So, I Am Infertile, Now What?
In honour of Infertility Awareness Week, Rethink is sharing stories of young women who are impacted by infertility because of a cancer diagnosis. Infertility is just one of the unique challenges that can come with being a young woman with cancer. From adoption to surrogacy to pausing life-changing treatment, read on for the ways in which some women cope with their infertility.
My husband and I were newly married and ready to grow our family when life took a turn. Rather than brainstorming cute ways to announce a pregnancy, we were quietly informing close friends and family that I had cancer. In that first visit with my oncologists, we took another blow; my treatment would cause infertility. At 27-years-old I’d have to grieve the loss of my fertility while also fighting for my life. Needless to say, I was a mess. I couldn’t help but think in anger at all the years I’d taken birth control, successfully preventing an ill-timed baby. I wished I hadn’t been so diligent. I wished that I’d slipped up, just once. But it didn’t matter, my time was up.
My oncologists encouraged me to do an egg retrieval prior to treatment and got me into a fertility clinic right away. My cycle was aligned so I spent the next two weeks meticulously following a medication regimen that would trick my ovaries into producing a motherlode of follicles. With every injection, my abdomen grew until I looked five months pregnant. On retrieval day, my last fertile day, the reproductive embryologist extracted 26 eggs from my swollen and exhausted ovaries; they did good! It all felt like a bizarre pregnancy that culminated with an awkward sci-fi delivery.
Next came the chemo and radiation which popped every remaining egg like an overzealous kid with bubble wrap. When we learned the incredible news that I was cancer-free we decided to revisit our dream of starting a family. Since my shrivelled uterus and aged-out ovaries were toast we were left with two options: adoption or surrogacy.
Even though we had a small soccer team of embryos in the freezer we were enthralled with the idea of adoption. We met with a social worker who walked us through the elaborate process. He told us how to become AdoptReady, Ontario’s tagline for the mandatory pre-adoption training sessions and home study, and he discussed the differences between domestic, international, public, and private adoptions. With the hope of getting a healthy child as quickly as possible, we decided to pursue a private, international adoption, that is until we learned that many countries refuse to place children with recent cancer survivors. While some countries required that I be five years cancer-free others required a letter from my oncologist stating I was cured for life (wouldn’t that be nice). If we went down this route it would likely be eight or more years before we might receive a child. At the time, everyone I knew was pregnant or trying and eight years felt impossibly long.
Because we wanted a baby yesterday, we swiftly moved to our next option: finding someone to carry our embryo. We were relieved when a close family member volunteered for this selfless job but after two transfers and a brutal miscarriage, it didn’t work out. Our wonderful fertility lawyer (yes, there is such a specialty) referred us to a surrogacy agency that was kind, supportive, and honest. We developed a rapport with a woman whose profile we’d selected. We then waited for her to decide between us and another couple. In Canada, surrogacy is a sellers’ market, there are simply way too many couples who need help and not nearly enough surrogates. But on a sunny October day, we got lucky: flowers arrived on our doorstep with a little card announcing that we’d been chosen. We officially had a surrogate!
Shortly thereafter we signed legal contracts and began working with a clinic. We had another devastating miscarriage before we got pregnant with our son who was born last spring. Being a parent is a real-life dream, one that three years ago seemed impossible. I now realize how infertility was just the beginning, a jumping off point that clarified our options and pushed us into an alternate route. This unique path to becoming a parent was as painful as it was rewarding and yet I would do it all over again, in a heartbeat.
As I near five-years cancer free we may reconsider adoption but for now, we are taking time to relax and enjoy every minute with our hilarious little boy. Stephanie Sciuk
Stephanie Sciuk is a guest blogger for Rethink Breast Cancer. Prior to being diagnosed with cervical cancer at 27 years old Stephanie worked in private practice as a Naturopathic Doctor. She now spends her time writing, teaching, and being a mom to her 9-month-old son. Apart from her family, friends, and golden retriever, her greatest loves are surfing, travelling, and tacos. You can read more about Stephanie’s detour through cancer at: thecuratedcomeback.com