How I Met Became Your Mother

On November 7th, 2016, I  went for an ultrasound to check on my baby. I’d been having issues with my placenta and they were monitoring it to make sure the baby was still getting everything he needed. After the ultrasound, I spoke with the radiologist to discuss the latest results.

“Your placenta is now at Grade 3,” she said. And then she went on to tell me something about overcompensating and getting blood to the brain, but mostly what I remember is her saying:

“It would be my recommendation that you deliver your baby now.”

My heart started to race and my body tensed. What was this crazy lady talking about? My due date wasn’t for a couple more weeks, and everyone had been yammering my ear off about how everyone delivers late with their first babies. I hadn’t yet finished purging crap from my kitchen as the last part of my “throw-everything-out-before-baby-comes” operation. I hadn’t added enough new releases to my Netflix list. I was not ready.

I called my husband and was frantic on the phone. “Some woman I don’t know just told me I should have the baby now, you should probably come meet me in case that happens.” I was mostly half-joking because it seemed so ridiculous, but he came to meet me nonetheless as good husbands do when you tell them you might be close to birthing their child.

I went across the street to discuss the results with my family doctor, who made me feel at ease and said we shouldn’t jump to conclusions yet. My husband arrived and she told us to go across the street (there’s lots of street crossing in this story, clearly) to get a non-stress test (what a funny name for a test you have to get when you’re typically very stressed) and then she’d come by and we’d discuss options with the OB who was on call that day.

I had the test and some time passed, and then my family doc (who delivers babies and was set to deliver mine) and an OB appeared.

“We’ve looked closely at the scans and feel it would be best to get Baby out now.”

WHAT.

They explained to me that the baby could be at risk if we didn’t act sooner than later and then went on to talk about some options for inducing labour and what did I think and what was our decision and…

“Sorry,” I interrupted, “you mean I have to do this TODAY? Or can we at least wait a few days?”

I was told that to prevent any serious complications with Baby, we should act pretty quickly. Unfortunately this meant that my beloved doctor who had been with me through cancer and through everything, would not be able to deliver my baby since she had to leave for a conference the next morning. I was devastated, but I did not appear to have any choice in the matter. We chatted some more and I negotiated and was granted allowance to go home, gather my things, and eat dinner before checking myself into the hospital. So I went home and frantically grabbed things and cried and panicked and ate a big bowl of pasta.

Around 10:00 PM, we got back in the car, picked up my sister, and drove back to the hospital where I checked myself in.

“Hi, I’m being induced for labour and need to be admitted because I’M HAVING A BABY!”

I expected some excitement from the woman at the registration desk, since that’s what happens in the movies and stuff, but she simply made me wait a bit, fill out some forms, and sent me on my merry way.

We made our way up to the labour and delivery floor and were brought to one of the delivery rooms to settle in. I met the resident on-call and OB and was given medication in a not-very-comfortable fashion and had some VERY uncomfortable internal exams that made me scream so loud you probably heard me from wherever you were at the time.

My sister went home to sleep and my husband pulled up the recliner next to my bed so we could get some rest. Unfortunately, it is very hard to rest when your wife is screaming bloody murder the entire night, which is essentially what happened.

The contractions came on very quickly and were only a few minutes apart. The pain was horrendous, but I was unable to get an epidural since my water hadn’t broken, and things needed to progress to a certain stage before an epidural would be on the table. So instead, I just attempted to take deep breaths, and every 3-5 minutes would wail uncontrollably, then try to sleep for about 1-2 minutes, then repeat. At some point I was given morphine, which didn’t really do much except make me feel nauseous.

I stared at the clock and watched the minutes pass, shocked that somehow the entire night had come and gone while I lay there moaning, half-conscious. Suddenly the sun was rising, and new doctors and nurses arrived for the next shift, eager to examine me and make me scream that much louder.

After plenty of confusion and debate between some of the staff, I was finally offered an epidural, to which I replied, YES PLEASE SHOVE THAT NEEDLE IN MY SPINE BEFORE I KILL ALL OF YOU. An angel soon appeared with a very large needle and shot me full of some magical potion that began to numb my lower half. However, the right side of my body decided to be stubborn and continued to allow me to feel the contractions. So I was offered something else that I now can’t remember, to which I’m sure I definitely replied, YES PLEASE. Eventually I couldn’t feel my legs, but still had one spot where I could feel the contractions, and would continue to do so until the very end.

More time passed and the pain continued, but I was so exhausted that all I could think about was sleeping. This proved difficult when the nausea suddenly got the better of me and I began to dry heave, several times. At this point, my mom had arrived, which was very lucky since she’s the person I most enjoy having take care of me while barfing into a bedpan.

More hands being shoved in uncomfortable places, more tears, and very little dilation. So far I was not such a fan of the whole labour thing.

I had been closely listening to the monitor playing the sweet sound of my baby’s heartbeat and noticed it slow down significantly. I started to panic and my sister rang for the nurse who paged the doctor. I was told the baby was still okay and they’d continue to monitor.

Some more time passed and almost no progress had been made. The baby’s heart rate continued to fluctuate. The doctor was starting to get concerned and wanted to give me a different medication that would speed things up i.e. cause even more ungodly pain. Even though I could barely process what was happening, something about this didn’t feel right to me and I asked if we could just wait a bit longer and give nature one last chance to do its thing. The doctor agreed and said she’d return shortly and we could talk about my options at that point. It was now past noon on November the 8th, about 13 hours since the contractions had begun.

Soon after, the doctor returned and poked around some more.

“Stephanie, it looks like you’re fully dilated, so I think it’s time to start pushing and get Baby out.”

We were all stunned, after having been told just an hour earlier that I was still far from the pushing stage. The reality of what was about to happen hit me like a ton of bricks. I had to push a HUMAN out from inside my body. NO THANK YOU.

A bunch of medical staff gathered around me and started preparing their stations. I started to cry.

“I don’t want to do this! Can I just go home? Having babies is stupid, why would anyone ever do this, waaaaaahhhh blerrghhhhh!!!!”

“Ok Stephanie, when you feel your next contraction come, I want you to push.”

“I DON’T KNOW HOW TO PUSH, HOW DO YOU HAVE A BABY, HOW DOES THIS WORK, GET ME OUT OF HERE PLEEEEEEASE GAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!”

My husband sat in a chair next to my head, so as not to faint, and my sister stood next to me, cheering me on. And then, I pushed.

“I don’t think it’s working, I don’t know what I’m doing!”

“Good job! He’s coming! We see a full head of hair, wow! Do you want to feel with your hand?”

“NO I DON’T WANT TO FEEL WITH MY HAND, AHHH OWWWWW AHHHHHHHHH BLEERRGHHHH!!!”

“Keep pushing, you can do this, rah-rah, sis-boom-bah!”

“AHHH THIS IS SO CRAZY, WHAT IS HAPPENING, WHAAAAAAAA!!!!”

“Almost there, just one more big push!”

One more big push. And suddenly I noticed the cries I heard were no longer my own, but those of a precious little boy who had just been thrust into the world.

My baby boy.

He was placed on top of my chest, against my skin, against my scars, against my heart. I held him close and I cried. Everything, good and bad, all of it, had led me to this moment.

I looked at my husband and sister, who were overcome with emotion as well, all of us frozen in a sort of shocked state at what had just transpired and at this tiny guy that was now in our lives.

My sister cut the cord, and he was weighed and measured and given back to us to hold and cuddle. We marvelled at his full head of dark hair. My family arrived and everyone took turns holding Baby E and swooning over him, our perfect little miracle.

I have never felt anything like that feeling of holding my baby in my arms for the first time. I could feel the change inside of me almost instantly, my heart feeling as though it may explode into a million pieces. I didn’t yet know what lay ahead of me. All I knew was this tiny, sweet babe had shifted my identity, my very core, from the moment he took his first breath.

At long last, I was a mother.

The Mommy Files

It has taken me far too long to write this post. This is mainly due to the fact that back in November, I had a baby, and apparently newborns take up every minute and every hour of your life. I mean, EVERY. MINUTE. I have sat down to write so many times, and then a poo emergency strikes, or a cry is heard, or I realize I haven’t gone to the bathroom in 12 hours, and I quickly forget about any prior ambitions I had.

Besides the overwhelming, drastic life change that is motherhood, I have also put off writing anything because my will and energy hasn’t been there. Not too long after I gave birth to the most special little guy in the universe, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety. Things got bad. Reeeeal bad. My goal every day was to just make it through and get to the next day, and pretty much everything else, including writing, fell to the wayside. But I believe that writing and sharing helped me through another very challenging time in my life (as you may recall), so I’ve been meaning to get to it.

There are so many things I want to say about the last (almost) three months, and so many thoughts I have on parenting/babies/postpartum, that I don’t think I can cover it all in one post. It will probably take much more than one post, so feel free to stick with me if you’re interested in reading about this stuff. One thing I have learned through all this is that there are many new moms who have experienced or are experiencing what I’m going through. Although everyone’s story is unique, many of us share a lot of the same challenges. And yet so few are openly talking about it. I have my theories on why this might be, but I’ll get to that later. It feels similar to my cancer experience, in a weird way, where it felt like I was going through this huge thing that many people just didn’t talk about openly and honestly. And I get it. It’s hard to open up about our personal struggles. It leaves us vulnerable, and exposed.

With cancer, there was so much pressure to be positive and sunshine-y, and with motherhood, there is a lot of pressure to be the very best mom and be happy and perfect and proclaim that every moment is just full of joy and rainbows and wonderful, cute baby things. Welp, I am once again here to burst your bubble and drop some truth bombs all over the internet, if you care to join me. Because, guess what? Motherhood is VERY HARD. And being a new mom while you’re also, unfortunately, dealing with mental health issues is super hard. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and I’ve literally had cancer.

So where to even start, with so much to say? I suppose, as is often the case, the best place to start is at the beginning. My birth story. The day my life, once again, changed forever. But you’ll have to hang tight, because my baby is about to wake from his semi-peaceful slumber and duty calls. Stay tuned…

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Updates from the womb

Well folks, we have officially entered the third trimester and I have clearly failed at mommy blogging considering I haven’t blogged at all. Oops. I thought it was time for an update, as I seem to be getting a lot of questions from a lot of interested parties.

After announcing I was pregnant, I was blown away by all the comments and messages from people I don’t even know, those of you who have been following me for years and seem almost to have been waiting for something exciting to happen. I forget sometimes that so many people feel connected to me through my writing, and feel like they know me in a very personal way. It’s bizarre, but also pretty great. Is this how it feels to be Beyonce? I imagine it must be. It’s quite lovely, to feel so much love coming towards this unborn little being. I know that he can feel it, because I can feel it, and we seem to be pretty connected these days due to the wonders of biology and what have you.

For those who are interested in the beginning of the baby journey, I wrote a piece for ELLE Canada last month which you can read here. I think that fills in a lot of the blanks. That also reminds me that I took a photo the night I stopped taking my cancer pills. Let me go look for that…

Oh, here it is!

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That was back in September. Sayonara pills, and hello prenatal vitamins! And here is another pic that I took several months later, after winter had come and gone.

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I took multiple tests and as each one turned up positive, I still didn’t believe it. I continued to keep testing every day, like a crazy person, and watched as the test lines began to darken.

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It took me a long time to really believe I was pregnant. It just seemed too good to be true. It still kind of does, but I’ve come to accept that it’s really happening. Or else I’ve just gotten very fat and am possessed by some sort of alien making waves in my stomach, which I suppose is slightly possible, but not too likely. Nope, this baby definitely is coming and I have the hip pain and indigestion to prove it.

So to answer some questions for those who like answers…

I am currently 28 weeks preggers, or in my 29th week. In some ways, it feels like it has gone fast, and in others, I can barely remember what it was like not to have this little guy in my belly. The due date is November 20th. Whether he presents himself early or late is TBD. Sometimes I feel as though he is already trying to escape and then I tell him firmly, YOU MUST STAY IN THERE LITTLE BABY WE ARE NOT READY FOR YOU and he seems to be a decent listener. So November 20 is the target. Feel free to buy him all his presents before then. (Just kidding, all we want is love and good wishes.) (PSYCH, as if, obviously I want presents, do you not know me at all by now?)

Speaking of gifts, you may or may not be aware that Jewish women typically do not have baby showers, although this trend seems to be shifting a bit. But traditionally, it’s not done because of fear of drawing the attention of the evil eye and bad spirits when you celebrate something that isn’t here yet. This is a bummer because I am a big supporter of celebrating this baby, but these age-old superstitions get stuck in your head and ruin a lot of the fun. I’ve felt on-edge most of the entire pregnancy, and having to add Jewish neuroses into the mix doesn’t make it any easier. When my non-Jewish friends talk about how they received everything for their babies at their showers, I feel a bit left out. But I don’t want to upset the Bubbies, so no shower for me… womp womp. It’s okay, there are lots of other great things about being Jewish, like bagels and lox.

Because of these superstitions, some Jewish couples also hold off on buying anything for the baby until he/she is born. No crib, no stroller, no clothes. NOTHING. For someone who needs to plan and prepare, the amount of anxiety around waiting for the birth to purchase a single thing is just too much for me. No thank you. I’ve been holding out as long as possible, but now that we’re starting to countdown the weeks until baby’s arrival, I JUST WANT ALL OF THE THINGS RIGHT NOW. People say, “Babies don’t need anything, just your love, don’t worry!” Ummm yah right. Babies need things. I need things. We both need things and are very excited to get things. I will not let superstition deprive us of the joy of material goods. We’ve already received some gifts and I’ve bought a few sleepers and books and just having these things makes me SO happy. So all that to say, I will compromise with no shower, but still setting up baby’s room before his expected date of arrival. And I feel okay about that conclusion. I assume that the evil spirits are bored with me at this point anyway.

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Need to find a matching Winnie the Pooh onesie for myself STAT.

To be honest, the financial costs that come with having a baby have been a big source of stress lately. I keep adding up all the immediate things we need to get and the ongoing things we will need to buy, and future dreams of buying a proper house in a city where it’s impossible to do so, and astronomical daycare fees, car payments, etc. etc., and then I end up wondering why anyone chooses to have children in the first place. It’s kind of a crazy thing to do.

But then the little guy kicks me and I can feel his tiny feet under my hand and I watch him as he wiggles around in there and I think, I would literally give up buying anything for myself ever again and give up anything else in life I ever thought I wanted just to be able to hold this little miracle in my arms and it’s all so worth it because he makes me happier than anything else in the world, and he’s not even here yet. So okay, baby, you win. I will buy you things. Just try not to give me too much ‘tude when you’re a teenager and we’ll call it even.

In terms of how I am feeling physically, which is another popular topic of discussion, I’m feeling pretty great. I’ve had some wicked bad leg cramps, which have left me screaming and crying on more than one occasion and sleeping is no longer enjoyable for me. But otherwise, can’t complain. My belly is getting quite large, and admittedly, I love it. Maybe I won’t so much in a few months when I’m trying to lose it. But for now, I’m lovin’ livin’ large. My entire life I’ve felt like I had to suck my stomach in after having a big meal, and now I get to just push it out and no one knows if it’s baby or bloat and, let me tell you, IT IS AWESOME. What a perk.

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Ice cream? Baby? Who knows!

I know the next couple months will bring increasing discomfort and I know the actual birthing of the child thing won’t be a walk in the park. But I feel strangely at ease about it all (for now, at least), albeit totally unprepared. I feel like my body has been through so much trauma that it wasn’t meant to endure, and somehow made it through. This time, it’s going through something it was made for, and that just feels a whole lot better. And at the end of it, I will get the greatest prize of all, which seems well worth any temporary pain and agony.

Oh my little baby, you have no idea how excited we are to meet you.

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Life finds a way

When thinking of what to title this blog post, a post I’ve been imagining writing for a long time, the voice of Jeff Goldblum immediately popped in my head. In Jurassic Park, one of my childhood faves, his character utters the now famous line, “Life, uh, finds a way.” Although referring to dinosaurs and their ability to breed in that particular case, the line came to mind when thinking about my own little (far less destructive) miracle that has found its way into existence, despite the odds.

That’s right folks, the rumours are indeed true: I am pregnant. With a baby (not a dinosaur, in case there’s any confusion there). And not just a baby, but a baby boy. A real, live baby boy. Ain’t that somethin’?

For a quick recap: you may recall that I was taking cancer-fighting drugs that prevented me from having a child. You may also recall that I had a type of chemotherapy that put me at risk for damaging my ovarian reserve. You may not recall any of this, because it’s in your rearview mirror and you are likely thinking about other things, as you should be. But I have not thought about other things. Ok, that’s not entirely true. Occasionally I think about pizza, or last night’s Bachelor episode. But a lot of my brain power has gone to thinking about babies. Wondering if that possibility was lost for me. Wondering if I should take the risk. Researching, reading, discussing, deciding, trying to sort through it all the best that I could.

My decision to attempt pregnancy was not made lightly. It was agonizing. At times, it still is. My anxiety has been sky-high, as I wrestle with nerves around the pregnancy itself after encountering a bumpy start which made me hesitant to share my news. My excitement has been tempered with familiar fears creeping their way back in, fears about my own health and how my survival now feels even more critical. I feel like the last time I got really excited about life, I was hit with a bomb, and I worry (irrationally, but still) that I might somehow jinx this good fortune if I put it out into the world.

But after waiting patiently on the sidelines for the last several years, watching baby announcements flood my social media feeds, celebrating the births of my friends’ and family’s children, I want to enjoy this moment in time, this moment I’ve waited so long for. I want to share it. I want you to know that miracles can happen. I want you to know that good things can happen. But mostly I want myself to know that good things can happen. It is possible. It has to be. It’s happening right now, as I feel my son swimming around inside of me.

Good things can happen.

 

My hope for future young women with breast cancer

 

I always took it for granted that I would, someday, have children.

I never grappled with the decision of whether or not motherhood was for me, or thought of what my life might be like without kids. I made mental notes of my favourite baby names, and imagined what they might look like. After meeting and marrying my husband, the desire to start a family grew stronger. Maybe she’ll have his eyes and my mouth, I thought. I hope he gets my husband’s athletic ability, and not mine. I dreamed and planned and let my mind wander to a future that I thought was secure.

I made an appointment with my doctor, thinking maybe we’d broach the subject of stopping my birth control pill. I felt nervous and giddy at the thought. How did I get here? Was I really ready for this? What if there was a problem?

And then, there was a problem.

A week before my doctor’s appointment, I found a lump in my breast.

I changed the purpose of the appointment to talk about boobs instead of babies. And after several tests and a couple weeks of waiting, I received the diagnosis. Breast cancer. I had just celebrated my 28th birthday and had been married for less than a year. And, ironically, I did end up coming off my pill, but not for the reason I had intended; rather, the breast cancer I had was fueled by estrogen (a main ingredient of the birth control pill), so I was told to immediately stop taking it. No more pill. But no baby either. To say things were not going according to plan would be a massive understatement.

In the same conversation where I learned I had an invasive, aggressive breast cancer, I also learned that the chemotherapy I’d need to undergo could cause fertility issues. Major double whammy.

At first anything other than the fact that I might die seemed inconsequential. But after taking some time to process everything and meeting with a fertility specialist, the reality set in that there was now a possibility I’d never have children. I was devastated.

I considered undergoing fertility preservation treatment and went through the initial steps, but ultimately pulled out at the eleventh hour due to timing factors, enrolling myself in a clinical trial, and not being comfortable at that point with injecting hormones into my body. We decided to accept the risks, and hope for the best.

Now I am two and a half years past my diagnosis, and my baby-making clock is ticking once again. Time to get a move on, right?

Not so fast.

Because my cancer was hormone-sensitive, I need to take a drug called Tamoxifen that is proven to reduce the risk of the cancer returning and possibly spreading to another part of my body. The newest recommendation is to stay on this drug for 10 years. Great news, right? A drug that could actually help keep me alive. I am lucky to have that option.

Unfortunately, hormonal therapy for cancer comes with a whack of side effects. The biggest one for me is that I’ve been told not to get pregnant while taking it, due to its potential to cause birth defects.

I am 30 years old now and have been taking Tamoxifen for almost two years. If I stay the course of 5-10 years, and take into account my chemo-aged ovaries… well, you can do the math.

So now I find myself again in a sticky situation, forced to make another difficult decision on top of the ones I’ve already had to face. (Fertility presevation? Double or single mastectomy? Radiation? Reconstruction? Cancer has a way of forcing you to be decisive.)

The way I usually make my decisions is to do read up on all the research and literature I can possibly find. But in this case, there are no studies assessing the risk of pausing hormonal therapy to get pregnant. Zilch! As Dr. Susan Love writes, “We are frequently asked what would happen if a woman stopped taking tamoxifen between two years and five years, and the truth is that we just don’t know because we have no studies that have looked at that question. …Because there is no data to support stopping early, this has to be a personal decision, and it is undoubtedly not an easy decision for many women to make.”

I constantly toss scenarios around in my head, playing out the various possibilities. What if I continue treatment, and by the time I’m done, I’ve missed my window to get pregnant? What if I stop taking my pill, get pregnant, and I end up dying and not being able to raise the kid I just had? What if I take a break, get pregnant, go back on Tamoxifen and we all live happily ever after? (Obviously this third scenario is the one I cross my fingers for.)

In my case, these are the cards I’ve been dealt, and I won’t be able to get the answers I need by the time I need them. But the really good news is that young women with breast cancer in the future will have the data they need to make an informed decision.

The POSITIVE ‘Baby Time’ trial will investigate if interrupting hormonal (endocrine) therapy to get pregnant increases the risk of breast cancer recurrence. This is the exact study that, had it been done ten years ago, I might not find myself in the situation I’m in right now.

I’m so excited and proud that Rethink Breast Cancer is committing to funding the Canadian arm of this international trial. They need to raise a lot of money to make this happen, so please give generously! Your contribution will make a huge difference to so many young women who one day may be walking the same path I’m on. And let me tell you, anything that can make that journey even a little bit easier, is worth doing.

And as for me, I’m not sure where my choices might lead me, or how this story will end. But I have hope. Hope that I’ll have the family I wanted, hope that I’ll live to see that family grow, and hope that pregnancy will be a possibility for all those young women who follow behind me in the years to come.

There is always hope.