I Lost the Ability to Have Children at 25. This Is What I've Learned

"How could I think about creating another life when I was fighting for my own?" writes model and cancer survivor Elly Mayday

Young Infertility: Model and cancer survivor Elly Mayday

I remember sitting in a large white waiting room. It felt more like a clinical spa than a doctor’s office—but no one there was relaxed.

The other couples in the room sat quietly, waiting for their names to be called. I wasn’t exactly “official” with the guy I had just started dating, so my mother was waiting with me. I figured five dates was too early to bring a potential boyfriend to the fertility clinic. Then again, at 25, I didn’t feel like I was supposed to be there either.

The other pairs of parental hopefuls looked desperate, and their anxiety filled the room. I knew that this appointment could mean a lot to each of them, but to be honest, I was still numb from a different medical appointment I had two weeks before. The news I had learned then, that I had late-stage ovarian cancer, left little room for me to get anxious about my fertility.

I was diagnosed with cancer in June of 2013, and by that time, it had progressed to stage three. It covered the walls of my lower cavity and was slowly creeping up my left side. So, while most women my age were thinking about that job interview next week or the guy they met at the bar last night—I was figuring out how to survive the next foreseeable months.

“We have no choice but to be aggressive,” the fertility specialist said. I was told the drugs used to collect eggs would increase my cancer’s progression. My options were: delay treatment, collect eggs and potentially die or go through treatment right away, forget about having biological children and potentially live.

I was desperate for my life, just mine alone, so those upsetting words didn’t hurt as much as you might expect. I thought to myself, How could I think about creating another life when I was fighting for my own?

Adjusting expectations

We all grow up with this expectation that, it won’t be us. We will be the ones who fall in love, get married and ultimately have children. At least that’s what I thought.

My first major operation was a full hysterectomy. I didn’t know anyone who had gone through this type of procedure at 25. I remembered that one of my aunts had one, but I was much too young to recall the details (not that it was even talked about openly). The 4.5-hour operation would be my first of many.

It was strange to be going through something so unimaginable but at the same time, it felt like my past had prepared me for this challenge.

Having grown up on a farm, I witnessed life and death differently than most kids. When our cattle were calving in the spring, I remember standing on the fence, watching the whole process. Sometimes a calf would be born still, dead, and I would feel so sad for the mother. Other times, the mothers who had their own healthy babies rejected them— not allowing them to feed and wanting nothing to do with them. I still remember one time, when my dad tricked a mother who had a stillborn into accepting a calf who had been rejected by its mother. You could tell she loved it just the same.

That day, I saw the beauty of adoption.

The frequently asked questions

As a young woman, I often get questions like “Do you have children?” or “Do you want children?” I can see why most people consider them harmless. What gets to me, however, is when people push further and ask “why not?”—like the thought that someone can’t reproduce is so uncommon. In fact, one in six Canadian couples will deal with infertility—a figure that has doubled since 1980, according to Statistics Canada. Infertility is not uncommon, we just don’t talk about it.

Even though I can’t have kids, I’m still able to share in my friends’ excitement about their pregnancies . I share in their delight just as any caring friend would—because what would hurt more would to be excluded.

Fielding questions from friends, or strangers is one thing, but discussing infertility with a potential partner can be difficult. It can feel like I’m letting them down in a way, taking something out of their life. I met my current boyfriend two weeks after my diagnosis and I was very honest with him from the start. He accepted this situation, as he had to, in order to be with me—he made “my situation” into “our situation.” And that made all the difference.

Redefining motherhood

I’m now healthy, my cancer is stable, and I just turned 30—a milestone that has me reflecting on everything I’ve been through so far.

I always thought I would live a life unlike many, and boy, was I right about that. The pain and heartache I have felt also allowed me to empathize with women all over the world. Women who feel empty, depressed and damaged due to an inability to create life.

To them I say: What is motherhood?

I’ve always understood motherhood as someone who takes care of others—and I know that I can do that without having to give birth.

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