The Real Island of Misfit Toys

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I think of Manhattan island as the real island of misfit toys. It’s a place where not being in the mainstream sort of is the mainstream. I guess I can only offer my own perspective on things. So here goes some gratuitous over sharing:

As a 38 year old professional woman who is still thus far childless, one of the many reasons I prefer to pay the sky high cost of living to stay here in NYC, is because I somehow feel less infertile here (though clearly not entirely less so). Most of my friends and family members have their own children by now and many have moved out to the suburbs. Not always, but sometimes conversations and get-togethers can feel a bit awkward because of the kid stuff. They’ll all want to talk about little Johnnie’s big play at the soccer game or how many hours their child labor took, and while I’m perfectly happy listening to all that (seriously, truly), I personally feel more comfortable discussing the State of the Union Address, Fiscal Cliff deal, or anything other than why I don’t have a kid yet. Since I don’t like to talk about my private travails to too many people, I imagine that they are probably all wondering if I just don’t like children. I secretly fear they must think me cold or unnatural. Am I just being paranoid?

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But, luckily being in the big city, there are people from all walks of life with very differing family circumstances living all round me. Some do have kids; more and more in fact. But other lifestyles are just fine too.

For example, there are many who prefer the company of furry friends over tiny tots: “My dogs are my children”.  Some are too career driven: “I just don’t have time right now”.  Some haven’t found a significant other they want to share the experience with: “I haven’t met Mr. Right yet to ‘co-parent’ with” (I can’t get used to that term somehow).  Some just can’t be bothered or don’t have raising a child as one of their dreams: “I can barely take care of myself”.  And lastly, there are many who just have decided that it wasn’t in the cards for them: “I guess it just wasn’t meant to be”.

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Life has been an interesting journey for me. I have always been very disciplined and career driven. Then, I met my ex-husband in medical school. We eventually married and started what seemed like interminable training for our sub-specialty fields. We felt so young at that time, like there would be plenty of time for children in the future if/when we decided, once all our training was done and we were finally in a good place professionally and financially.

But then, the unexpected and tragic happened. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the uncommonly young age of 31. At the time, I was a fellow in subspecialty training at one of the nation’s leading cancer hospitals. It was incredibly difficult for me to deal with all the repercussions of the diagnosis especially being in a place where seeing metastatic high stage disease on a daily basis was the norm.

Everything happened so fast. I went from being a tired overworked fellow, to feeling a lump in my breast, to surgery, and then chemo in a matter of a few weeks. I had very little time to consider all the consequences of everything I was undertaking. Fear was the leading driver of my every action. To have two positive lymph nodes, all I could think was “Please God, I don’t want to die“. I lost all my hair, which had been fairly long my whole life. I became extremely anxious and couldn’t sleep. I lost a lot of weight. I only got through it all with the help of family and friends who got me to just keep going and take every day one day at a time (and a little help from a magic drug called Ambien).

The period of the treatment seemed to go on forever. But then, suddenly, it was over! It was almost hard to imagine life on the other side of the treatment, but then it was upon me. I think I did what many others in my circumstances before me have done. I had a new perspective on life. I realized that every day was extremely precious and should be seized. I was energized, invigorated, ALIVE!!!!

On the other hand, as is also pretty common, my significant other was mentally drained from the entire experience. That emotional strain coupled with problems he encountered navigating through the early days of his professional career made for a difficult marital situation. It also dawned on me that his procrastination on the kids thing may really have been a reflection on his true lack of desire to start a family. Eventually, things came to a head and for a number of reasons, we both decided that we would be better off apart. But that is a sad story for another day.

This story has a happy ending (maybe?).

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About five years ago, I met my partner and love Roberto. I have mentioned him in several of my other blog posts (check out my New Year’s Resolution posts). If you follow my Sex in the City analogy, this is the version of the story where Carrie (played by yours truly) ends up with Aiden NOT Mr. Bigg. Well, all the stars aligned and we decided that our life would be more complete if we had a baby….All except one star, I guess.

At the time of my cancer diagnosis, I was referred to a specialist who could have helped me preserve my fertility. I had a narrow window of time to determine whether I wanted to delay chemo in order to undergo hormonal stimulation toward harvesting and freezing my eggs. At that time, the specialist seemed to indicate that freezing embryos rather than eggs gave a better result. Whether it was because of my ex’s uncertainty regarding starting a family, fear about what the hormones would do to aggravate my already fragile condition, fear about losing time before the chemo, or a combination of the above, we decided to forgo the ovum preservation and proceed straight to chemo.

Fast forward back to last March, about one year ago. After my five years on Tamoxifen were finally finished, as well as a wash out phase, Roberto and I began trying to have a kid. I resumed regular menstrual cycles which left me hopeful, but after a failed few months, last July (on my birthday) I made an appointment with the same specialist I had seen all those years ago that wanted me to freeze some embryos. He is an extensively published expert at fertility in cancer patients and he has a following of breast cancer survivors because of his expertise. He is good at tweaking the meds so they will be the least harmful but still get the job done. It was my oncologist who originally recommended him.

This infertility thing isn’t easy and takes time. It is fraught with disappointments and extremely costly. I have to admit that although I thoroughly knew what I was going to be up against because of the chemo, I still have days when the frustration of it all is unbearable and the tears start flowing.  But somehow we always keep hope alive.

Coming up, we have another chance to get pregnant at the end of March. Please keep your fingers crossed for us. Until then, I will continue to lie low on the Island of Misfit Toys where I seem to fit in just beautifully with all the other abominable snowmen (named Bumble).
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