I tiptoe around my broken heart, understanding the fragility, the way that when needed you crack an egg ever so gently against a bowl before letting the guts run everywhere. I realize, only when I can find time to quiet my mind, that I can’t pretend this doesn’t exist anymore. It seems that with so many distractions these days we amaze ourselves by not holding on to any one emotion for more than a minute at a time, let alone feeling it, processing it, and then healing from it. And if we admit that our lives aren’t perfect, what kind of doom and gloom will meet us then? I think about the second I feel like I’m going to break how easy it is to just rock out to a Beyoncé song in the car or turn on the TV and envelop myself in some crazy Real Housewives, or pick up my phone and look at NY Times articles or Facebook feeds—all in order to pretend like my heart is not that cracked stupid fragile eggshell with the guts spilling out everywhere.
I wonder what would happen to my soul if I actually admitted that at times it feels as though my circumstances have completely and utterly demolished me. Would this be surrendering (i.e. giving up) or merely being authentic in a world so filled with faux this and faux that? Social media has led us to believe that everybody else’s world is filled with perfect black and white photos of the all-American families with 2.5 kids, a dog and a white picket fence. (And if I can’t post picture after picture of selfies with my kids then I can at least post my travels around the world. I mean, I need to feel good about myself, right? In reality I post my vacation pics because I love sharing my joy and passions with others, but I understand how vacation pics can = selfie pics with kids. Too much of anything can be annoying, I know). Would I—Could I?—become a happier person if I really let myself grieve for the fact that some others have what I want, what I will never have?
I let myself feel the disappointment in not carrying on a legacy. In not giving my parent’s another grandchild (especially one who lives close by and who they would be so engaged with). Sometimes I regret not getting pregnant before the cancer spread, but then I think about how difficult it would be to face my own mortality knowing that I had a child (or children) that I may never see grow up. It is times like these that I am a mess, so confused, so vulnerable, so full of gratitude that I do not have to worry about children, that I can focus my worry solely on the people that already exist in my life who thankfully don’t need me the way that a child needs its parent. (I am not minimizing how much my husband or family or friends need me, but I understand that “need” may be different than the demands of a child).
It feels like a punishment, at times, and I think of stories that I’ve read where people say “I know somebody with cancer and then this bad thing happened to them and then this happened and you know what? I never heard them complain.” Um, I’m not going to be that person. Sorry. Trying to get pregnant for over a year and spending every other day driving to get your blood taken and then going through IVF and getting pregnant and then having a miscarriage and then being diagnosed with an incurable cancer– oh yeah, no complaints here. I feel like I’m beaten down every month when I get an e-bill to pay for storing my frozen eggs. Not complain? I’m not going to be become a miserable hermit, but I’m certainly not going to live a life under false pretenses, either. And this is where my guilt kicks in: Shouldn’t I just be grateful that I’m alive? As long as I’m breathing– which is more than I can say for others who have had cancer– maybe I should just keep my mouth shut.
But back to that beaten down thing. I’ve left the door just a crack open on having children because I haven’t been ready to give up on that dream. And while that seemed the safe thing to do, and I think that it made sense at the time of the decision, I realize now that hanging out in limbo is actually just slowly crushing my spirit.
I think about my options and how in my line of work I discuss with people how they may not like all of their options, but most of the time we do have them. I hate all of my options. Not have kids. Have kids but not with SHL (that isn’t really an option). Have kids with SHL and have him resent me for the rest of his life and/or be scared that he may have to raise them alone. Discard my eggs. Go to a fertility doctor and find out whether or not the eggs are viable, then discard them no matter what. If they are viable, donate them. Can’t do it. As much as I would love to help another couple start a family, I have been through enough pain already and can’t imagine somebody else having my kids.
Yes, I hate all of my options.
But I listen to my gut, and the voice that lives deep down inside of us all has become so much more clear over the last three years of meditation. I now have a much better sense of what my head is telling me and what my heart is telling me. And this time, both say to let go. Grieve as if I have lost a limb. Explain to the world and to other women maybe going through something similar that it is the most unfair thing in the world to wake up one day and literally go from imagining a life where you’re a Mom, to a life where you’re not, all in the blink of an eye, but it cannot (I repeat, it cannot) ruin the rest of your life. I feel like the rug was pulled out from underneath me and I also feel like nobody can understand. It is a feeling of deep, deep loneliness. And I wonder if there are other people out there who have had to give up a dream but who also refused to let it define the rest of their lives. I tell my story because it is the only way I know how to heal, and I tell it in case somebody else needs to hear these words; the words that I wish I could hear from others.
Cancer has taught me an awful lot about life, things that I wish I knew sooner but realize that where I am today, where I stand, is just where I am meant to be (or at least this is what we tell ourselves), nothing to be done about the past (this is true). Things unfold in the most mysterious of ways and I can’t even begin to understand the crumbling, shattering illogical way that things sometimes pan out. Good people have bad things happen to them. Bad people have good things happen to them. And so on. It reminds me of the book that I read by Rabbi Harold Kushner called “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” He wrote it after he lost his son to a horrible disease. But being honest, I still don’t quite understand why this is the way that things unravel (and though I do believe in g-d, I don’t believe that he has a hand in these terrible things that can happen), and it does feel like unraveling. Like I’m caught up in a pattern of colors and shapes and numbers that I sometimes just can’t untangle myself from. The color of death. The shape of the baby that would have been. The number of years predicted that I will live.
I refuse to pretend anymore like my heart is not in a million little pieces, but truth be told, I have been grieving over this since the day I was diagnosed; I still remember the room at Dana-Farber, I still remember my doctor telling us that most people with my diagnosis decide not to have children, and I can still feel the stillness of the air as we tried to take in this enormous life-changing piece of information. It felt like time literally stood still and you could hear a pin drop.
My heart breaks but then I travel and live freely and find deeper and more loving connections with SHL than I ever thought possible and I follow my dreams of manifesting a life for myself where my words somehow have power and somehow, help other people to remember that a dream lost does not represent a life without breath. I have to think that these things may not exist if we had children. I refuse to pretend like any of the decisions that SHL and I need to make are easy. But I also refuse to let it crush my spirit, to let it define me as a woman let alone a person, to never live fully because one door has closed. One dream has closed its eyes, but I have to believe that other dreams are just about to awaken.