The fact I’m having a baby is kind of a big deal. Of course, it is you say!! But no, really! Hear me out…
If you’d told me a year ago that my husband and I would be sat amongst other first-time parents, learning about the different stages of labour, how to ‘top and tail’ a baby (side note: that’s midwife speak for giving them a daily wash) and you know, generally keep a little human alive (!) I wouldn’t have believed you.
But here I am, back home after an antenatal class – a whole 34 weeks pregnant, and harboring backache and the increasing need to nap to prove it.
The thing is, as well as being pregnant, I’m living with a brain tumour.
My diagnosis in late 2016 led to more than 18 months of treatment. It included (unsuccessful) surgery, radiotherapy, and 12 cycles of chemotherapy – the latter of which posed a real risk of infertility.
The prospect of starting a family wasn’t at the forefront of my mind given all the other things that were going on. What with my new-ish diagnosis, surgery (swiftly followed by news of inoperability) and needing neuro-rehabilitation to learn to walk again… with hindsight, I’m really grateful that my oncology team suggested (since I didn’t already have any children) that I might want to go ahead with freezing some of my eggs.
Fresh out of hospital (post-surgery), and still unsteady on my feet, I signed the various consent forms, nodding along as the Gynaecologist quoted statistics on the chances of achieving a live birth from frozen eggs in the future, along with the various pros and cons. And then, we got started.
I found the experience super stressful, mostly because of the inherent unpredictability. It was all so iterative: would I have “enough eggs in the bank” to start with? Would the follicles respond? These were questions that could only be answered as we went along – during the time-limited ‘one-shot’ round I was given.
The fact it was sandwiched between brain surgery and the next “phase” of treatment meant there was little time to fully digest it.
On one hand, the treatment turned out to be a huge success – my ovaries responded well, producing enough eggs to warrant removal and storage (finally! Something’s gone right my husband said!). But on the other, I developed Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome in the process. I’d put the severe bloating and tummy ache down to the general side-effects – only mentioning it in passing at my final check-up. Severe cases are rare but dangerous, and I was swiftly admitted for inpatient treatment.
By this point, the date for starting radiotherapy was really close and in the end, I travelled directly from the women’s hospital (after being discharged) to The Christie; arriving just in time for my first dose of brain nuking.
My focus was soon on getting through each round of treatment. Ticking off weeks, and months as they passed, and celebrating every little milestone. I seldom thought about the eggs that were stored in some science lab up the road.
On a subconscious level at least, I guess I knew that making a decision about using my eggs would be challenging in itself. When would be a good time? With my uncertain prognosis – probably never!
Thankfully, in March 2018, after two stable MRI scans over the course of six months, I was able to finish chemotherapy. It was time to get back to normal (whatever that means) and most importantly, start recovering.
You can imagine my disbelief then, when I discovered I’d fallen pregnant just three months later. I was completely astonished!!!
For the first 18 weeks or so, I worried constantly. I couldn’t believe that my body would be able to grow and sustain a new life after being subjected to months and months of gruelling treatment.
Having spent time in an IVF clinic myself – surrounded by other couples all hoping that they too would be starting a new chapter as a family, I’ve been very aware of just how precious this baby is.
After everything I’ve been through, I take nothing for granted. I love my growing bump, and how it acts as a daily reminder that even in the darkest times life can still surprise us.
I think I’d have to conclude now that miracles exist!
You can find out more about my life with a brain tumour on my blog: Upper Story Club and on Instagram.