cw: body image, cancer, infertility
“I didn’t know you were expecting!”
Well-meaning words, the speaker wanting to share in your happiness. They come from a place of joy, not malicious intent.
And yet, they cut deep.
Five years ago, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. I had a single mastectomy then to remove the cancer from my body. I made the decision then to not get reconstructive surgery. It would have meant two to three more surgeries, plus no guarantee of a successful reconstruction.
Last year, I had a prophylactic (preventative) mastectomy to reduce the risk of cancer returning. I still decided to forgo plastic surgery. I’d always felt a little uncomfortable with my breasts. They drew attention I didn’t always want. Men would talk only to my chest and not to me. Bras were annoying and never fit quite right, sometimes they chafed. They got in the way a lot. Not having breasts felt freeing.
I have prosthetics that I can wear, but most of the time I don’t bother. I was mostly content in my new flatness. This is my body now, literal scars and all.
Then the pandemic restrictions started to lift. I had to go back to the office. I had to go out more and more. I saw more people. The well-meaning comments about my possible pregnancy began.
My weight tends to go to my belly. Not having breasts makes my belly really obvious.
The last five year have been exceptionally difficult for me and my husband. One difficult circumstance after another has landed in our laps, in addition to a global pandemic. Trauma does things to bodies, and I’ve put on more weight.
I’ve always been self-conscious about my belly. I look at photos of myself from ten and twenty years ago and feel sad for the person I was who thought she was fat. I hate that feeling fat made me feel bad about myself then, that I felt ugly and unworthy. I hate that it still makes me feel bad about myself. I’ve been working hard to untangle these feelings about my weight and my looks, to repair some of my learned beliefs. To feel like my body is worthy.
And while the pregnancy comments do trigger my self-esteem regarding my weight, they cut even deeper than that. They’re a reminder of a dream that is just out of my grasp right now.
Blair and I have been trying to expand our family with a kiddo for six years. A year of trying ourselves before the cancer bomb went off. Then having my eggs harvested in between having a traumatic surgery and starting chemotherapy. Then learning that the hormones a body needs to make a baby are exactly what my cancer likes to eat. Years of processing this grief that my body won’t do what it should do, working through the guilt and the loss. Making the big (and expensive) decision to pursue surrogacy. Putting our hearts on our sleeves to find a surrogate. Trying once, twice, three times with no success. Still putting our hopes out into the universe and putting our hearts into someone else’s hands.
My belly is a reminder of grief and loss, of pain and struggle and sacrifice. It’s a reminder of a story not yet finished; a reminder of dreams not yet reached.
No, I’m not expecting. I’m hoping and hanging on.