Learning to Love “One-and-Done”
Today, I no longer have a uterus. No fallopian tubes to carry an egg down for implantation, no cervix to dilate. No breasts to feed a baby. I am no longer a vessel for life.
I never anticipated secondary infertility to happen to me. Pregnancy came easily and safely to me the first time. While carrying my son I was relatively asymptomatic and outright euphoric. The only real hiccup I experienced was trying to get him out — he was over a week late and was going into fetal distress as my labor was failing. My doctors and I had mutually concluded he needed to be delivered via cesarean. Several midwives and OBs assured me that I was a good candidate for a VBAC, whenever I was ready to expand our family. But I never made it that far.
It took about a year and half and two miscarriages before I would finally get a diagnosis of Asherman’s Syndrome. The life-saving abortion procedures I needed for those failed pregnancies caused irreparable scar damage. My uterus no longer had the ability to properly regenerate itself with each menstrual cycle. It was banded together with thick columns of tissue, unable to fully expand. If I had managed to make it further along in any future pregnancy, I could suffer a uterine rupture.
Devastatingly, I was also diagnosed with BRCA2 at the same time. I had no idea any of my children would have a 50% chance of inheriting this cancer super-gene. I never knew my thriving son was at risk. My doctor laid it out for me: she didn’t recommend the treatment of removing the banding from within my uterus, it was too risky. I needed to decide if I wanted to have my eggs extracted and tested for the mutation and whether or not I would proceed with the prophylactic surgeries to manage my extreme cancer risks. With no hope of ever carrying a child on my own again, I made the devastating decision to prioritize my health and close the door on future children.
Before I became a mother I never understood why people were so dead-set on only having one child. Looking back on it now, I envy them. How simple it would have been had I never lived with this grief. The ignorant bliss I might have known had I never accidentally uncovered my mutation. To have never second-guessed, to have just felt content with one. I sometimes question if I was asking for too much when I had it so good. My son has always been healthy and bright. We breastfed for two wonderful years. He is funny and loving. Why couldn’t that have been enough for me? In spite of knowing first hand that siblings do not guarantee a deep bond, I wanted it anyway. I had hoped that the family I created would be different from the family I came from.
My choice not to pursue fertility treatment and surrogacy in favor of cancer management was not particularly well-received. The truth is, my marriage had long since been in rough shape. Like many flailing couples, we thought forging ahead as planned was the only way through. If we could just complete our family, maybe everything else that wasn’t working would fall into place. My final pregnancy loss collided with the passing of his mother — she took her final breath believing life was still flourishing within me. In this moment, we became too broken to mend. After my diagnosis that summer, what little of my unstable marriage remained crumbled within months. My husband was desperate for more children, while I was desperate to stay alive. We argued tirelessly over options — none of which felt like options to me. How could I even think about a baby of mine growing in someone else’s body while mine was becoming just a shell of what it once was? His disappointment in me permeated my every thought. His carelessness pained me more than the incessant pokes and prods of my cancer screenings. I was losing everything, knowing he could find a new woman to impregnate tomorrow if he had wanted it badly enough. I attended every appointment and surgery without him, and lied to every doctor when they asked if my husband was okay with my decision. Alongside my reproductive organs, he would become a piece of my past — a timestamp of a life far behind me.
As the impacts of Roe v. Wade ripples through our lives, I can’t help but feel a strange relief that the choice had been made for me already. I can never again live through the horrors of losing a baby. And with that relief, comes a twisted sorrow. A mixed bag of grief and guilt. Grief that I couldn’t get what I wanted, and that it came at such a hefty price; guilt that I couldn’t give another what they wanted. I can never again live through the joys of loving a baby. Infertility has a funny way of making you feel wrong. Unlovable, unwhole. Afterall, my body was meant to do this, right? I cheer from the sidelines as new babies are born and mourn in solidarity for those still in the fight, staring down a series of impossible choices.
Now that I am single and dating, infertility (on top of cancer, divorce, and a laundry list of trauma) is a curious subject to broach, and one I carry a lot of anxiety around. I know how deeply some folks want children, and I cannot bear to be another person’s reason why they sit parenthood out. While the void within me grows smaller, it’s there. The longing is real, and damn, it’s loud. What if they change their mind? What if their void becomes too hard to ignore? One date recently asked me if I would ever consider having more children if my partner could get pregnant. My answer is unabashedly “no”. There was a fork in the road, and I chose my direction with conviction — even though in some ways, it was the more challenging route. Instead I hold out hope that someone out there will love me in all of my mutated, infertile glory. Maybe, just maybe, there is a really wonderful step-parent out there for my kid.
And as the dream of the life I thought I would live dies off, a new dream grows bigger and in its place, one with more possibilities. My son gets to have a mom for as long as possible. Cancer will claim me one day — but not today. It’s a little lonely, just us, but we have each other. He grows more and more independent, capable. I’ve finally sold off or given away all his baby things I had saved for my next child. I finally buried the remains of my last pregnancy. I’m doing all of the things I struggled to do when I was constantly breastfeeding, or was cautiously pregnant. One day I might even feel brave enough to hold a baby again. Of course, there are tears, and they are abundant. Some days I am so saddened by everything that has happened, some days I curse the universe. In the end, life had other plans for me. So, I’ll take it as a dark blessing to start over. Accepting “one-and-done” gave me permission to co-exist as two people: the mom-me and the me-me. Neither of them get cast aside. Both of them get to have their needs met and both of them get to be cared for. I’ve got some baggage to sort through, some kinks to iron out, but in some rather perplexing way…
I am free. — Megan Radich
Megan’s piece was originally self-published on Medium, and has been republished and featured here with permission.