I sat in stunned silence staring at the ER doctor trying to process what she had just said. I was in an auto accident ― a distracted driver ran a red light on a clear, sunny day at 12:15 in the afternoon. I went to the emergency room with minor injuries seeking reassurance they weren’t major injuries. I had a CT scan, a couple of X-rays, and I peed in a cup. The doctor had just disclosed the results to me: concussion, contusions, cuts, oh, and I’m pregnant.
There must be some mistake. She looked at me like she was waiting for me to say something, and I looked at her like one of us doesn’t know how menopause works, and it better not be me. (Spoiler alert: It was me.)
“But I’m five years menopausal,” I managed to stammer.
“Do you still have all your organs?” she asked.
At this point I uttered an expletive and fell back in my chair hitting my already concussed head on the wall. I do have all my organs.
She told me to follow up with a blood test at my regular doctor because it’s more accurate.
Panic set in. I did what any Floridian would do in an emergency: I went straight to Publix. I bought a twin pack of pregnancy tests and went home. Both of them were negative. It must have been cross-contamination, I told myself. But I go for the blood test anyway. This is no time to be sloppy.
The following day at my doctor’s office, she agreed that she can trace my menopause back seven years, and yes, I’m still “pregnant” via urine test. (Dammit!)
Bloodwork also came back positive. It was at this point, and with basically every doctor that I talked to over the span of the next two weeks, that I discovered a woman can absolutely get pregnant during menopause ― they just don’t have any way of knowing. The room was spinning. I thought I might throw up and pass out.
The next step was to have an ultrasound, but they couldn’t get me on the schedule for a month. A month. How pregnant am I? If you go by LMP (last menstrual period), I’m 53 months pregnant. I laugh to myself. I need that ultrasound now. I can’t wait a month!
After a few days of making frantic phone calls, it became apparent that the only way I was going to get any answers was to go back to the ER ― they could order a test and return same-day results. This time I was told there was no detectable pregnancy and that I should have a follow-up appointment for ovarian cancer.
Amazingly, the doctor was still not 100% willing to state I’m not pregnant ― he gave it a 99.8%. Even as he was discussing the levels of hormones they detected, I know for a fact that I’m not. They would be detecting a pregnancy that is just hours or days old, so unless I was drugged and raped, it’s something else ― most likely ovarian cancer. (I’m still waiting for a final batch of tests that will confirm my diagnosis.)
A wave of relief washed over me. The weight of the stress and anxiety I’d been carrying around suddenly lifted from my shoulders. A faint chorus of angels sang only to me.
Yes, cancer was a relief over pregnancy.
For starters, I don’t have to choose from one of three horrific options:
1. Keeping a child that I can’t afford and don’t want to raise at this age (spending the next 18 years and at least $250,000 to raise him/her/them).
2. Mentally scarring myself and the kids I do have by putting it up for adoption (sorry ― we can’t keep your sister).
3. Termination (if that’s even an option ― who knows how pregnant I could be).
Instead, I have one easy path forward: aggressively treat the cancer.
Furthermore, I don’t have to disclose my sex life to anyone, explain how I “let this happen,” or deal with any social stigma for being a single, unwed mother. I don’t have to replace my clothes, lose control of my body, or wear my diagnosis for everyone to see, comment on, and rub. Pregnancy is public. Cancer is private ― no one will know unless I tell them.
With cancer, disease or dysfunction, there is no government intervention or regulation restricting care. Nor can the pharmacist embarrass me by refusing to fill my medication for religious reasons. No one claims cancer cells have a right to thrive.
I don’t know what the cancer treatment will entail, but I do know that with every previous pregnancy, the morning sickness was debilitating. I threw up 15 hours a day, for weeks straight. I would lie on the cold tile of the bathroom floor for proximity to the toilet and the cooling relief from the heat of my face, clutching an ultrasound photo of my twins, trying to convince myself it was going to be worth this hell to produce two healthy babies. Pregnancy isn’t easy, even if we somehow manage to make it look effortless.
Don’t get me wrong: I know that my cancer might be fatal. But so might a pregnancy ― especially if Roe v. Wade is overturned. I almost died in my last one: It was heterotopic. As I type this, some states are trying to make surviving that illegal. The U.S. already has the highest maternal mortality rate of the developed world and that was when we had access to complete health care. I talk to my twins about that. They would have lost me (and their little brother) at age 11 if it was illegal to remove the wayward fetus stuck to my fallopian tube. “Right to life” somehow doesn’t include the mom’s life anymore (or any other fetuses in a multi-gestational pregnancy).
As women and people with uteruses, we must now consider whether our partner’s orgasm is worth our lives. With Roe gone, there would be no distinction between consenting to sex and consenting to conception.
There is no longer any room for error. When and where our partner orgasms is the only controllable part of the equation ― and the control is not ours. Nor can we control ovulation, conception, implantation, gestation or birth ― the only part of the biological process we have any say over is sex. And sometimes, through force or coercion, we don’t even get a say in that. Yet we are held completely accountable for whatever may come from the act. It is our lives that will be forever changed. Men might have to pay child support. Rapists might go to jail. The baby is always our burden.
The message the government is sending is that it doesn’t matter what you do or where you are in life: As a woman, there is no greater contribution to society than your ability to reproduce. You could be a scientist working on treating or curing COVID, a Supreme Court justice (looking at you, Amy Coney Barrett), a student, a cancer patient, a woman being beaten within inches of her life on a weekly basis, a trans person mid-transition ― it doesn’t matter: You are expected to birth a child whether you can or not, whether you should or not, whether you want to or not, and whether you consented to or not.
At what point did women cease to be autonomous people promised life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and start to become assets of the government tasked to reproduce?
I’m afraid to have sex now. I know that I have had difficult pregnancies. I know that I might not be allowed to survive the same pregnancy as my last one if Roe is overturned. And now I know that I can get pregnant even through menopause and back-up birth control, and if I do, I won’t have any idea until the vomiting starts. By then it will be too late. It’s the stuff of nightmares.
Cancer might be fatal, but during my heterotopic pregnancy it only took four weeks after conception (six weeks of a pregnancy!) for my fallopian tube to rupture, causing internal bleeding so badly that doctors couldn’t see my organs because of all the blood spilling into my abdomen. If Roe is overturned and some trigger laws go into effect, some women will find themselves with a four-week expectation of life. I have twins graduating college in December and I really want to be here for that. How could I possibly engage in behavior that might kill me before I see that milestone?
As sick as it may be, yes, when compared to pregnancy, the possibility of having ovarian cancer is a relief.
Monica Fox has an MBA from the University of Florida and has spent 17 years in nonprofit management. She is the proud mom to three genius sons.