Saturday marked a year since I underwent my hysterectomy. The date that marks the start and the end. The start of my treatment and the end of a chapter of my life that I hadn’t even got to yet. A year of treatment. A year of loss. A year of love. I have so many mixed emotions about this day that I don’t even know where to start. The first thing that pops into my head is simply to shake my head at myself. My tenacity to not let my diagnosis overwhelm me for even a moment was well and truly imbedded a year ago today. I opted to have my hysterectomy whilst awake with the minimum pain relief. This was not because I was hardcore as most people seem to assume; it’s because I was scared. So scared I can’t even begin to explain it. That was the overriding emotion for the vast majority of this year – fear that if I stopped for even one second and admitted how awful I felt or how afraid I was I would simply stop. I walked myself in and out of that hospital, begging my partner and sister to just let me do it my way. I can appreciate this must have been so unbelievably tough for them but I just couldn’t do it any other way. This insistence to handle appointments and procedures myself stayed with me throughout this whole year and I am truly sorry to those I love for the agony and despair I know this caused them at times. I honestly wasn’t trying to be deliberately difficult; I was trying to survive.
I’ve been thinking a lot this past few days about how infertility or not having the opportunity to have a family for whatever reason affects so many people in so many different ways. I have friends who are struggling through IVF, who just “simply” haven’t ever found the right person to start a family with or who have had babies and lost them and each of these stories is unique isn’t it. If I’m honest I am not sure I have quite accepted it’s a done deal just yet; I sometimes feel like I might wake up and this will all have been a dream and I’ll get up and go to work like “normal”. Whilst undergoing treatment the focus is so on getting through, each appointment to the next, more often than not one hour to the next when things are really bad. I used to count down how many hours it had been since the super strength chemo because I knew it reached a peak after a certain time and then dropped off and if I could just make it to the peak I could get through. A clear focus. Now I have stumbled out of it, this week I have been able to get out and do some of the things I have been missing for all these months in relative health. And suddenly the prams are out.
I know I am far from alone in this. Women (and men) everywhere are struggling with not having the family they always dreamt of, facing all those baby adverts on a daily basis. A personal favourite is when you are watching YouTube clips and that bloody Pampers advert comes on, you know the one you can’t skip… 20 seconds of babies gurgling and laughing. I want to tear out what hair I’ve got! I’m not even sure the people who are buying Pampers want to listen to that. And the of course there are the obligatory lovely comments: “Just think of what you can do if you are never tied down with children”, says the mother cradling her beautiful baby. I tell you what give little Arthur here then eh and I’ll have him… No I didn’t think so… I do appreciate the sentiment behind such statements, I really do and they are right. It’s a ticket to live a “free” and selfish life. But, I’m not sure how I feel about humans being “meant” to live selfishly; surely innately we are designed to care for each other and to nurture? It feels like it sits at odds with that somehow. And yet that is the card we are dealt isn’t it. I am very lucky that I have amazing relationships with my nieces and nephews; they are the absolute light of my life and to be honest they make the pill a hell of a lot easier to swallow on an almost daily basis. And my little Bear dog too – he is my glue that holds me together when the going gets tough. Obviously they aren’t my children, I am very clear on that, but oh my how I adore.
The other issue that comes up a lot is alternative methods of having a baby. As a gay woman I am well aware that there are plenty of ways to become a mother. However, let’s stop and think for a second. Imagine you are facing a terminal diagnosis, you are very clearly told by the doctors that you will die from this disease earlier than your peers. Would you be willing to bring a child into that, to risk putting them through witnessing all the nasties you’ve witnessed this past year. No, not really the best plan is it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not walking around all day every day wishing I’d not had the treatment because the pain of what I have lost is too much to bear. Its more subtle than that. It’s like when you walk through the house in the dark and suddenly get a feeling something is there but you look and it isn’t, there are just empty rooms. So, you shake your head and move on through the house, no doubt to the fridge. Let’s face it why else would you get up in the night if not for Nigella-esque moment of gluttony. Or a cup of tea. They are the only two options.
I wanted to write this particular post, as a statement of my own personal battle with how my new life is going to shape up, or not more to the point. But also, more importantly perhaps to stretch a hand out there to anyone who is struggling with fertility, loss of it, or life having not offered up what you once thought it would. You are not alone, you walk this path with thousands of other men and women. Each of our stories are slightly different, we each have our own crosses to bear. But we can be the kind eyes, in a sea of pampers adverts, saying “it’s okay, you got this”.