Breastfeeding and Infertility
As I look back on my life as a girl and young woman, I am astonished at how much time and effort I spent avoiding getting pregnant. I was raised on the idea that abstinence was the best and only protection for a young woman and that I had to save myself for marriage. When my husband and I started to look at having children after we'd built our careers and felt ready, my body didn't cooperate and it felt more than terrible. I'm not a person who fails at much, so to fail at the thing that I'd been saving up shocked and shook me deeply, plus it felt shameful in a way and I didn't reach out to get support as I could have.
Pregnancy and fertility
With some time, effort, and minimal medical intervention, my husband and I were able to get pregnant and we now have two healthy little boys. My birthing stories were not entirely ideal and certainly not what I envisioned, but my children were born safely and they were and are healthy. One thing that my body did do well is breastfeed. I've seen the struggles that others went through and I know how blessed I am that my children loved to nurse and my breasts did their job, they actually more than did their job. In addition to nursing and pumping sufficient for both of my boys, we were able to donate 25,000 ounces to a local milk sharing organization that still remains dear to my heart, GetPUMPed!.
I was tandem nursing my boys, so that means I'd been nursing and pumping every 2-3 hours for four (4) years straight when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. While my eldest had just turned 4 and we'd already discussed him weaning, my youngest was nearly 2 and he protested weaning abruptly loudly and consistently, as he often protests everything.
Stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis
I will never forget the two (2) weeks after I learned I had breast cancer while I struggled to dry up my milk and my baby screamed bloody murder in the next room for milk EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. He was used to nursing to sleep, cuddled between me and his brother as we did and continue to co-sleep, for his entire life. He didn't understand why that was taken away. He didn't want Daddy, who was trying desperately to soothe him night after night. He just wanted Mama and he just wanted to nurse and he wanted it NOW.
Not only did my body ache from the biopsies, and the bindings that helped my breasts used to producing and providing milk for 4 years straight, learn that they were done, but my heart ached as well. My diagnosis was hard enough to bear, but the pain and confusion in my boys broke me. I almost broke down and nursed my kids so many times those weeks. I almost threw in the towel and said the heck with this breast cancer stuff, my child needs me. I wanted to run away. I wanted to hide. I struggled to go to work each day, running a busy law firm and trying to hold myself together while everyone demanded so much of me. I struggled to deal with clients and employee issues and the myriads of little administrative things I had to handle because I was the boss. I struggled emotionally to deal with all of that and remain gracious to people who had no idea what to do or how to relate to me.
Grieving my life before metastatic breast cancer
In short, it was brutal and quite literally one of the worst, if not the worst, times in my life.
And yet, that ended. My breasts learned to stop producing milk and my littlest learned how to go to sleep without breastfeeding. We still co-sleep and we learned how to be a family in a different way. I closed my firm, transitioning my employee and my clients to other safe spaces with trusted friends. We packed up our house and moved to be with my parents as I was learning to walk again after intense surgery to my femurs.
But, I still grieved and continue to grieve.
I grieve that my eldest got four (4) years of a breastfeeding relationship that created and solidified a bond that is unbreakable. I grieve that weaning abruptly disrupted my bond with my littlest and I still see that it hasn't recovered as much as I would like. I grieve that choices were taken away and my bodily autonomy was disrupted. I grieve that the third child we'd been discussing would never be a reality. I grieve that my physical relationship with my husband, still recovering from the birth of our second child and still disrupted from all the breastfeeding, was even more affected by cancer and cancer treatment. I grieve that the ONE part of my body doing its job correctly was possibly going to kill me. I grieve that my body was overtaken with medical treatment and scars and literal poison.
So much grief, so much anger, so much change.
I'm still here 3 years after my metastatic breast cancer diagnosis
And yet? I'm still here. My relationship with my boys has survived the end of breastfeeding, no matter how it happened. My relationship with my husband has survived all of the changes we've had to make. Yes, my body looks completely different and cancer has changed pretty much every part of it, but I'm still here, three (3) years later in 2020.
At the end of the day, I have found that focusing on what's next, what's now, what's good, what's beautiful, that's the focus that gets me through the day. I can wallow in what happened before and sometimes I do. I can remember fondly the past and I can grieve those losses; at the same time, I am here because of those experiences. I look at the world differently because I've been through really hard stuff and I survived it.
And that hard stuff, it broke me. It broke me into a thousand pieces over and over. And I picked myself up each time, I picked up all the pieces. Putting back together all those pieces that broke over and over means I am a very different person today.
And that person is beautiful, worthy of good things, worthy of love, and so much more than cancer. This is what I hold on to during the hard days. This is what I focus on intentionally and deliberately to get through the hard days.
Caregivers: Do you practice self-care?