Google must’ve been having an off day. The websites staring back at me were for people with cancer. I was dealing with a miscarriage at 6.5 weeks—and a healthy dose of associated sadness mixed with a side of self-pity—but surely not malignancy. I was living in Korea, and though my doctor’s English was perfect, something must have gotten lost in translation.
I checked the paper she had handed me and carefully typed the words again into that trusty white box under primary-colored letters: Gestational Trophoblastic Disease. Though I worked in women’s health, these words were foreign to me. Then I hit the “I’m feeling lucky” box. As the same sites popped up—and I reluctantly started reading—I realized that Google never fails and maybe I wasn’t actually that fortunate.
Gestational trophoblastic (jeh-STAY-shuh-nul troh-fuh-BLAS-tik) disease (GTD): a group of rare tumors that involve abnormal growth of cells inside a woman’s uterus. GTD does not develop from cells of the uterus like cervical cancer or endometrial (uterine lining) cancer do. Instead, these tumors start in the cells that would normally develop into the placenta during pregnancy.
Apparently, the human body can turn its most stunning creation into its most heinous. That exact nightmare was playing out inside my uterus.
Through my sobs on our trans-continental connection, I told my mom the devastating news. Amidst tears of her own, she wondered aloud whether I should’ve waited longer after my husband’s cancer treatment to try to conceive. “Mom!” I choked out, “Cancer isn’t an STD!” But it was a road my husband and I had just traveled — and triumphed — together. One I was hoping not to traverse again anytime soon.
Shortly after, I boarded a plane bound for the states (a return already in the works) and embarked upon a year of needles, nausea, and numbness.
I spent a night every week chained to a hospital bed.
When I felt like eating, I ate cupcakes. Serious cupcakes. Cupcakes bigger than my face. It turns out it’s possible to gain weight while on chemo.
I ripped up invitations to friends’ baby showers. I spent my 30th birthday nursing a cocktail of steroids and assorted anti-nausea drugs.
There’s no way to sugarcoat those months of blood draws, injections, and IVs. With the hair loss came countless explanations to incredulous faces.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? I don’t buy it. Somehow that year passed, and on the other side of treatment, I felt drained. Not strong. Months later, when I had my old routine back, I felt grateful—but no stronger. When springtime finally arrived again, all sunny skies and cherry blossoms and bunnies, I once again desperately wanted the thing that had caused this ordeal.
I was now allowed to try again, but only after a mind-boggling odyssey through medical science and an abject lesson in the importance of a second (and third and fourth) opinion. The first doctor mentioned my depleted ovarian reserve and doubted I could get pregnant. The next doctor suggested IVF. Doctor three pointed me to egg donation. If I ever see doctor number four again, I will kiss him on the lips (watch out, Dr. W.). He’d help me, aggressively, but not before I tried a few months of good old fashioned baby-making.
A few weeks later, two glorious pink lines—and a whole lot more nausea—appeared.
My sob story has a fairy-tale ending, and I’m sharing it in the name of National Women’s Health Week. This observance isn’t about chocolate or presents, but it does involve a whole lot of caring. Ladies, pretty please, take care of yourselves and be kind to those around you.
I’ve seen too many women keep their pregnancy sagas bottled up. Infertility and loss—in any of its devastating forms—can feel incredibly isolating, yet affect so many. You never know what someone else is going through (even if they don’t have hair).
I’ve watched too many friends ignore health problems, or accept one doctor’s decree as the final word. Let’s apply that adage about kissing a lot of frogs to our health. See an extra doc, if you can bare and/or afford to—your future and well-being may depend on the right answer from the right one. Mine did.
If you’re going through hell, which we all do at some point, keep going.
A glimpse into my life today reveals exhilarating exhaustion. Each of my three children (THREE! all biologically mine, all conceived naturally) was up at least once last night. I wouldn’t trade these wakeful nights for anything. I’m feeling tired — but also pretty lucky and finally, strong.