When Being the Best Mom Means Not Being a Mom

I’ve wanted to be a mother since about the age of 5, and have memories of playing with my plastic Honey Doll, pretending she was a newborn that needed to be cared for. My desire for kids just grew stronger over the years. In my 20s and 30s, every time I dated someone new, I would immediately (and quite prematurely) fantasize what our children would look like. Would they have his deep-set brown eyes and slightly dimpled chin? Would they have my thirst for knowledge and perfectly thick eyebrows? I have had baby’s names stored in my back pocket, ready to be pulled out as quickly as my wallet. Penelope and Spencer are currently my two favorites.

Motherhood was something I always knew would happen to me, and after getting married at almost 38, I was excited to get started. Dave and I got to work right away while honeymooning in Thailand.

Ten weeks later, I got my cancer diagnosis and all bets were off.

As mentioned in my last post, I had surgery that left me unable to carry my own child. I had a full hysterectomy at the tender age of 38, sending me into early menopause that thankfully hasn’t included hot flashes and night sweats, but has left me barren and empty. My hopes of natural motherhood were wiped away with a 10-hour surgery, and a nine-inch scar down my abdomen serves as a daily reminder of my shattered dreams.

In the months after my successful surgery, which was classified as “full cytoreduction,” Dave and I began discussing our alternatives as I was given a clean bill of health. We ultimately decided to put the conversation on hold for a year just to make sure. But as the months went on and my scans kept coming back clean, I got baby on the brain and starting investigating adoption and fostering. Neither turned out to be reasonable options for us. Adoption requires me to be cancer-free for five years, and after cajoling Dave into meeting with a foster counselor, we were blown away at the time commitment that was needed to accommodate the birth parents throughout the week.

We even explored surrogacy. Because we had planned ahead, we had “kiddie pops” (my pet name for our frozen embryos), so the option of surrogacy was on the table. However, we quickly discovered that using an agency can often run north of $100,000. So, like every challenge I faced, I devised a solution to this one as well. With a little help from Craig’s List, I found someone in LA willing to be our surrogate, thus avoiding the high agency fees.

Dave was adamantly against this idea and argued that “one finds furniture and Dodger tickets on Craig’s List, not a womb.” I knew it was a crazy idea to rent a womb from someone trolling the web looking to make extra cash, but I was desperate and she was ideal: She had been a surrogate several years before, was willing with work independent of an agency and lived 20 minutes from us. In my mind, this was really going to happen. We were going to have a baby.

Then the cancer returned, and I went from being physically incapable of having children to mentally incapable of wanting them. It didn’t matter if we had all the money in the world for surrogacy; the reality is that I face an aggressive stage 4 cancer and the odds are against me for surviving long-term. It just isn’t fair to bring a child into this world knowing our time together would be limited and that someday, I would be leaving him or her motherless.

I’ve gotten mixed reactions from this decision. I’ve heard that “no one knows what their future brings and you could get hit by a bus tomorrow.” I’m sorry, while I appreciate the sentiment about how precious life is, I don’t know anyone that has ever been killed by a bus, do you? While I do agree we all face the unknown, and that I could be the one-in-a-million miracle, the long-term survival rate for my appendix cancer is simply too much of a chance for me to take. In my heart, it seems like the right thing to do.

And while I am grateful for the support I have, I often feel there is no one who can relate to my unique scenario, as infertility message boards and support groups are filled with women TTC (trying to conceive) with IVF, adoption or even surrogacy.

I admit to being incredibly envious of my friends who either have kids or still have motherhood in their future. I am not like them and never will be. I’m infertile and going to stay that way. Dave even suggested that we donate our kiddie pops to research, as they are never going to be used.

There needs to be more support for women like me: relatively young, childless not by choice and facing cancer or some other life-impacting disease; women like me who ache every time they see a stroller or hear the delicious laugh of an infant; women who desperately want to be a mom but will never have the opportunity.

But for now, I count my blessings. I am the stepmother to two precious girls who consider me a parent. We have an incredibly close relationship and they help fill the void of mommyhood. If I do beat the odds and live out my years cancer-free, I might regret the decision I made to not have a baby. But for now, I am being a mom the best way I can — by not having a baby.

This was originally published in The Huffington Post