tiltingheads

Cancer and other stuff

One chapter

I’ve recently finished reading “How To Be A Woman” by Caitlin Moran. Some of you will know first-hand how funny it is and if you live in London and use public transport, you’re almost bound to have seen at least one woman glued to it in the last week probably laughing her head off. If you don’t know it, get it – you don’t need to know what it’s about, just get it. It’s been ages since I read a good book and, wandering round Waterstones, there it was. I’d been a bit sceptical about it, thinking it would all be right-on girl power etc etc which I’m not keen on but I had seen women on buses and tubes chuckling away reading it so I thought, well it’ll give me a laugh if nothing else and I could do with one of them. I was also a little dubious flicking through seeing chapters about boobs and having kids – having breast cancer kinda leaves you ever so slightly out of ‘the gang’ when it comes to this stuff, or so I thought anyway. So my rationale was: “well I’m sure I’ll have a giggle and there might even be certain ways this book reaches out to me as a girl, but probably not as a woman with breast cancer and all the complex questions and quandaries that raises, which is infinitely more serious, Caitlin.” I don’t think I could have been more wrong, there is something for every man, woman and stupid dog in this book. Read it and you’ll know what I mean. The chapter that really opened my eyes, in one sitting in the chemo suite recently is called “why not to have children.” Context: It’s very very unlikely I can have children. Not only would it be dangerous for me to come off my drugs for 9 months, there would be risks to the baby and anyway Alison reminded me this week that I’m likely to have been rendered permanently infertile thanks to these drugs (and all the rest of the poison I’ve ingested and had injected into me over the past two years). Caitlin Moran has two children and in the previous chapter, “why you should have children” which I was dreading a bit as I knew what was coming, she talks about what it’s like to have a child, how they utterly change your life, your view of yourself and she describes one scene where she is in the bath with her daughters, everyone’s biting each other’s faces and laughing and her husband takes a picture, and I thought – ‘there, that’s it’ – the one beautiful, heartbreaking moment I will never have and I’m sure the mothers among you will have your own versions of that bath scene. But, and here’s where she got me, more than any counsellor ever could, she explained that it’s OK TO NOT REPRODUCE, for whatever reason. Not passing on my DNA does not make me any less of a woman or, more importantly, a person. Which is all women are, humans. People who should try and be good and live useful, honest lives in the same way men should. My reason for being is not just to pop a couple out. It might have been 50 years ago but it’s not now. And I really get that now, I’ve had to. It will never, ever be acceptable to me that I won’t be a mother and it will never, ever not be devastating. I’m not OK with it, at all. But I’m getting there. Loads of people have rightly pointed out that there are ways round this – adoption being the obvious way and we all know there are millions of children round the world who need a mother and a family. But having cancer makes things really, really difficult on that front and I just don’t think I could put myself through that. The crucial thing though, is that what kind of life would I be able to give a child the way things are at the moment (note, I am aware that “you just don’t know, do you?” my situation may change in the future so I’ll maybe revise my thinking then). My life revolves around hospitals and treatment, highs and lows and for me personally, I don’t want to involve an innocent child in any of that. I’m knackered and drained enough in every possible way a lot of the time as it is. If I were to be a mother, I would want to devote myself utterly to that child and the desperately sad thing is that I just can’t. Not at the moment. It would be v easy for me to say “screw it, I WANT a child” but it wouldn’t feel fair. And IF the statistics are to be believed then there’s a fair chance I won’t be around long enough to raise a child to adulthood anyway. Mothers aren’t supposed to leave their kids while they still need them. Of course it happens, all the time sadly, but having some form of vague idea about my own life expectancy means I’m just not cool with knowingly bringing a child into my world when I might have to leave them when they are still quite little. It’s a personal decision, not everyone feels the same and I’m not expecting them to. It’s just how I feel. So basically, largely thanks to Caitlin Moran weirdly, I’ve made the very sad and reluctant decision to give up any plans for motherhood. At least for the time being. It’s mainly been forced on me anyway but constantly fighting against it and wailing about it is not going to help me. There are certain things I just have to accept, I’m picking my battles a lot of the time. I now see that there are lots of ways I can find fulfilment – I’m lucky enough to have lots of great things in my life, things I’m passionate about and can devote myself to, things that mean something to me. I was wondering how I was ever going to deal with and process the thought of a childless future but I’m a little bit closer to finding some peace with it. And any progress towards peace and calm when you’ve got this kind of insanity in your life is a good thing.

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