Monday, April 07, 2008

Easter Eggs

Growing up, I was not the sort of girl who couldn't wait to have kids. In my teens, I wondered if having children was not an ultimately selfish act in our overcrowded world and felt sorry for the countless women who battle every day to balance their roles as mothers with their myriad other positions. I've never stopped thinking about those things, but I do remember when that fabled maternal clock started ticking- LOUD. This wasn't a faint and gentle tick-tock; I began to feel like Alice's white rabbit: "I'm late, I'm late, I'm late!" Or rather, I suddenly realized and still believe to this moment, that I didn't just want children- I wanted a lot of them. "Cheaper by the Dozen" and "Yours, Mine, & Ours"- cutest movies ever. Twins? Triplets? Bring them on. Bradjelina's tribe: could you make me more jealous?

My grandma passed away last November. She was a mother of five amazing intelligent and loving children. In Chinese style, she was respected and spoiled in her old age. I thought, how wonderful it must be to have so many children, both to care for you and to be able to watch them develop into unique and accomplished individuals. My sisters are two of the strongest most special relationships in my life; what might it have been like to have even more siblings to cherish?

In 2005, thanks to a grant from the Avery Foundation, I traveled in China learning about the Chinese concept of "luck". One of the things I did there was get my fortune read. My i ching expert was a blind man who learned the art and trade of fortune telling to be able to support himself through his disability. He told me several things that rang true at the time and I chose to believe him when he told me that I had four children in my life's projection: two girls, two boys. How perfectly marvelous.

So, when, during Easter week here in 2008, I was told that I had four little eggs in my ovaries, I felt sure that these were my fated progeny.

But first, another flashback: I remember well when I was in the Emergency Room in Boston being rushed into treatment and a doctor apologized to me saying, "you should know that the chemotherapy you are about to undergo will most likely prevent you from ever having children". As he hovered over my gurney speeding down the hallway, he explained briefly that some people have time to store eggs, embryos, or sperm, but that for me, there simply wasn't any time.

Despite this heartbreaking news, we took various hopeful precautions, such as using "the shot" to protect my ova as best as possible from the toxic medicines I was taking. Studies for my age group were not conclusive: I'm not quite old enough for premature menopause to be a given, not quite young enough to be optimistic about the number of years of normal cycles I might still have. So, common with so many other unknowns related to this illness and treatment, I subconsciously chose not to mourn over a trajedy as yet unconfirmed.

A couple of weeks ago, during my hospitalized induction period here at Stanford, a doctor casually mentioned, "well, you know how you're going to be infertile after the required full body radiation, right?" No, I had not known that. Here it was, conclusive, unavoidable. I had kept a little campfire of hope and a sense of destiny burning in my chest and I actually felt like the wind was knocked out of me as my chest and eyes burned and I tried not to cry. There are thousands of things that could/should go wrong with my body, but few that I've been told will, without a doubt, without a wisp of hope.

Wait, you're saying, didn't you just say something about four little Easter eggies? Way to follow this convoluted time schematic, reader.

Ah, so with one month between chemo and transplant to pray to the fertilities goddesses, I turned to the Fertility Clinic at Stanford and asked them to do whatever they could to stimulate/examine/collect/harvest/protect/freeze/store any chance I might be able to have children in the future. I gave myself shots to induce ovulation and must say it was the first time I've ever been so excited to feel bloating! Through ultrasound technology, my doctor saw two little follicles in each ovary and my heart soared.

Then, at my next appointment, Dr. W was very quiet as she examined the ultrasound screen. To me, it was merely smeared black and white static. But, her silence and persistent search told me all I needed to know. With all the tact and compassion I could have hoped for, she explained that my ovaries were just "tired" from all the chemo I'd had, that they were "calm" and those four small bundles of hope from a few days ago had not developed any further. "Tired". "Calm". Pointless. Dead. It's hard to be 28 and have dreams dead.

Of course, I will adopt. Adoption was something I'd felt called to long before cancer. But, still, just like that unavoidable mysterious inner clock, I can't help but feel this profound and unshakable sense of loss.


Abby Wood said...

What a beautiful way to capture a loss that no words can fully describe. You are massively loved, Erica.

** SAVE MICHELLE ** said...

Dear Erica,

Thank you for sharing such a touching story. I have been struggling with the issue of fertility after chemo. My oncologist advised me against freezing my eggs because he said my reproductive system would be fine after the chemo. It's been 6 months since I completed my chemo treatment for AML. I am currently not a candidate for a BMT (50% chance I won't relapse).

I know I should harvest my eggs just in case I relapse and need a BMT. I've been hesitant to get my eggs harvested...I don't know why. I guess I'm tired of dealing with doctors, injections, etc. Part of me also thinks that if I am going to relapse perhaps I shouldn't have children. I wouldn't want to put them through such a difficult experience. Other times I think that if I become infertile maybe it's a sign that I should adopt a child in need.

Your story has reminded me that I should at least talk to a fertility specialist. I want to give myself the freedom of options if I ever decide to have kids.

Thanks again for your entry. It was my wake up call.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry my sweet! That sense of loss will melt away the moment your adopted child is placed in your arms, I PROMISE - just ask my Mom. :)

-From one adopted baby to a future adopted mother

Joe.Karen said...

dear erica,

i don't know what to say. i just wanted to let you know that although we've never met, i love you. {{{{hugs}}}}


John said...

no words to salve the wounds of loss - only words of warm support.

be strong, and i keep you in my thoughts - especially these days when parallel worlds seem to collide in a multitude of ways.

Giselle said...

Oh, sweetie! I am here thinking of you...praying for you...

Te quiero mucho,


Anonymous said...

What a tragic loss. I can only respon with something my grandmother used to say to me. When god closes one door God opens many in exchange. My wife was adopted. If it wasn't for one of the most unselfish acts of two great parents I would have never met the love of my life. Keep the faith and one day you will have 4 children who love and adore you.

Anonymous said...

We've never met, but I have followed your blog and send many good wishes your way. I have experienced a loss like this--not because of cancer, but because of miscarriage. And I want to say that there is no sorrow like this. It is very deep. Yet, your relationship to it will change when you hold your first child. May that day come soon and may you love and care for her or him (and then three more little ones) in good health.

Gioia said...

My dearest E, every child in this world could only hope to have a mother so strong, wise and good as you. The one (or the four?) that you will find - and that will need someone like you so much - will be the luckiest little beings... You in my thoughts every minute. LOVE.

artineh said...

I am just remembering what you said when we were up there visiting and how excited you still were at the thought of having children. I'm so sorry to hear this final word on it, but adoption must be wonderful, just in a different way. You will be the best mother all the same. Bradjelina will have nothing on you!

thinking of you,