The Elephant in the Room is Cancer. Tea is the Relief Conversation Provides.

Infertility Chose Me

by Michelle LawrenceSurvivor, Chronic T-Cell Lymphocytic LeukemiaJuly 19, 2023View more posts from Michelle Lawrence

Infertility Chose Me

I didn’t choose not to have children; my body decided for me. My heart and brain were left out of the decision. More than a decade later, this is my first time writing about this. My heart still hurts, and tears roll down my cheeks as I type this.

I had precancerous fibroids, and my medical team couldn’t shrink them or stop me from having a constant period. Can you imagine having a period for over a year? It was a nightmare. I had to have a hysterectomy in my 30s, so young. At this point, I had already been diagnosed with chronic leukemia and had finished several rounds of chemotherapy. What wasn’t explained to me was how chemotherapy would impact my fertility, as it had already started damaging my eggs. I later learned the medical team didn’t think it was a big deal because I was a single woman supporting myself. According to them, why would I be considering starting a family?

When the medical team told me that I had no other option but to get a hysterectomy because we had tried everything else, I was numb. Their tactic to lessen the blow was to say, “you weren’t going to have kids anyways.” I will never forget that nurse or that line. I went through with my surgery and left my ovaries in, hoping I wouldn’t go through menopause. A person can only take so much. I was feeling less and less like a woman, confused as to what my purpose was going to be if I wasn’t going to be a mother. What type of legacy was I going to leave? Did life matter if it’s just me? My choice to naturally have children had been stolen along with my life goals; cancer had scored again.

As my cancer progressed, my inability to take care of others decreased. I remained single and continued round after round of chemo. I often hear, “aren’t you glad you didn’t have children?” or “it’s a good thing you didn’t have children.” These are brazen comments to make to anyone, never mind a chronic cancer patient when cancer has already destroyed so much. They are not necessary comments and don’t add value to any conversation. I am not glad. I am relieved. There is a difference. I understand that people may be trying to sympathize or empathize, but we must stop and ask, “is this comment going to be helpful or hurtful?”

If I had had the proper support or a partner, it could have been different. It would have been reasonable to have choices. However, I had no money to freeze my eggs, and the insurance company wouldn’t pay either. Again, I was forced into a corner. I don’t even count it as a decision. Cancer can force you into places you never thought you would have to be. It often seems to boil down to what the insurance will pay for and what you can afford. Either you have money, or you don’t. I didn’t, and that left me at a disadvantage. Infertility doesn’t end there; it’s like a sticky spider web that traps all kinds of things.

For example, infertility comes up every Mother’s Day, at kids’ birthday parties, family gatherings, family conversations, conversations with peers, outings, etc. I am constantly reminded of the fact I don’t have children. The people in my life are raising kids, so they naturally talk about their kids and do kid-friendly ‘stuff’, which leaves me on the sidelines. Sometimes I don’t want to talk about diapers or the latest virus their kids brought home. Can someone ask me about myself? I can’t remember the last time while at a family dinner that a family member looked at me and said, “Michelle, what have you been doing that you find interesting?” or “How is your writing going? Your advocacy?” I don’t have kids, so I feel very left out. At times I feel like I am being punished. You become an observer. I want more.

I will poke my eye out if I hear again how wonderful being an aunt instead of a mother is. Yes, being an aunt is lovely, but it is not a consolation prize for not being a mom. It’s not the same. I don’t pretend it is, so please, everyone, stop trying to act for me. Maybe next Mother’s Day, send a text and say, “thinking of you”. Acknowledge my pain instead of pretending it doesn’t exist. I might feel more seen or heard. I have spoken out loud hundreds of times about how badly I wanted/want to be a mom; it’s not top secret.

Getting cancer is challenging enough, never mind all the secondary issues it causes, including infertility. I am not speaking for all cancer patients and/or people facing infertility, but if you know someone experiencing these challenges, maybe ask how you can best support them instead of brushing over the topic or assuming you know how. Cancer is isolating, and adding infertility to the mix makes it an even more lonely journey. Life is hard enough; take the time to lift others up, ask about them, and make it a point to include everyone because we all have something to add of value. I may not have given birth to children, but I plan to leave a legacy behind. Stay tuned.

Join the Conversation!

Leave a comment below. Remember to keep it positive!