Finding Purpose and Self-Love Beyond Motherhood

For as long as I can remember, motherhood served as the compass for my life. I always loved children. I’d spent my childhood, my education and many years of my first career in avenues dedicated to bettering the lives of children. All of these activities and passions took me towards my end goal of motherhood.

Along the way, I also looked for a partner in crime who shared my desire to start a family. Lucky for me, I hit the jackpot. After our wedding, my husband quit drinking, we modified our lifestyle and we saved a large sum of money so that I could stay home for the first year with a baby. We amassed a collection of pregnancy and baby books and constantly talked about what the next year would hold for our family. The only thing we were waiting on was the OK from my doctor. I had been on an IUD for 2 years and she wanted me to wait 2-3 months after the removal before we started TTC (trying to conceive).

This just so happened to occur around the same time that we sold our home to a wonderful single mom with two boys and found ourselves “homeless.” The housing market in our area was cutthroat and we couldn’t seem to catch a break. We put in offer after offer to no avail. Thankfully, my MIL took us in, which also immediately brought the baby making plans to a screeching halt. I began to feel stuck, depressed and lost in limbo land waiting for the next stage of our lives to begin.

Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My diagnosis and impending treatment put our plans of starting a family in immediate jeopardy. Not only was I suddenly fighting for my life, but my goals of motherhood-- on which I based my entire being and self-worth-- were wrenched from me in an instant.

I was devastated. I grieved for the life I had planned and the dreams I was forced to put on hold. I had to force myself to carry on, unsure of how to define myself without the future we’d planning waiting for us around the corner. Luckily, my doctors quickly provided us with a multidisciplinary team of experts to explain the options and guide us according to our decisions. Though it was extremely expensive even with the “cancer discount,” we decided to proceed with Fertility Preservation.

I went through one round of IVF hormone stimulation to get my body to produce multiple eggs instead of the standard one, and 14 days of daily trips to the doctor to check estrogen levels, we extracted all the eggs (8 in my case) and attempted to fertilize all of them.

Out of the eight, three were successfully fertilized and grew to a state acceptable for preservation. Those two weeks were the most emotional and stressful time out of the entire treatment. My body was pumped full of hormones and every day I was brought to tears by the slightest triggers. I felt my body had failed me again only producing eight eggs when the doctor had hoped for 10-20. My heart was racing each day waiting for the lab to call with a report on our eggs and embryos. I knew the statistics were low and we’d be lucky to end up with a few fertilized and acceptable embryos, but when they said only three made it, it broke my heart all over again.

Those three tiny embryos represented all the hope I had for our future family.

Everyone around us seemed to be moving forward and we were stuck. They were getting on with their lives, getting pregnant, having babies and planning for the future. As much as I wanted to be happy for them, it was soul-crushing. The unfairness brought me so much anger and at the root of it, I realized, was fear.

Who was I without the ability to have children?

Would my marriage sustain itself?

How would I find purpose in life without the goals of motherhood that I set out to achieve?

While I wish I could say I had a singular magic moment that helped me move forward from this discomfort…the truth is far from it. I had to start by taking tiny steps every day to help manage my emotions. I began journaling regularly, I created a blog, and I made it a point to find ways of taking control of my life despite the fact that cancer threatened to break me.

These new habits helped me pull apart the negative from the positive. I realized that I had been so caught up grieving the end of my future as a mother, of what I couldn’t have and what was lacking, that I was missing out on opportunities to live and to thrive. Through a serious commitment to myself with self-compassion and self-love I realized I AM WORTH IT.

Little by little, I stopped thinking about babies everyday and began dedicating that time and emotion to rediscovering myself. My husband and I made time to explore new interests, got involved in advocacy work, and redefined our goals. As I grew emotionally and professionally, I began to redefine success. I am now able to see more purpose in my life beyond motherhood and I am coming to value myself more.

We still want children, but we have been able to reset the compass and move forward on a new path-- one that doesn’t focus solely on motherhood. If all goes well with my health, we can reevaluate family planning after two years of hormone and ovarian suppression. (That means January 2018 is our next checkpoint, but who’s counting?)

For now, we are focused on enjoying each day and finding new ways to strengthen our family of two. I hope that by sharing my struggle with fertility and cancer you don’t feel so alone and that you, too, can find peace in time.

Did you have to re-define your life goals dramatically because of cancer?

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