The C-word, Wanda, and happily ever after?
This story begins a decade ago, but stick with me – it has a happy ending! At the age of 22 I had just graduated from University and had completed a year-long post graduate certificate in Corporate Communications Management. I was a small boat on the ocean, armed with five years of post-secondary education and was one of six in my graduation class to land a job in our field in the middle of the 2008 recession. I was ready and excited to take on the corporate world. In between graduation and starting my first job I had a few weeks to get my life together. I spent a day in Toronto searching for my “big girl” apartment, I hung out with friends I hadn’t seen in a while, and I went to the doctors for my annual checkup. Little did I know the big wave heading my way was not the one I had expected.
A few days after my appointment the nurse called with news that knocked the wind right out of my sail. “We found something on your cervix and the test has come back positive for cancerous growths. We need you to come back in for a biopsy.”
The C-word. How could this be? Surely it couldn’t happen to me. I remember calling my then-boyfriend, now husband, collapsing on the floor of my parent’s kitchen, tears streaming down my face, my heart pounding and breaking at the same time, screaming that it wasn’t fair. I told him he could walk away because he didn’t sign up to date a girl with cancer. This big wave was drowning me and I was forgetting to swim.
I remember going to the hospital for my biopsy and being in this sterile room filled with people, wearing one of those glamorous hospital gowns, legs splayed and anxiously waiting for the doctor to arrive. A man turned around, inserted the speculum and dug out a piece of my cervix, pulled the speculum out and turned back around. It lasted a few moments and he never once made eye contact or even addressed me as a human being.
With tears streaming down my face, my whole body began to shake uncontrollably. I felt so violated by this doctor and his team. I remember one nurse telling me I had to pull myself together or else I’d scare the other women in the waiting room. There was no compassion or support for one of the scariest moments of my life. I cried the entire way home.
That moment combined with the diagnosis lit a fire under me. I attacked my treatment like it was my job and I wasn’t about to let anyone else treat me like I was less than. I walked into the oncology department with my head held high, knowing I was going to beat this. I researched, I changed doctors, I went to every appointment, I asked questions and I made them involve me in my own care. Two years later and too many chunks of my cervix cut out, lasered off, or scraped off and I was finally declared cancer-free. Oh happy day!
Strange things started to happen during my treatment that I chalked up to stress or constantly being poked and prodded. My period stopped. I almost fainted on the subway on my way to work one day. I started gaining weight. Acne showed up like I was a teenager again. Clearly this city life was too much for me so I accepted a job an hour away in a much smaller city.
This was it I thought! A chance to leave this awful chapter behind me and start fresh all over again. Life slowed down, but those symptoms didn’t go away. I put on more weight. Suddenly my clothes weren’t fitting anymore, I found some hair on my chin, and finally my period came back but didn’t stop – for two years! I was told it was stress, it was all in my head, if I only lost 10 lbs everything would be better… the most frustrating five years and five doctors later, I was finally diagnosed with Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and told I likely would never naturally have children. Well, fuck.
Again, I threw myself into researching what this all meant. My Endocrinologist prescribed me a progesterone supplement every three months to cause a mock-period. Truth be told, once I got comfortable in my new (larger) skin, managed the acne, and bought a great pair of tweezers, I was content with my “designer period”. I got to choose when to take the medication – on the beach with a daiquiri? It can wait until next week. Have a special anniversary coming up? I can plan around that too. The freedom from a monthly cycle was amazing! Until it wasn’t. Not having a monthly cycle also meant that I wasn’t ovulating. Granted, there were no pregnancy scares, but when we were ready to start a family we were fast tracked right to the fertility clinic.
Here we go again with the poking and prodding. I quickly became friends with Wanda, the lovely trans-vaginal ultrasound wand I had a hot date with every morning. My veins in my arms began to bulge as the nurses found their favourites for blood draws. I cleared my calendar at work every day between 2 – 3 p.m. and waited for the call from my nurse with instructions for the next day. After three months of cycle monitoring the Reproductive Endocrinologist finally decided that yes, I did indeed have PCOS and a very severe case at that. I was quickly swallowed up by this world of infertility, trying to make sense of it all. I joined the TTC Facebook groups, the message boards, and I compared my journey to others. I blamed myself. It felt like I was being punished for something, or this was a clear sign from the Universe that I wasn’t meant to be a mother. “If cancer wasn’t enough to scare you off, Kelly, here’s infertility just to prove my point. Love, the Universe.”
I spent hours crying because I couldn’t do the most basic thing a woman should be able to do. I was broken. But I was also heartbroken for my husband. The man with the A++ sperm picked the woman-but-not-a-real-woman to be his wife. I told him he should have walked away when I gave him the chance all those years ago. Instead, he held me and listened to me. He told me he didn’t want to do life with anyone other than me, children or not. I believed him, but I also knew his heart was breaking too. I decided I’d fight for him until I had the courage to fight for myself.
My first round of Clomid resulted in eight follicles, a cancelled cycle, massive, painful cysts that almost required emergency surgery, followed by three months rest to allow my body to heal. Our next round of Clomid was half of the original prescription. Half the medication should result in half the follicles, right? Wrong. Not a single one grew. Another failed cycle. So here we were ten months into treatment and all I’ve got is bulging veins, dark circles under my eyes, and a wand getting more action than my husband.
I requested an appointment with my doctor and told him we were changing up my treatment. Our conversation went like this: Him - “Why don’t you try to lose weight? You lost 10 lbs last September, what did you do then to lose the weight?” Me – “I got married and was stressed the eff out.” Him – “Oh! You should get divorced and married again!” Me, totally unimpressed by another egotistical male doctor – “Or you could do your job and we could try something else.” I walked out of that appointment with a prescription for Letrozole, a breast cancer drug that had a side effect in women with PCOS falling pregnant. Sign me up! The C-word doesn’t scare me anymore.
We decided to take a month’s break before starting this new treatment. It was Christmas, we had a big trip to Jamaica planned in January, and two of our friends were getting married a week apart. The last thing I needed was to be in the midst of crazy hormones and stressed about making appointments every day. A little liquid therapy was just what the doctor ordered. I was happy to indulge!
My next cycle went perfectly with three beautiful eggs ready to go on trigger day. I was given an injection of a medication called Ovidrel which mimics the natural surges most women have to ovulate and sent home with strict “do it” instructions. My husband was thrilled!
I did all the things the blogs and infertility forums tell you to – I ate pineapple core (not the yummy fruit, just the bland core) for five days, I drank pomegranate juice, I did acupuncture, I always wore socks (warm feet = warm uterus). I would have stood on my head if someone said it helped them get pregnant. That two week wait was torture but we were overjoyed when my beta blood test came back positive! I felt vindicated. Take that doctor! I was right!
At our first scan we saw two sacs, but only one heartbeat. One beautiful heartbeat! That heartbeat’s name is Nora and will soon be turning two. Her birth is a whole other messy story but this miracle has turned my life upside down in the most amazing, beautiful, and challenging ways possible. She reminds me why I kept fighting through all the doctors and through all the tests. She was worth it.
When it came time to give Nora a sibling, we switched fertility clinics to a female-led clinic. I walked in with a no-bullshit attitude and high expectations. To my surprise, but really not all that surprising, the doctor listened to me and asked me what treatment I wanted to do. I wanted Letrozole again so that’s where we decided to start. Cue the daily blood draws and tango with Wanda. Two cycles in and those lovely little pink lines came up again. *Happy Dance!* A few weeks later we went in for an ultrasound and wouldn’t you know it, there were two heartbeats flickering away on that screen. Our reactions couldn’t have been any different - I think my husband stopped breathing and I couldn’t stop swearing. After apologizing profusely for my inner sailor emerging, we were handed a picture of our two beans and sent on our way.
So here we are now, weeks away from finally meeting these two little girls and I still find myself in shock that two humans are growing inside me at once.
After spending my 20’s fighting with doctors about my health, my 30’s have brought me three miracles, a better understanding of myself, my body, my inner bad ass, and permanent birth control! The moral of this story – always fight for yourself because you are worth fighting for.
Kelly is a founding MotherNation member, career woman and mother of (almost) three. She lives in Canada with her husband and children and has spent the past 10 years advocating for herself and women’s rights. If you want to keep up with the Baileys, check her out on Instagram @Kelly_e_bailey.