Yesterday, a young woman reached out to me on this neglected blog, and shared a glimpse of her own cancer journey. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last fall at age 25, and is currently battling the post-treatment demons that those of us who have endured surgery, chemo and radiation know only too well. Her words hit me hard, fairly knocking me right out of the blissed-out delirium that has engulfed me since our son, Earl, came into our lives three weeks ago.
Yes: our son. Our long, tumultuous path to parenthood has finally led us to our child. We are ecstatic. But as with most things since cancer, our joy has a unique flavor.
As I read this young woman’s words, I was suddenly no longer a euphoric new parent, holding my beautiful child, singing to him and kissing him all day long. Instead, I was back in the hospital, plugged in and drugged out, terrified. I was alone and heartbroken, lost in the daze of my own trauma, months and months after I was declared cancer-free. With a few words from a stranger, it all came flooding back.
That’s when I knew it was time to start writing about being a parent whose child came to her through adoption and cancer – a mysterious one-two punch that makes me feel like I’m coloring outside the lines of these two distinct communities that I now claim.
It’s been three weeks since I became a mother. I’m home all day; Earl is asleep most of the time; perfect conditions for writing and reflecting. But I’ve been stuck.
I’ve been writing for years about the trials of Life After Cancer, and more recently, about our path to parenthood. The waiting, the uncertainty, the residual resentment at my wretched disease for making us go through this invasive, unfair process – waiting for some anonymous human being to select us to raise her child. All the while, I’ve been surrounded by pregnant friends and coworkers. It’s enough to drive anyone mad. What perfect fodder, really, for a writer.
So what’s a cancer blogger to do when her dream finally comes true? The call comes; the chaos begins. Our baby is coming! At last!
I could write about the moment when Mike and I first met Earl, two hours after he was born. I could describe how we walked into the nursery, led by the kind-hearted head nurse, who instinctively folded me in her arms when I began sobbing hysterically as I looked down at his perfect, squirming little body. I could tell you how the room spun – not unlike the way it did when I first met with my oncologist and she told me about the disease ravaging my reproductive organs. I could try to explain how for days it felt like my body wouldn’t stop shaking, how every time I gazed at Earl’s perfectly gorgeous face, the tears would spontaneously flow.
But what would that do? Everyone knows about “the miracle of birth;” every new parent could tell stories about the first time they saw their child, how in love and overwhelmed they felt from that very first moment.
But this feels different, like something more complicated. Cancer makes our miracle different.
We’ve spent the past year with our adoption agency in a cohort of other young couples, most who have struggled with infertility. Other than a few same-sex couples, infertility has been the underlying theme motivating these hopeful parents through the adoption process. While it’s true that I too am infertile, it’s cancer that made me that way. It’s because of cancer’s affront to my body that I am now Earl’s mother.
Please don’t mistake me for a cancer Pollyanna: oh, it’s been such a blessing! My life has changed so much for the better! I wouldn’t trade my cancer experience for anything! I am not that person.
What I am is an adoptive parent whose journey to parenthood has been profoundly shaped by the disease that almost killed me. For that reason, I never want to lose sight of the nightmare that preceded this dream come true.