lullaby and Goodnight.”
Every time that lullaby went off, I cried and had to be sedated. It was the most horrific reminder while someone else was receiving the most amazing gift. It felt like the lullaby was played a million times that first day I was in ICU.
When I went home, you would think it would get easier. But every time I moved I was reminded of what happened. I was left with an enormous scar, held together with staples and a corset, reminding me of the emptiness inside.
I cried myself to sleep for a month and a half. I didn’t cry because I had cancer. I didn’t cry because of the pain. I cried because I felt like I lost the child I never got to have.
Every time I saw a commercial for a pregnancy test, diapers or even a family car, I cried. I threw things at the television. I muted commercials and clenched my eyes shut so I wouldn’t see them. And it seemed to help.
Until I finally went back to the outside world.
The day I first saw a baby in the store, I had a meltdown and had to leave.
It took months for me to be able to go to stores and see all the families without having to go sit in my car and cry.
I would clutch my stomach and ask the universe, “Why? What had I done wrong? What did I do to deserve this?” I spent years making sure I could get things in order before I planned to have children. I went to school, I got a job, saved money, went back to school so I could get a better job and did everything I thought I was supposed to. My partner and I had even discussed that after surgery we were going to start a family.
But I guess I waited too long.
I had had dreams of the little girl I was going to have. She was so beautiful with her big brown eyes and curly hair. She was super affectionate. Her name was Sophie.
I haven’t seen Sophie since surgery.
I would give anything to be able to have a child. I watch my friends having kids, and I find myself angry and jealous. They seem so happy, so fulfilled. Even when they complain about their kids and what they’ve gone through to have their babies, you can see how much they love their children.
It eats me up alive to know I will never have my own baby.
And it feels like no one understands.
Once I tried to let it out. I wrote a letter about it on Mother’s Day last year, because I was struggling knowing I would not be celebrating that day for myself. I read it in a video in hopes of helping someone else one day. But I was accused of ruining Mother’s Day for others and taking away something that belonged to those who actually had children. I was told I was unfair and selfish. So I destroyed the letter and deleted the video.
I’ve been told it’s selfish for a young survivor to want children because you are subjecting those children to the hell we live through — that it’s selfish to have your children watch you being beaten up by treatment, to see the physical changes, and have a parent who cannot give 100 percent of themselves all the time.
I hate the idea that I’m being selfish for wanting to have my own child. I’ve honestly struggled so much with the concept that at times I really believe I must be selfish. I just can’t understand it. How can it be selfish to want the opportunity?
Didn’t I deserve the chance? Is it fair that I didn’t even get the choice, but instead it was stripped from me?
I bury my grief deeper and feel more ashamed of my feelings than I already feel.
Countless people have reminded me how I can adopt or foster. But let me stop you before you write me about that. Adoption is expensive, and my savings have been depleted by co-pays, deductibles and everything else associated with paying for treatment. I don’t make a lot; I work as a public defender. And I really can’t leave my job because I need the benefits so I can get treatment, medicines and see my oncologist. I also need the flexibility my job offers. Besides, adoption agencies aren’t keen on survivors. Most want you out of treatment for a substantial amount of time. So adoption isn’t a good option for me.
And I can’t handle the idea of fostering: I get attached easily. If that child got adopted and I had to give him or her to someone else, it would probably finally be my breaking point.
Surrogacy, I guess, is another option.
But deep down, I worry that regardless of what I choose someone will be calling me selfish because I might have a recurrence or die leaving the child behind to pick up the pieces, and I worry that maybe they are right.
Instead, I keep my feelings locked up inside, watching the mothers and their babies together, envious and sad. A part of me seems like it will always feel empty or missing. It’s a void I don’t think can ever be filled.
And I go on. Always mourning but without a gravestone to visit. Always grieving but too afraid to let it out for fear of being judged.
Always missing the little girl I saw in those dreams.
To the other women out there like me, I want you to know you aren’t alone. Your grief is real. I know it is because I carry that same pain. You aren’t selfish. You aren’t wrong.
We can mourn together those children we never had.
If you or a loved on is dealing with grief, you can find grieving resources at The Grief Toolbox.
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