“Ok, we need to talk about freezing your eggs.“
It was the second thing my endocrinologist said to me after learning of my cancer diagnosis, and the first thing to bring me to tears.
I’d spent the last five days in a relative bubble – my inner circle knew what was happening, and the focus was on getting the right treatment – so no discussion had gone further into the future than that.
But now here I was, confronted not only with my own mortality, but my fertility too. Whilst I’d never been desperate to have children, the idea that I might not be able to – or that I might have to become a lot more conscious and deliberate about taking that path – suddenly brought every life decision I’d ever made bubbling to the surface.
She went on to say that with my particular form of cancer treatment, freezing my eggs was not a necessity, but a recommendation. Yet doing so would mean delaying my treatment and undergoing a series of IVF procedures to harvest the eggs. My hormones would be in a state of flux for many more months to come. Plus it would mean potentially running the risk of the cancer spreading further. I took a breath, closed my eyes and checked in. Suddenly it became very clear.
If a little one shows up in spite of all of this, they are meant to be here.
So I pressed on through the surgeries and radiation, returning to work, eventually regaining my strength and emerging from the brain fog. I celebrated birthdays, trips away and nights out. Occasionally, I’d wonder if I’d sealed my own fate: will that little one actually show up or did I stop it from ever happening? And then I’d get on with the life in front of me.
Until I woke up the morning after my birthday with a thought running through my mind: get a pregnancy test.
Which is a brief sketch of how it is I now sit here writing this as the mother of a one year old. His hot breath tickles my neck, his pudgy hand rests over my heart, and his feet twitch slightly as he drifts into sleep. It’s his birthday today, and although I’m desperate for sleep, I can’t help watching the rise and fall of his chest. Each breath reminding me anew that life – and love – are never to be underestimated.
• • •
Dearest Little Bean,
(We’ve called you Little Bean since the start, even though the name seems comical now that you are such a big bouncing babe).
When we first found out about you, it’s fair to say we shat ourselves. In my case, literally. In fact, we didn’t really sleep for about 10 days (which I now realise is small fry compared to the sleep deprivation of the past year, but still). The arena we were stepping into seemed gargantuan, and I felt dwarfed by the responsibilities lying ahead of us. I had no idea how we would manage this.
I also had no idea if my body could do this. I didn’t realise it at first, but my fears were not just those of a first-time mum-to-be. Yes, there were the worries about eating the right things, doing the right things, sleeping in the correct position. But there was another undercurrent pulling me, something I didn’t fully understand at first.
My fears weren’t just about miscarriage, although that in itself was a big one: I kept waiting at every moment to be told you weren’t “viable” or that there was some problem or abnormality. I was terrified the day we put the pram on layby – in case something happened and I would have to call them to explain why we would no longer be needing it. I didn’t trust my body. I’d seen it spiral out of control with malignant cells growing, replicating and invading surrounding tissue without check. How could I trust it to grow you into the happy healthy human you deserved to be? As scary as this was, there was something bigger still.
My deepest fear: I can’t trust life any more.
I don’t have the right to dream. To have something work out for me. To experience a happy ending.
I was stunned by this discovery. I considered myself a positive person, believing in a benevolent universe, wishing on stars, dandelions, eyelashes, feathers… and seeing many of those wishes come true! But now I had to confront the insidious, invisible scars of cancer that had poisoned not just my body and mind, but my spirit too. Bracing for the worst had become the new normal.
So my beef was with the nature of the universe itself.
Each ultrasound appointment saw us holding our breath until we heard your little heart thumping away. There you were – in every scan, every picture, and then every kick – announcing “Here I Am” with such clarity and strength.
As the weeks and then months passed, I watched you grow on that screen from a blob of cells to a little being. The moment I saw your spine and ribs – each perfectly symmetrical and beautifully formed – I lay there fixated in wonder. Then there were the kicks. Forceful, definite and breath-stealingly strong. Your hiccups that would make my whole body shake as I lay in bed at night. The tumbles you’d take whilst I was at work – reminding me in the midst of the mundanity that a miracle was occurring inside me.
My body changed in ways I could not imagine. My cells seemed to have always known their potential, and could literally conceive of possibilities far beyond the realms of my conscious mind. It knew what it needed to do. How to grow you, to nurture and nourish you.
Slowly, I began to soften, to open, to dare to dream – little by little.
I didn’t realise how broken I was until I saw how healed I became.
Because of you, Little Bean.
The moment you entered this world, your cry filled the room and you held my finger in your large purple hand. Pulled into a world so foreign to you, yet you knew what to do: you came searching for my body and in that moment (although I didn’t know it yet), my soul was already fused with yours. I was yours and you were mine and this much at least was certain.
The early months were “hard”. By hard I mean they were raw and vulnerable, physically exhausting and emotionally devastating. You didn’t seem yet of this world, as though you were still coming into your body, and almost unreachable at times. It killed me when I couldn’t calm your cries or when all the tricks I’d used to soothe friend’s babies floundered with you.
You stripped me down, forced me to dig deep, and to be present to the pain, fear, exhaustion, despair. You challenged me to face and move through my fears, surrendering my previous identity in exchange for an unknown and unpromised future. I’ve grieved and continue to grieve what was. The person I was, the freedom I had, and the innocent and absent-minded way I sometimes existed in the world.
I silently and sometimes not so silently called on my ancestors, the women who came before me to guide my actions, to provide insight and to help calm you when you every worldly tool at my disposal failed. I’ve wanted to scream but continued to rock, to sway, to sing, to stomp until I at last helped you find your peace. I’ve learnt what it is to be the last person standing and not give up, because I simply can’t.
There’s so much I just didn’t know:
I didn’t know you’d be so fierce.
I didn’t know you’d be so feisty (although I should have guessed).
I didn’t know you’d be so funny.
I didn’t know how much I’d give up.
I didn’t know how much I’d love.
But above all, Little Bean, I didn’t know how much you’d heal me. In places I didn’t even know were so wounded and world-weary.
If I’d known that it was you in there all along – you with your quirks, your curiosity, your giggles and your determined strength – I would have been even more desperate to meet you. (I also would have taken way more naps)
I’ve heard it said that we choose our parents before we incarnate into this life on earth. If that’s true, I hope I will justify your choice in me as your mum. It is the thought that has pulled me through the toughest moments of the last year. If you chose me, then you deserve the best of me. You deserve to have someone you can trust. You deserve to feel safe, and protected, and loved.
I hope you will always hold the knowledge deep in your bones that you are loved. That you are wanted. That you are a magical, sparkly-eyed spirit who isn’t afraid to voice your displeasure, approval, pain, needs, wants or fears to me, and who teaches me in every moment what it is to love through it all. That you have the right to be happy. That you can trust yourself. You can trust me. And that you can trust life.
Your Mum xx