by Alex Feldt
It took nearly 30 years for me to realize that I wanted to become a mother to human (not just to canine) children. This left my husband, Devin, and me with only a handful of months to dream of growing our family together before my stage four ovarian cancer diagnosis.
Devin and I met in middle school, got to know each other via correspondence while I lived abroad, and started dating when I returned to the States for sophomore year of high school. We’ve been together ever since. As one can imagine, this longevity and level of closeness results in or from (perhaps both) shared interests, opinions, and hopes. For years, one glaring exception to this was the fact that Devin wanted kids, and I didn’t.
While we married and built our life, the topic of children became one we (and those we loved) skirted around lest I fell into a prolonged funk—though no one’s intention, I felt judged or somehow less than a woman (even though I would never think this of someone else). And, I always felt guilty, especially that Devin was losing the opportunity to be a parent. He would make a really, really great dad.
One day, I was surprised to have my mind drift to ways we could convert our second bedroom into a nursery and how we could help our grumpy gus beagle, Fred, adjust to having a bigger baby around. After all my years of protestations and bad moods, I was almost embarrassed to let anyone know that I had changed my mind. But in the end, none of that mattered because Devin and I were just excited for the possibility. Then I was diagnosed and that possibility was gone. It was a hard hit and the timing seemed particularly cruel: wanting something just as it could never be. My one consolation was that now it was a shared loss as opposed to one Devin felt on his own. I was glad that we could grieve together.
My oncologist advised against delaying treatment for even a week to consider or arrange any future fertility options. So, it was straight into chemo and then debulking surgery, hysterectomy, and bowel resection, followed by more chemo. And it was straight into near constant, painful reminders of what we lost. Between my bloating and the placement of my colostomy appliance, people inquire as to when I’m “due”. Events like weddings are tough because everyone wants to share in happy tidings of babies to be. Get togethers at bars are a no go because I’m a rotund teetotaler—I can’t stand the inquisitorial gazes at my abdomen as I drink my water. Medical professionals still ask if there is any possibility that I’m pregnant—read the chart, people! And it often feels like everyone—friends, family, characters on TV shows—are pregnant or have become new parents. And did you know that terminal cancer patients don’t make the most desirable adoption candidates? Well, right or not, we don’t.
Your thirties are an emotionally fraught time for your reproductive system to dash your dreams and try to kill you. Not that any age isn’t. But, come on.
Lately, though, I’ve found the sting of it all is less. My oldest friend (she’s been with me literally since I was born) gave birth to her first baby in January. As she became pregnant, prepared her home and heart to be a mom, and finally welcomed beautiful Ella into the world, I kept waiting for some twinge of jealousy or resentment. It never came. I was only ever just damned excited about that baby and that Ali gets to be her mother.
I also find myself with a greater appreciation of the role I play in the lives of all the moms I’m privileged to know. I’m an aunt, daughter, granddaughter, sister, and friend. I may not get to be a mother-of humans but I am lucky to love and be loved by so may of the best!
And every now and then, in my most optimistic moments, I allow myself to really believe in the promise of new research and treatments that may come in time to allow all these moms and me to hold on to each other for more than the short-term. I could never have enough time to fully express how much they all mean to me.