Would you po­ten­tially put your life at risk to have a baby?

Stephanie Gil­man po­ten­tially risks her life in or­der to ful­fill her dream of be­ing a mom.

ELLE (Canada) - - In­sider - By Stephanie Gil­man

i’ve never been one to make de­ci­sions eas­ily. Whether it’s or­der­ing a club sand­wich or a Cobb salad, buy­ing a black sweater or a grey one or choos­ing what to watch on Net­flix, I get eas­ily over­whelmed by even the most in­con­se­quen­tial de­ci­sions. So when I was di­ag­nosed with breast can­cer in my 20s nearly four years ago, I was daunted by how many de­ci­sions con­fronted me. And, un­like choos­ing be­tween Gil­more Girls and Scan­dal, some of these choices could ac­tu­ally mean life or death.

Last sum­mer, my on­col­o­gist and I dis­cussed the op­tion of tak­ing a break from ta­mox­ifen, the daily med­i­ca­tion I was tak­ing to pre­vent a re­cur­rence of my can­cer. Al­though I am ex­tremely grate­ful that such a drug ex­ists, the ma­jor down­side—be­sides un­bear­able hot flashes—is that you’re not al­lowed to get preg­nant be­cause its ef­fects could be harm­ful to the fe­tus. The rec­om­mended du­ra­tion is 10 years, which also meant I could miss out on my chance to have a child.

My med­i­cal team knew from the get-go that start­ing a fam­ily was im­por­tant to me, above al­most ev­ery­thing else. We made a deal that we would put the con­ver­sa­tion on hold un­til I made it to the two-year mark. Ini­tially, that sounded like a life­time. But those years quickly passed, and sud­denly I was faced with a massive de­ci­sion: Was I ready to stop my treat­ment?

My on­col­o­gist told me that he didn’t have solid re­search to say I would be okay but he would sup­port my de­ci­sion and en­cour­aged me to move on with my life. My hus­band was also ea­ger for us to start a fam­ily be­cause, like me, he didn’t want can­cer to com­pletely de­rail the life we had planned to­gether. I dis­cussed my de­ci­sion with close friends and fam­ily, hop­ing that some­one could some­how bring me to the “right” an­swer. But, ul­ti­mately, the choice was mine alone.

In my mind, I ob­ses­sively played out all the dark sce­nar­ios I could imag­ine. What if the can­cer came back? What if I died and left my child and hus­band alone? To make mat­ters more com­pli­cated, I didn’t even know if I could get preg­nant, since the chemo­ther­apy that had seeped through my veins may have dam­aged my ovar­ian re­serve. Was it worth tak­ing the risk for some­thing that could very well be im­pos­si­ble? A mere wish, a dream, re­served for healthy, young, fer­tile women, not women who had been di­ag­nosed with an ag­gres­sive form of breast can­cer at age 28?

But amid all the what-ifs, one thought plagued me above all the oth­ers: What if I gave up hope, let fear call the shots and de­prived my­self of the life I was meant to live? That was one risk, I de­cided, I wasn’t will­ing to take.

In Septem­ber 2015, I swal­lowed my fi­nal pill, said a lit­tle prayer to who­ever might be lis­ten­ing and took yet an­other great leap into the un­known. I had to wait a few months be­fore ac­tively try­ing to con­ceive to en­sure that any toxic rem­nants had been washed out. My pe­ri­ods started to re­turn with some reg­u­lar­ity, and I be­gan ob­ses­sively track­ing my ovu­la­tion, learn­ing ev­ery­thing I could about pin­point­ing my fer­tile win­dow. Not ex­actly a care­free ap­proach, but I felt im­mense pres­sure to get preg­nant as quickly as pos­si­ble. Every day that passed felt like I was play­ing with fire. I was stressed not know­ing if or when it would hap­pen and bit­ter that I couldn’t en­joy the process.

Af­ter our third month of try­ing, I took a preg­nancy test. Neg­a­tive. A cou­ple of days later, my pe­riod fol­lowed. It was lighter than usual, but I chalked it up to my body still not h

func­tion­ing prop­erly. I went out and or­dered a cock­tail.

Later that week, I woke up af­ter an in­cred­i­bly long night’s sleep still feel­ing strangely fa­tigued. And for once, in­stead of my brain jump­ing to thoughts of can­cer as the cul­prit, I thought of an­other rea­son for the sud­den on­set of ex­treme ex­haus­tion.

I went to the bath­room and peed on a stick. This time, it was pos­i­tive. I stood in dis­be­lief, not know­ing how to re­act. I took a more ex­pen­sive test. Still pos­i­tive. Didn’t I have my pe­riod? How could this be hap­pen­ing? Was there a hid­den cam­era some­where? Was Ash­ton Kutcher about to pop out from be­hind my shower cur­tain?

My hus­band came home a few min­utes later, and I met him at the top of the stairs.

“I ap­pear to be preg­nant, but I’m bleed­ing,” I told him. Not the way I ex­pected to an­nounce such news to the fa­ther-to-be of my child, but life’s big mo­ments rarely play out the way we imag­ine they will.

De­spite my on­go­ing spot­ting, which tor­mented me and con­vinced me that I was con­stantly on the verge of a mis­car­riage, my early tests told a dif­fer­ent story. There was an ac­tual baby in­side me, grow­ing and de­vel­op­ing as it should. At eight weeks, we saw a heart­beat on the mon­i­tor.

“There it is,” the ul­tra­sound tech said mat­ter- of- factly. She left the room, and my hus­band and I col­lapsed into each other, for the first time feel­ing the re­al­ity of what was hap­pen­ing. Af­ter such a long and crooked road, here we fi­nally were, about to be­come par­ents. A cou­ple of weeks later, we learned that we are hav­ing a boy, mak­ing ev­ery­thing sud­denly feel that much more real.

I’ve had sev­eral check­ups and ul­tra­sounds since then, and each time I’ve been told “The baby looks per­fect.” For a mo­ment, my fears are al­layed. I’m now near­ing 20 weeks’ preg­nant, and I’m fi­nally start­ing to feel com­fort­able telling peo­ple the news, even though I worry that some­thing could still go wrong. I am work­ing hard to trust my body and trust in happy end­ings, de­spite hav­ing gone through a trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence that shook my faith in both of those.

All of the preg­nancy books warn women that they may have in­se­cu­ri­ties about their chang­ing bod­ies, but all I feel is ex­treme pride and joy when I look at my grow­ing bump. I walk around push­ing it out, try­ing to make it look as big as pos­si­ble so peo­ple know there’s a baby in there. I ea­gerly bounce into my doc­tor’s ap­point­ments, anx­ious to hear my lit­tle guy’s heart­beat. When I’m on the exam­in­ing table, I’m still get­ting used to the ex­pe­ri­ence of hav­ing happy tears as op­posed to the sad ones I used to shed in this kind of set­ting. Of course my preg­nancy hasn’t been ef­fort­less; I’ve been nau­se­ated and ex­hausted. But I’ve waited so long to play this part, and there isn’t a mo­ment I’m tak­ing for granted.

Last week, I started to feel my baby mov­ing in­side me, and each day the taps and kicks are grow­ing stronger. My doc­tor says that many women don’t feel their ba­bies this early. I like to think it’s my baby’s way of mak­ing him­self known and re­as­sur­ing me that he’s okay. That we’ll both be okay. Each time I feel him, I stop and I think, even with all of the ter­ri­fy­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties that could be ahead, one thing is for cer­tain: This is the best de­ci­sion I have ever made. n

When I’m on the ex­am­in­ing table, I’m still get­ting used to the ex­pe­ri­ence of hav­ing happy tears as op­posed to the sad ones I used to shed in this kind of set­ting.

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