An Open Letter to Anyone Struggling with Fertility: I See You
The above picture was taken outside the hospital shortly after I was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma—the day I was told that I would likely lose my fertility during treatment and that I didn’t have time to freeze my eggs before starting chemo.
Every human dreads hearing the words, “You have cancer.” To hear these words followed by, “You may never have another baby,” was an out of body experience. To be honest, it’s still hard for me to wrap my head around it two years later.
Up until that moment, I had kept it together after my cancer diagnosis. I stayed positive and encouraged everyone around me that I was going to be OK. Once those words hit my ears, I cried—sobbed, really. It’s jarring to one day be a happy mom to a busy 18-month-old—going to Mommy and Me classes, worrying about my pumping schedule, and planning out the “perfect time” to try for baby number two—to the next day being told I have cancer and that I may never have another child again.
I told my husband, Josh, that I would survive, and that we would survive, but that I really wanted that second baby that we’d dreamed of. Understanding how important this was for me, he proceeded to call the top reproductive endocrinology and infertility doctors and scoured literature on fertility preservation during chemo, hoping to find some “Hail Mary” that would allow me to freeze eggs before starting treatment. We were desperate.
Unfortunately, there truly was no way to make it happen. The cancer was too advanced, and my health status was too tenuous for hormones or to delay cancer treatment any longer. I was put into menopause with a drug called Lupron in hopes that some eggs may make it through the chemo journey. The next day, I started chemo.
I was still breastfeeding my son, Bryce, up until my diagnosis. The second I found out I had cancer, I had to stop nursing and needed to abruptly wean him. I was in the ICU and vividly remember a Labor & Delivery nurse wheeling a breast pump into my room after a procedure. She brought me ice and a nursing bra to help me wean my supply down. She remained pretty quiet as she worked around the drains and bandages to hook me up to the breast pump. Then, out of the blue, she started to cry. “I’m so sorry,” she said to me. “I’ve never cried in front of a patient before, but what you’re going through just isn’t fair…in all these years, I’ve never had to bring a breast pump up to someone like this, and no one should ever go through what you’re going through.”
I remember the emotions just bubbling out of both of us and I cried as I looked down at two drains—one pumping fluid from my heart and the other pumping milk. It just didn’t seem possible that this was my reality. I was mourning that image of what my life was supposed to look like. Life, my life, wasn’t supposed to look like this.
On my hospital bed hung a pair of boxing gloves that were gifted to me from my husband and family. As I channeled my inner warrior (or as my dad said, my inner Mike Tyson), I wiped my tears, looked at that teary nurse and said, “You’re right, so many things in life aren’t fair. But I promise you with my whole heart, I’ve got this, I’m going to make it through. I’m a fighter, I will get through this, and when I do, I’ll be even stronger on the other side.”
I think about her a lot and what a beautiful soul she is. She thought her tears were unprofessional, and all I could do was sit there and think how fortunate I was that of all the people in the hospital, she was the one that happened to get the assignment to bring that pump to my room. Shortly after that interaction with the nurse, the ICU staff was kind enough and human enough to realize what this momma really needed at that moment, which was to see her child. They unhooked me and wheeled me outside for a cuddle from Bryce and I whispered to him, “I’ve got this, you’ve got this, we’ve got this…I promise.” This mantra has stuck with me since that day because it’s powerful and true. I say it to Bryce, my husband and family, and anyone needing some strength.
That moment when a complete stranger sat next to me and supported me, woman to woman, had a profound impact on me. I’ll never forget it. I’ve always been the motherly type since I was a little girl wanting to help as many people as I could. In that moment, I truly felt that it was my calling in life to support others. I vowed that when cancer or that hospitalization was in my rearview mirror, I would live each day with purpose, share my journey, support as many people as possible, and help my village (which is now Meaning Full Living™) raise the next generation.
As I write this story today, I still don’t know if I have viable eggs, what IVF might look like, or if it will happen. What I do know is life can come hard and fast and without much warning. It sometimes doesn’t make any sense and can drastically change the image of the life you pictured. For me, that picture was a healthy family of two kids, maybe more. Although I don’t know what the new picture will look like, the fight and hope inside of me to have a future with my family and this drive to make a difference propelled me through my treatments and allowed me to get through these hard moments.
I don’t think I’m special or have a power that sets me apart. I think I’m a mom who was handed life-changing news, who genuinely believed I had no other choice but to fight with everything inside me for my son, my husband, and my family. What I hope is that for anyone who is struggling with fertility, cancer, uncertainty, or unfathomable times, my story can help provide comfort that you are not alone—and that you’ve got this.
Infertility and motherhood come in so many different shapes, circumstances, and sizes and no two journeys are the same. I love being a mom and want another baby more than anything, but I also know that I’m incredibly grateful to have been able to have one, which is not the case for so many others suffering from infertility and other circumstances. No matter what it looks like for any of us, there’s so much power in knowing we’re not alone.
So, whoever needs this today: I’ve got this, you’ve got this, we’ve got this…together.
For more on Jess’s story, you can listen to her journey here and check out Meaning Full Living™, the parenting platform and podcast she created with Hayley Hubbard that provides simple, easy-to-use resources to make parenting and life a lot easier and less lonely.