When I was a kid, I grew up being pro-life. It’s not a shocker for someone who grew up in a conservative Christian family and attended Christian schools from Pre-K to 8th grade.
Although I later changed my label to pro-choice (I don’t quite remember if it happened in high school or college), my actual attitudes and beliefs toward family planning didn’t change. I had lots of compassion for women who had to figure out if they should raise their child, put their child up for adoption, or abort the child. As both a pro-life and pro-choice advocate at different times in my life, I wanted to focus on improving systems to support mothers and children. When I was a pro-lifer, I didn’t get why some pro-lifers shamed mothers in these situations without holding the fathers accountable. (I now know that the reasons are patriarchy, sexism, and misogyny.)
In retrospect, I realize that being a pro-lifer during my childhood and early teen years caused me to research adoption more. By the time I was in high school, I was determined to adopt a kid with or without a spouse when I was older.
As an adult, I had a few partners where the conversations of family planning came up. Although I was interested in having biological children, I posed the idea of adoption to my partners. Some were more receptive than others.
During my twenties, I took great offense when one of my exes said we could adopt as long as we had our “own children.” I strongly expressed to him that any child of ours—adopted or not—would be our “own children.” He was a sweet guy, but eventually I broke up with him for other important reasons not related to family planning.
Fast forward to my thirties, and I was in a relationship with another man. He already had a son and was open to more children both biologically and adopted. There was just one major problem: A few weeks before my 31st birthday, I realized he had been lying and cheating on me for the entirety of our relationship.
After that breakup, I started rebounding with another ex, having a fling while on vacation, rebounding again with the aforementioned ex, online dating, having an intentional break from any dating, online dating again, trying to choose between two guys I met, opting for the guy who looked more serious and promising (but ended up being an awful person), and rebounding again with the guy I had not chosen before.
With the last guy I mentioned, we both understood that our relationship was not meant to be so serious, but we took each other seriously as humans. We respected each other, and we were honest about what we wanted and didn’t want from each other. We had insightful and interesting conversations. I couldn’t tell you what he was like outside of his apartment other than the first time we met at a bar. He didn’t visit my apartment until after a year and three months of knowing me. (I had no clue he was interested in seeing my place until he suggested it one night.) I couldn’t tell you what his fashion sense was like. However, I could tell you I drank the most delicious wine with him, and he made me a snob about what I drank moving forward.
Then one day we just stopped reaching out to each other. When I last talked to him, he was in the process of deciding which country should be his new home. He was an immigrant in the US, and it was becoming more apparent each month that the US was not going to house him much longer. When I think about how stressful talks about immigration policy could be, it makes sense that we drank so much wine together.
He was planning to move from the US around the same time that I was deciding whether or not to handle unfinished business from my childhood. On August 15, 2017, a friend on Facebook posted this article from The Chicago Tribune titled Illinois wipes out statute of limitations for child sex abuse. As you may know from some of my past posts like Resisting the Attraction to Distraction, I am a survivor of child sexual abuse and grew up in Illinois. I read the article, messaged my friend privately to thank her for posting it, and decided I was going to see how far I could go with my own legal process. As I mentioned in Not Settling for Success, I had been volunteering as a hotline counselor for a rape crisis center for two years at that point. After reading the article about the statute of limitations, I felt the need to focus on advocating for myself.
I kept a journal of my process for navigating the legal system: rape crisis centers, therapists, police officers, detectives, advocacy workers, and supportive friends. On August 17, 2018, which was a year and two days after deciding I wanted to pursue this case legally, I received a call from the police department of my hometown basically telling me I needed to find out more information about my childhood predator. It was my job to find him. Oh, yes! This phone call from the police department also came two months and five days after I had heard any kind of update on the process from my assigned advocate at a nonprofit. I received the phone call when I was at the airport waiting for a flight to Atlanta. During my weekend trip to Atlanta, I decided I didn’t want to pursue this anymore. I filed a police report, and that was further than most survivors get with the legal system.
If you’re paying attention to dates, you will notice that I made the decision to pursue this case legally a couple months before the #MeToo Movement exploded nationally and then globally. Even when I was trying to take a mental break from my specific case, there was always a headline reminding me about it.
Pursuing my own legal case during the #MeToo Movement made me want to strip down what I needed in any relationship to the essentials. As you may have read in My Relationship with Dating, I stated on my dating profile, “What am I looking for? Kindness and authenticity. Regardless of relationship type, those matter most.” Although some people didn’t believe that, it was truly what I needed at the time.
Why is desiring those qualities so unbelievable to some people?
It didn’t mean that I never wanted children, but I didn’t want the desire to have children to drive every single interaction I had with a date. This is why I had become interested more and more in egg freezing. I was still interested in adoption, but a friend told me adoption was more expensive than fertility treatment. Besides, egg freezing had biological time constraints that adoption didn’t have.
In the Fall of 2018, I asked my OBGYN for a referral to a fertility clinic, and she gave me a brochure for one. (Side Note: It was also the same appointment where I mentioned to her that I had an aunt who had died of breast cancer when I was younger. I wanted to know if I needed to get screened for breast cancer early because of this. She told me that having a maternal aunt with breast cancer was not enough reason to get screened early. She isn’t wrong. Most OBGYN’s would agree with her; however, we all know what happened if you read my post Replaying the Chain of Events.)
The fertility clinic had locations all over my metropolitan area. I messaged the clinic on November 16, 2018, to request an appointment. A representative called me, and I scheduled an appointment for December 18, 2018.
December 2018 was hell for me (and little did I know December 2019 would become hell too since that was when I would be diagnosed with breast cancer).
On December 16, 2018, my close friend’s baby died, and my cousin died. Those deaths had no connection to each other.
December 17, I was blogging about my sadness from these deaths and other health issues among my loved ones in Allow Yourself to Just -Be-.
So by the time I was taking the train to my appointment at the fertility clinic on December 18, I re-read the email that the fertility clinic had sent to me weeks earlier. Then I realized I had not requested any of the medical records or completed any of the registration forms I was supposed to have finished seven days prior to my appointment. I was cursing at myself on the train. I decided I would explain my situation and apologize profusely to the receptionist. (In reading the email sent to me, I became aware that I could be charged hundreds of dollars for not completing the proper steps and canceling the appointment in advance.) Luckily, the receptionist took pity on my soul, and I was not charged for the appointment.
Fast forward to November 18, 2019, and I met with my OBGYN and asked her for a referral to a specific reproductive endocrinologist (RE). I explained that I had been overwhelmed with choice the year before and it hadn’t been the best time in my life; therefore, I wanted to give this egg freezing thing another shot. Since she had changed medical practices, she said she was able to refer me to “the best” she knew because that RE worked for her new practice. I called that RE’s office to schedule an appointment. The earliest she could meet was January 17, 2020, because she was so popular.
By December 10, 2019, I felt a lump in my breast. December 13, I had it examined by the doctor on call at my PCP’s office. December 16, I got my first mammogram, ultrasound of the lump, and biopsy all in one visit. December 19, I got a call from the hospital saying that I had breast cancer. December 20, I had a half-day of appointments with different medical providers, and that set the tone for the next few months of cancer treatment.
I had to call the RE’s office to let her know that I went from being an elective patient to a non-elective patient. I tried to meet with her earlier, but the earliest she could meet was January 14, 2020. Throughout multiple conversations, she said to me that the silver lining was that one fertility cycle and one year’s storage of my frozen eggs would be covered by health insurance because I was an oncology patient; with my diagnosis, my egg freezing would be viewed as a medical necessity.
I have cried so many times about my fertility treatment being covered because I was diagnosed with cancer. Prior to my diagnosis, I had wished and had prayed for so long to find an affordable way to freeze my eggs; it only became affordable because I had to have cancer and pay for all of that expensive treatment.
Later I was called by the fertility pharmacy, and the pharmacist asked how soon I needed the drugs. I said now because I needed them soon before my mastectomy. She asked when I was expecting my next period, and I said I wasn’t sure and explained that my period wasn’t “regular” when I was off of birth control. She asked when my last period had happened, and she estimated when I would get my next one. I ended up getting a shipment of fertility drugs on Valentine’s Day.
Not going to lie: That was weird timing.
After my mastectomy on February 24, 2020, I waited and waited for my period.
When I first met with a breast surgeon on December 20, 2019, she told me to go off of birth control. Again, when I’m not on birth control, my period decides to come whenever it wants. It has been that way most of my life.
On March 6, 2020, my period finally came about six weeks after my prior period. I was told that March 7 would count as Day 1 of my fertility cycle because my period had come so late in the day.
On March 8, my friend and I went to the first ultrasound and blood tests of my fertility cycle. There was nobody in the fertility office. I was freaking out because my ultrasound and blood tests had to happen before 8:45am each time. Long story short: My friend and I got directed to another office only to be redirected to the fertility office again. It became clear to us that the employees in the fertility office arrived some time after we got directed to another office. My friend guessed they had gotten thrown off by Spring Forward. Eventually, I got my ultrasound and blood tests on time.
On the evening of March 8, my other friend stopped by my apartment to assist me with my first injections of the cycle. We were watching one of the online instruction videos when she noted that one of my medicines was expired. I called and left a message for the RE on call to explain that it was expired, and I didn’t understand why. He called me, said he had looked at my chart, understood my diagnosis, and told me to inject the expired medicine anyway. He emphasized that in a health situation like mine this was the best option. Then I could call my RE’s office in the morning to explain what I had found. He didn’t think that medicine could expire that quickly.
Actually, I spoke to a nurse in my RE’s office the on March 9, and she told me that medicine could expire that quickly. She explained that compounds specifically have a short shelf life, but she recommended that I call the fertility pharmacy to double-check what I should do in my situation.
That same day, I spoke to the nurse for the fertility pharmacy, and she said that she wished that I had been flagged as an oncology patient. She would’ve been more proactive in reaching out to me and providing me guidance. Her rationale is that most oncology patients don’t anticipate needing fertility treatment so they might need more help along the way than fertility patients who are doing their treatment electively. By the end of our first conversation, she told me that she would have a box of new medicine shipped to me and it would arrive by the evening. She also did her best to comfort me because she could hear how stressed I was about wondering whether or not the expired medicine was going to throw off my fertility treatment.
I pushed through my fertility treatment with assistance from friends with my injections. Meanwhile, the US started to take COVID-19 more seriously. Different people in my social circles were getting mixed messages about how serious it was. I heard about it, but I didn’t know what it meant for my daily life. During my fertility treatment, I was also suffering from a rash around my mastectomy site, which got bad enough on March 13 for me to call the doctor on call in my plastic surgeon’s office. Supposedly, I was allergic to surgical glue, and I was feeling the need for additional steps for treating it. (I will not delve into that too much now, but it was and still is a headache—although it is healing.)
By March 15, I told my friend that I would try to give myself my own injections without anyone around. As much as I appreciated her moral support, it was clear that we needed to practice social distancing the more I read about COVID-19.
The next few days were intense. Through video chat, my friend cheered me on as I did my shots. There were some nights I did the shots before she called.
On St. Patrick’s Day, I gave myself two trigger shots. Within half an hour, I felt nauseous and called the nurse for the fertility pharmacy to ask about side effects. While I was talking to her on the phone, I noticed that my rash looked like it was spreading to my arm. I hung up with the nurse for the fertility pharmacy and called the doctor on call at my plastic surgeon’s office. That plastic surgeon on call advised me to call my PCP’s office since technically the rash was outside of the mastectomy site. I called the the PCP on call and realized she was the same doctor who had examined the lump in my breast on December 13. Her sense was that my arm was experiencing contact dermatitis from the topical powder my plastic surgeon had prescribed to me.
I was nauseous, had a rash from surgical glue, had potential contact dermatitis from the topical medicine to treat the rash, and this was all happening during a pandemic where many people were violating social distancing guidelines—which made me scared of leaving my apartment to seek any medical treatment.
On March 18, I called my RE’s office and then the fertility clinic where my eggs would be retrieved. I wanted to make sure I understood everything I needed to do in advance of my appointment and explained I didn’t know who could drive me yet. There were these forms I had to fill out in advance, but the nurse at the fertility clinic wanted me to know that I could use their tablet to complete my forms. In light of COVID-19, I wanted to complete my forms in advance so I wouldn’t have to touch that tablet.
Aside from asking about precautions I should take for COVID-19, I had tons of questions about anesthesia (which was handled in a separate phone call with someone from the anesthesiology team), the time frame of the egg retrieval, what medicines and fluids I could have in advance since I still needed some Tylenol after my mastectomy, and about really needing somebody to be with me 24 hours after my egg retrieval.
Certainly, due to social distancing, staying with somebody for the full 24 hours wouldn’t be necessary, right?
Wrong. The nurse at the fertility clinic said having somebody monitor me to make sure I was making rational decisions took precedence over any calls for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During my phone call with the nurse, I wondered if it was safe enough for me to do the egg retrieval. She told me that only I could answer that.
I decided to go through with it.
I arranged a ride to/from the egg retrieval through a home health organization. The CEO of the organization said she would drive me, and I asked her to wear a mask. I did as well. I also organized three friends to look after me after my egg retrieval. I would spend most of my 24 hours with one friend and her husband at their house. Then after they left to pick up their college son from the airport, my other friend would pick me up so that I could stay at her house for a few hours. The last friend was a backup in case an emergency happened with anyone else before, during, or after my egg retrieval. I put my friends all in the same group text so that they could communicate with me and one another directly.
On March 19, the CEO of the home health organization drove me to my egg retrieval.
Fast forward to me meeting the doctor who would retrieve my eggs, and he asked me basic questions about myself and what I knew about the procedure. He gave me time to ask my questions, and there were many. He noted how they were all hypothetical.
He looked at my chart one more time. Then he turned to me, looked at me earnestly, and said, “You deserve to be here. You worked really hard to get here.”
I started to tear up as he said that. Then he left the bay where I was lying down. I wanted to use my bare hands to wipe the tears from my eyes, but because of the pandemic I used my nightgown instead.
After several talks with different members of the medical team, including the kind nurse who spoke to me on the phone the day before, I was wheeled into the operating room. It was chilly so they covered me with a blanket when I was on the operating table. There was a hole specifically where I would slide my butt. They helped me lower my upper body onto the table, raise my legs above my body, and place my feet in stirrups. My legs felt like they were in some modification of Happy Baby.
Then I fell asleep from the anesthesia.
I woke up in a bay for recovery. Eventually, my doctor told me the amount of eggs they had retrieved. I started to ask how good that number that was, and he told me it was “fantastic.”
Later that morning while recovering at my friend’s house, I received an email from the fertility clinic. Three-fourths of my eggs were viable for freezing. Almost all of them were mature. Between the number of eggs retrieved and the number of eggs that were mature enough to be frozen, it was considered a successful fertility cycle.
I honestly don’t know how other people endure fertility cycles like this more than once—with or without a cancer diagnosis—with or without a pandemic.
I just knew I had to go to that egg retrieval.
The doctors still considered me a high-priority patient with medical necessity because of my breast cancer diagnosis. If I had chosen not to go to that egg retrieval, I would’ve felt like I was saying there was no hope for me to have the future I dreamed of living. As somebody who works in education and career development, I guide people in reaching their dreams all the time. As somebody who has served as a hotline counselor before, I have talked people through managing their fears, risks, and decision-making processes.
I owed it to myself to manage my own fears and risks while reaching my own dreams.
Now I need this whole country, world, and the Higher Powers that be to cooperate so we could minimize the number of infections and lives lost to this pandemic.
When I was a kid and called myself pro-life, I also cared about each human’s quality of life. Regardless of how I label myself, I will always advocate for systems that support a healthy quality of life and dignity for all individuals.
Soon we’ll find out if our leaders can say the same.