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Goodbye, Hello

Sep20

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Dear Amy, 

Please, please feel free not to answer this question if it brings up too many sad (or too personal for the internet) memories.

So here’s the deal. I’ve been with my husband for coming-up to four years, we’ve lived together nearly all of that time and we’ve now been married for a few months. Babies have always been on the agenda at some point, and I always thought I’d like to get started before I was 30 (I’m 28). My husband is less driven to reproduce than I am, but he’s willing to dive into it with me and I think he’ll be an excellent father.

About two years ago my mum was diagnosed with cancer (is it ok if I’m not specific?). She’s had two rounds of chemo and a major operation, but small amounts have spread. She is being treated for that at the moment. We don’t know the exact prognosis (my mum doesn’t want to know and I respect that), but my understanding is that it’s likely terminal, but not imminently so.

My mother is my best friend. She is the one I call to tell my big things and my mundane things (along with my husband, obviously). We moved near to her around the same time she was diagnosed (a happy coincidence) and I see her more than I see most of my friends (who live in the next city over). We’ve always been incredibly close.

I’m sure you know all too well that having an ill parent seeps its way into every area of your life and decision making (Wedding planning was fun! Don’t ask me about whether we’re buying a house anytime soon).

Here’s the one I’m struggling with at the moment: Is starting to try for a baby while all of this is going on a terrible idea? 

On the side for starting to try now, I am aware that there are no guarantees with the human body (whether it’s pregnancy or cancer) and starting to try now doesn’t mean that my mum will get to meet my baby, but I know that we’d both be thrilled by however much we were able to share, even if that was just the beginning of a pregnancy. My sibling and I aren’t close and my parents are separated, so the idea of starting our own family is pretty appealing right now, because I know that everything with my family of origin will change once my mum dies (eg. the family home will be gone and Christmas will look very different). I know it’s stupid, but I think I’d feel lost if I didn’t have a mother and I wasn’t someone’s mother (or on the road to that).

There’s also the fact that I feel pretty ready to start trying for a baby now, regardless of anything else. I’ve been baby crazy my whole life and I feel my life has finally caught up with that wish. Because we don’t know how long my mum will be around, the idea of waiting until she’s gone might mean it’s years before we tried AND my mum could have met my baby.

On the downside, sometimes I think the idea of giving my mum somebody else to love and say goodbye to is just a terrible plan and I should leave well enough alone. The idea of losing my mum while being an incredibly emotional new mother sounds like a really bad thing. I also worry that if I was pregnant / a new mother, I might not be able to give my mother all the attention, love and care that she deserves, or I might be so wrapped up in losing my mother / grieving, that I couldn’t give the baby everything it would need. A part of me thinks I just want to rush to the next big life stage because then it would feel like my mum had been around longer.

I know that trying to conceive doesn’t always lead to conception, and I think that terrifies me more than anything – learning we’re infertile at the same time as grieving just sounds like an awful, awful situation to be in.

One huge thing for me on the side of starting now: My mum had me at 40 and I never got to meet her mother, and it looks like my children won’t meet their grandmother either. I want to start my family when I’m a lot younger than my mother was so that hopefully there will be a grandmother in this family at some point.

My now-husband has been an incredible rock throughout my mum’s illness thus far and the whole thing has only convinced me more solidly of the fact that he is an incredible partner and I am so lucky to have him. I have been discussing this with him a lot (as well as giving the decision some space). Our current plan is that we will assess the situation at Christmas and we might start trying then, but we might not.

I feel like I’ve just splurged words at you. I guess I just wanted to know how it was being pregnant when your dad was ill and how his death affected Ike’s babyhood, and what you’d do differently in retrospect? (I am so, so sorry if those questions are insensitive, and please, please don’t answer if it would be too sad for you.)

Yours,
Kate (not my real name, but I like it when posters have a name I can look for in the comments)

So this might be weird, but rather than immediately thinking back to some specific thing from my own experience, your question made me think of Steel Magnolias. (WHAT DOESN’T, AMIRITE?) In particular, the scene after Shelby’s funeral where the pregnant Annelle tells M’Lynn that she’d like to name her baby after Shelby. You can sense that (the perpetually awkward) Annelle is terrified that she’s saying something wrong here, that this gesture is inappropriate, but of course M’Lynn is gracious and brings up Shelby’s old refrain of “Life goes on.”

I know that bringing Steel Freaking Magnolias quotes into this conversation is mega-super cheesy with a side of tree sap, but that’s really been my big takeaway lesson. Life goes on. New lives join, old lives pass, we honor the old and celebrate the new, rinse and repeat.

I won’t bog us all down with a long rehash of my story, but for readers who aren’t familiar: My dad was diagnosed with leukemia right around the time I found out I was pregnant with my third baby. Like, the two bits of information hit me within a couple weeks of each other. The pregnancy was “planned” in the sense that we’d talked about having one more baby, but assumed it would take awhile to happen. BOOM. Already happening. I had eight months to go until my due date; my dad’s prognosis was three to six months.

He made it to six. Ike was born two months later.

Let me further add that my mom was fresh off a breast cancer diagnosis and mastectomy when my first baby was born, and my dad was too ill from heart problems to be there for my second baby’s birth. The photos I have of him meeting Ezra for the first time take place in a hospital bed, the day before surgery. And then of course I have no photos of him and Ike. Oh.

I’m not pulling Pain Olympics moves here; just trying to convey that…well, this is all just life. Messy, imperfect life. If I’d waited for perfectly healthy parents before starting my own family — or tried to schedule a pregnancy during a guaranteed stretch of NO MAJOR LIFE STRESSORS, EVERYBODY JUST BE COOL — I would probably have zero babies right now. Your pro/con list is driving you bonkers, yes, but I sense that maybe even if your mom’s situation wasn’t what it is, you’d STILL be going around in mad mental circles over a completely different pro/con list. (We need a house/we don’t need a house, we should travel/who cares, should I wait for a promotion/should I just plan to stay home, etc. etc. etc. We all do it! It’s amazing anybody ever takes the plunge.)

I can’t help you with the ins and outs your current list — you know there are perfectly logical, practical reasons on both sides, and that you can’t also discount the emotional, less-tangible reasons either. I can’t promise you that the stress won’t make “trying” harder, or that the timing will all work out to a picture-perfect happy ending. I can answer your last question, however, and it’s a no, if I had to go through the whole thing again, I would absolutely positively not do anything differently, pregnancy-timing wise.

For me, the timing was what it was and there was no way through it but through, and I am glad that I had something else to throw my energy and thoughts into. A nursery to decorate and diapers to fuss over and little fetal kicks to feel at night instead of all the sad feelings. Yes, sometimes I felt like I wasn’t able to do “enough” and towards the very end I got very run down and Braxton-Hicks-ish and worried that the stress was harming the baby and that my pregnancy was a just constant reminder to my dad of what he’d miss and gaaaaaahhhhh crazy making. But then life went on. Life passed on, and life renewed. Sad and happy and ugly and beautiful, all at the same time, like always.

And no, the pain of my dad’s death before Ike’s birth did not cloud or diminish my joy over having him or haunt my early months of bonding. My father died and it was very sad. My baby was born and it was very happy. And both of those sentences are ridiculous understatements.

I don’t look back on my pregnancy with Ike and think “that was when my dad got sick and died,” if that makes sense. It has its own timeline. It was my final pregnancy and it was lovely and tiring and I threw up a lot but oh, the belly and the kicking and the anticipation. Pretty much the way I look back on all of my pregnancies, separate from whatever else was going on at the time.

And yet…when I think of my dad’s final illness and his passing, I DO immediately associate it with being pregnant and Ike’s birth.

In my mind, I jump right from this awful moment of saying goodbye at the hospice center to a memory I have of the day I brought Ike home from the hospital. My husband and kids and in-laws are all downstairs being loud and crazy, but Ike and I are in the nursery I obsessed over, alone. I’m rocking him, he’s nursing, he’s in this impossibly tiny onesie and he suddenly looks up at me with these impossibly big, slightly unfocused eyes. And my heart just explodes with every happy, joyful, blissful feeling imaginable— the polar opposite of how I felt out in that hospice hallway, sobbing uncontrollably.

These memories are linked forever, for some reason. It’s a weird, one-way street of colored experiences that I guess is some subconscious way of coping, but it works for me.

Anyway, I am hurling all sorts of disjointed words right back at you. Chuck the pro/con list. You’ve acknowledged and identified the potential cons, and that is enough. Push it all aside and reach into your gut for your answer. (I think you know what it is.) Stop hurling dice into the alternate timelines of infertility/pregnancy/illness/decline/death and live in the current timeline. The one where your mother is, still.  She might be terminal; she might not be, but regardless she is STILL HERE. So are you. So keep going, keep living, rinse and repeat.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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24 Responses to “Goodbye, Hello”

  1. Mary Sep 20 at 12:16 pm Reply Reply

    That was absolutely beautiful, Amy. Thank you for writing the best advice column on the internet.

  2. C Sep 20 at 12:31 pm Reply Reply

    I lost my dad very suddenly 6 months before our wedding. Our five year plan for kids went right out the window after we were married because losing someone you love so very much without a chance to squeeze their hand and say “I’m better because I knew you and I love you” really drove home the old Life is Terribly Terribly Short cliche. So instead of 5 years we waited 5 months. Being pregnant and going through the grieving process was both a blessing and a curse but when that baby came, oh my… just happiness and love and life were leftover. My situation is very different from yours and only you and your partner can make the call but witnessing new life during what was an otherwise pretty dark time really saved me. I wish you and your mom the best.

  3. SKM Sep 20 at 12:38 pm Reply Reply

    “Kate” – hugs and love. You sound like a wonderful, thoughtful person. I am going to have many good, warm thoughts for you and your mom. And no matter what your decision is – you are doing your legwork in thinking this through. What a wonderful daughter you are and what a wonderful mother you will be.

  4. Cassie Sep 20 at 1:23 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you Amy; awesome reply. To Kate, I have a relationship with my Mom about the same that you do and I have to say, the comfort I got from her and joy that we had when waiting for my baby, bonded us a lot closer. My Dad died of cancer a few years ago and my Mom got a lot of our refocusing her life. And even if it does come to a head with end-of-life pain (seen that..)for your Mom, it will be something for her focus her mind on too.

  5. Amy Sep 20 at 1:50 pm Reply Reply

    Amy, this was a beautiful answer. I hope it was helpful to Kate, I know it was helpful to me. 

  6. Stephanie Sep 20 at 2:18 pm Reply Reply

    Amy, perfectly said. And I always think about that line that M’Lynn says: “Life goes on.” It does. :)

  7. Karen Sep 20 at 2:36 pm Reply Reply

    Wonderful response. (Side note – I just can’t stand the word “reproduce” used to describe having children.)

  8. Twinmamateb Sep 20 at 3:45 pm Reply Reply

    My dad was ill the whole time I was getting fertility treatments. We all played the “what if” game- and decided just what Amy said -Life Goes On. We all marched on.  He died when I was six mos preg. And it sucked. The sad looks of pity at the poor FINALLY pregnant daughter at the funeral. I take comfort in that he knew they were coming. He knew he would be a grandfather. Don’t wait. If “it” happens- death, life, either one, you won’t regret it. If we all waited for life to be perfect to have kids we all would be childless. 

  9. Diane Sep 20 at 5:06 pm Reply Reply

    Cancer gives no guarantees.  My mother was stage 4 (terminal) for over 5 years (in and out of treatment, and periods of slow growth), and she did a lot of living in those years.  She travelled, watched me get called to the Bar, enjoyed my sister’s children, and frankly, lived her life.

    You need to do the same I think.  Don’t pin the pregnancy on her illness.  If you are ready, jump in!  As many have already said, there is never a perfect time to have a baby.  

    With luck, your mother may get to enjoy her grandchild for much longer than you expect.  Go with your gut!

  10. KJ Sep 20 at 5:10 pm Reply Reply

    Great response, Amy! “Kate”, your experience – and your thoughts about it – appear sort of weirdly parallel to my own. My mom was given less than 12 months to live . . . 20 months ago now.  Today, she’s visiting from out of state, chasing my toddler and snuggling my infant.  Who knows what happens next, but I’m certainly glad we didn’t base any major plans on having less than a year left.  So I definitely favor the “just go for it” side of things – and I think that’s borne out by our pro/con list, at least the way I read it.

    My addition to Amy’s advice, which is admittedly colored by my own experience, is to get yourself some counseling now, rather than later.  First off, it’ll be a lot easier to begin dealing with thoughts of losing your mother now than it will be when it’s mixed with immediate/current grief.  And second, it sounds like you are considering your mom’s feelings just as much as your own in making the decision about having children.  Which may be simply generous and perfectly healthy of you, but in my case, there is/was a lot of less-than-healthy stuff, beginning in the distant past, happening beneath considerations like that.  And it’s really been good for me to work through some of that while I still get to call up my mom, give her a hug now and then, and work on making our relationship even stronger.  

  11. Jessica Sep 20 at 5:10 pm Reply Reply

    I think giving your mom the happiness that you are having a baby is a gift, regardless of how it ends. She will enjoying seeing your belly grow, talking about how it was to be pregnant with you and be with you as a newborn, and pass on priceless advice. It’s never going to be the “best” time to have a baby – something will always come up to make you think “what if?” But this, this isn’t a reason to avoid trying. Your mom will be a good support system, it can distract her from some sad and often painful realities, and she can listen to your hopes and dreams for your little one. If someone has truly come to terms with their possible (sooner rather than later) passing, this type of news will be a complete joy for them. And if she passes before baby arrives, you will have learned much from her, and be able to tell your babe how much your mom loved him/her even without knowing him/her.
    good luck either way in your decision and your mom’s health.

  12. Brooke Sep 20 at 8:39 pm Reply Reply

    Kate, I say if you’re ready for a baby, have a baby. The amount of this (pregnancy, newborn, baby, etc.) that you can share will your mother will be incredibly meaningful. Don’t think of it as something that will take your attention away from your mother- think of it as something that could take your mother’s attention away from her cancer. My mother died of cancer when I was 27. I had been married for two years at that point. We’d discussed trying for a baby so that my mother would have time to be a grandmother before she passed. In the end we decided that we weren’t ready to be parents and that was that. I’m now 33 and have two kids (2-year old and infant). I would have loved to be able to share them with my mom, but the timing wasn’t right. If you’re ready to have a child, sharing it with your mother is a wonderful bonus.

  13. Kelcey Kintner
    Kelcey Kintner Sep 20 at 11:21 pm Reply Reply

    Beautifully said. Go have that baby.

  14. Katerina Sep 21 at 4:36 am Reply Reply

    Perfect advice.

    I got pregnant while my sister was still in the hospital recuperating from a stem cell transplant (she had lymphoma). She was sick throughout my pregnancy and died when my daughter was 5 months old. The thought of her niece and the funny talks we had about her future “auntie”hood were a blessing in that they gave us something else to talk about besides her illness. My sister, mom, and I spent hours and hours and hours discussing future baby, and spent hours and days with her (thank god for good maternity leave) before she died, even if all they did was nap together a lot of the time because she was too weak to hold the baby a lot of the time. The baby gave us something we HAD to be happy about, before and after my sister died, and I am so very very very grateful we had her when we did. It does make it bittersweet though at the milestones when Auntie wanted to be doing certain things with her (taking her to the park, the zoo, buying her a scooter, starting preschool), and it hurts that she never got to meet my son (born 1,5 years after she died).

    Good luck with your decision Kate. Fuck cancer.

    p.s. Amy I love your column and blog so very much.

  15. Mel Sep 22 at 6:29 am Reply Reply

    My son is 8 months old, and my beautiful mother passed away after a long fight with cancer on July 1. Her prognosis was that she would be lucky to make it to last Christmas, but I truly believe that my son kept her going for another 6 months – she said she stuck around just to meet him. She had other grandkids, but there was a 13 year gap between the second last one and my son. Watching them together, and taking photos and having those memories was so beautiful I wouldn’t trade it for the world. One of the last things she said to me was how much joy he had brought her and and how much she loved him.

    And now? In the horrible aftermath of packing up her home of 50 years (my father passed years ago), and a profound change in the dynamics of our family, he is the reason I get up and and I am so, so grateful for him. And ending and a beginning.

    Good luck with your decision, you’ll know what to do.

  16. Angela Sep 22 at 5:04 pm Reply Reply

    This was beautiful advice. The only suggestion I have to add is that regardless of what you decide I’d recommend taping your mom reading bedtime stories and/or writing letters to your future children if she’s willing. It’s something that may be hard to do right now, but trust me when I say that you will treasure that forever and it may give your mom some comfort as well knowing that even after she passes her grandchildren will still get the chance to hear her voice and feel her love.

  17. "Kate" Sep 23 at 6:04 am Reply Reply

    Dear Amy and all the commenters, thank you so much for all your kind words and personal stories. Your perspectives have been so appreciated. 

    I think I’d got all caught up in the pros/cons list because so few of my close friends have had babies and so few of us have lost a parent as adults. Hearing from people who have had both makes me feel like I’m not being crazy to want a baby right now. 

    Bonus, I showed my letter to my husband and I think it made up his mind that we’re ready. So… we might start trying in the next few weeks. Maybe!

    (I also spent the weekend at my mom’s house helping her sort out the attic. Looking through all my old baby clothes and things might have helped seal the deal that I’m ready!)

    I, uh, have never seen Steel Magnolias! I KNOW! I’ll get on it. 

    @Angela – my mom actually made tapes of her reading bedtime stories when we were still small, so they are there complete with interruptions from my younger self and sibling! But this is a great idea (her voice is different now) and I will try to make it happen. 

    Thanks again everyone, and especially Amy. You are all wonderful people. 

  18. Jennifer Sep 23 at 11:52 am Reply Reply

    I’m completely in the if you want to do it, do it club, cause you just never know what life with throw at you.  I’m in a little different situation as I’m the one that was diagnosed with cancer (stage 4 Lymphoma, luckily not terminal and I’m now cancer free) when my daughter, our first child, was 10 months old (I was 29).  It sucked and it was stressful, and now the threat of cancer will always be hanging over our heads.  We have always wanted more than one child, and my husband and I have spend a lot of time discussing the what-ifs of me getting pregnant again.  Since we cant possibly see the future we decided to start trying as soon as possible (with the blessing of my oncologist), though we did wait the recommended two years, though again, its no sure thing that I’m ‘safe’.  I’m now 11 weeks pregnant with our second child (the regular natural way, take that cancer and chemo WOOO!) and no matter what happens I wouldn’t change any of it.  Life happens, make the most of it.

  19. Lindsey Sep 23 at 2:40 pm Reply Reply

    We decided to try for a baby much earlier than we thought we would because of my mother-in-law’s diagnosis. When she was originally diagnosed, she was given 18 months to 2 years. We started trying when she was really ill (after her second stem cell transplant) but already past the two year mark. She made it over ten years and passed away when my son was 6. I am VERY thankful for those 6 years as my son knew her and will remember her. And she got to enjoy 6 years with him. Will you get the same? No idea. But I am so glad we went ahead and went for it.

  20. Lauren Sep 27 at 8:46 am Reply Reply

    Kate, babies are amazing. I have three myself. My mother-in-law was diagnosed with lung cancer the year my husband and I began dating. She fought for 8 incredible years (quit smoking people!). She passed away when my oldest was 9 months . Honestly, I think the fact that my husband, an only child, had his own family brought her incredible peace. I’m not going to lie, it hurts that she isn’t here to meet our younger two, but life goes on. I do wish I had taken more pictures. And the idea of recording her reading bedtime stories is wonderful. The last video we have is of her in the hospital and it’s heartbreaking.

    Also, for me, pregnancy brought me so much closer to my mom. There are some feelings and struggles you simply don’t understand until you become a mother yourself. Hopefully, you will have the opportunity to share that with your mother.

  21. Mel Oct 10 at 5:25 pm Reply Reply

    I’m not sure how helpful my advice will be, but here it is. Don’t wait. We started thinking about our second child 2 years ago and decided to wait so that I wouldn’t be 9 months pregnant for my sister’s wedding, not able to fly up there for it. We’ve now been trying 10 months and had no success and I sincerely wish I hadn’t waited – because at least if I am experiencing secondary infertility, I’d be further along in the timeline by now, doing more to get pregnant. I feel like I wasted time and eggs. And I wanted my kids to be closer in age, and I wanted to try for 3 kids, but I’m now not even sure there will be 2. So, if I could go back in time, I’d start trying immediately. No waiting.

    On the other hand, I’ve been very stressed this year with multiple family members dealing with health issues, which may be a factor in our failure – I’ve had 2 miscarriages in the past 6 months. It may be an infertility thing, it could be shitty luck since there’s always a chance, or it could be the stress. I know that doesn’t really jive with my advice to not wait, since you may be under a lot of stress in the coming months, but I’m not a medical professional, so I can’t say for sure the stress is the problem anyway.

    Don’t put your life on hold for anything. Go forward with your wishes and hope for the best.

  22. Rose Dec 11 at 1:13 am Reply Reply

    I just wanted to thank you all for your words and wisdom. I came across this looking for some answers of my own. We learned very recently that my MIL is stage IV with a prognosis of maybe 18 months depending on how she responds to treatment. My husband and I planned to wait another one or two years before we tried to have a child and pushing up this timeline was the first thing we both thought of once the news had time to settle. I’m in the same boat with the pro/con lists, as well as considering my career having just started my dream job 5 months ago. But on the other hand I’ve been thinking about how much I feel like I’m meant to be a mother even before the news. My husband and I have a house and savings, and have been together for 10 years ( married just over a year ago). The question of what to do and all of the what-ifs are driving me crazy. At least your words have provided some direction and helped me realize I wasn’t totally nuts for thinking about this. Thank you all and wish you the best.

  23. Kate Dec 31 at 12:57 pm Reply Reply

    Hello everyone, just popping in with am update to the update that Amy just published, I just had my 12 week scan and the baby is looking wiggly and wonderful. We are all so happy! My baby hospital is the same as my mum’s cancer hospital and it was so nice to be going there for such a good reason and to leave with such great news!

  24. Leelee Feb 21 at 4:29 am Reply Reply

    First of all, congratulations Kate! 

    I am glad that I found this post, although it made me cry! I don’t always like to share on many of these sites because I don’t want to be a drama queen, but it is so comforting to see others in much the same situation as myself. My Mum (also my closest friend in the entire world!) was diagnosed with secondary cancer in January last year, and we have been given a 5-10 year window. As a result we bought our wedding forward (we were married in July last year :)) and are kind of trying for a baby. The news shattered me and I still struggle with it a year on. I understand how planning life events changes when you receive such a diagnosis! Since Mum’s diagnosis, I feel like a crazy woman trying to fit as much into the time that we have…and desperately hope each and every day for a miracle cure. I can’t get over the feeling that I can not bear to lose my Mum. Kids weren’t on the agenda yet, but I lost my Dad 10 years ago and can’t stand the thought that my kids will never know either of my parents. My husband is on board, but much more hesitant believing that there is still so much that we wanted before children…which is true. I am growing impatient because after several months, we haven’t had any luck and it is really beginning to get me down. I do worry that I am being selfish, but I need a reason (and some happiness)  to keep me going should the worst happen.

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