In this blog, Emily reflects on her experiences of a different type of grief and bereavement, infertility following cancer. If that is a particularly sensitive subject for you, you might want to skip past this blog. If you have a story about grief to share, or advice for others, please get in touch.
I understand full well how it feels to lose someone you love dearly. My Dad suffered with cancer for a few years before he sadly passed away in 2012, when I was seventeen years old. I’ve been learning to deal with the loss of my Dad; not having him be there for special occasions such as graduating University, moving abroad, and birthdays. However, the hardest thing has been not having him there for me through my own battles with cancer.
Lots of people talk or write about the pain and grief that comes with losing a loved one, but no one really talks about the pain and grief that comes with finding out you are never going to be able to have children of your own. I think it is important to talk about this, and be open and honest about the emotions and feelings that this brings with it.
I had my first ovary taken out in 2017 when I was 22, along with a tumour. Earlier this year, just weeks before lockdown, I had my other ovary removed, again, along with a tumour. Being told that I had ovarian cancer once was hard enough. Having it again and becoming infertile at the same time was crushing. To then have to recover from a major operation whilst coming to terms with everything, without being able to just go and see my friends earlier this year, was challenging to say the least. I found myself wondering what my Dad would have said if he were still alive.
A different kind of bereavement…
It has been hard coming to terms with it all. I’ve felt angry; I’ve felt apathetic; I’ve felt alone; I’ve felt relieved, and I’ve wondered if I’d been going mad with all the emotions I felt. But most of all, I have tried to tell myself that I am lucky to have my health and that not being able to have children of my own isn’t a massive deal breaker because I can still make a difference to the lives of children and young people by being a teacher, and even a foster parent.
Finding out you’re not going to be have children is certainly a different kind of bereavement because it is a type of loss. For me, it sometimes feels like I’ve lost the right to call myself a woman. And I feel awkward when people ask “do you want children in the future?” Because how do I answer such a question, honestly, without making them feel awkward?
I think it is important to keep talking about this openly and honestly because it is a reality for many people and it is a tough, sometimes isolating experience. But, I have also learnt that friends will try to understand and they will be there for you – whether it is a shoulder to cry on, a hug, an ear to listen, or even just someone to sit in silence with.