With Scarlett's birthday and the birth of my nephew in the last few weeks, I have had lingering thoughts of future babies. We have never had a set number of kids we wanted; we always said we'd see how it went the first time and go from there. Now, though I am fiercely in love with my little girl, the idea of future children is even more uncertain. While I'd love for her to have a sibling in the future, I am in no hurry to have another baby.
When I think about being pregnant again, I am terrified. My pregnancy was easy, I had a somewhat uneventful delivery and Scarlett was born seemingly healthy (we didn't know anything was wrong for two months). We have even been joking that it seems like I have fully forgotten the aches of pregnancy, the pain of labor and delivery, and the discomfort of nursing. However, my pregnancy experience will always be tainted by the gloom of cancer.
Scarlett's tumor was congenital, which means she was born with it. It grew alongside her brain all along, from some point very early in her development. We know this because the tumor was not just pushing on her brain; it actually replaced nearly half of her brain. The right side of her brain has learned to take on the job of both sides (and is doing a pretty good job of it so far!). The left side just never grew, and it never will.
There was a single moment, early in my pregnancy, when that one brain cell went wrong. In an instant, her future and mine was forever changed. What was I doing in that moment? Was I doing something I shouldn't have, eating something I shouldn't have? Did I drink enough water that day, take my prenatal vitamin, get enough rest? Did I even know I was pregnant yet? These questions will never be answered, and yet I think about them often. We have been told repeatedly, ad nauseam, that there was nothing I did or did not do to cause this. It was a single cell mutation that happens at random. Not all cancers are random, but this one seems to be. Regardless, I am still haunted by the idea that this happened to her while she was inside me. My one and only job during that time was to keep her healthy, and I didn't.
The chances of another baby being born with this tumor are basically zero. There is no hereditary or genetic component (though there are with some other types of brain tumors). And I fully recognize that anything can happen to any pregnancy, so I'll never get a guarantee of a "healthy" baby. How will I ever feel safe to take the risk again?
Maybe all moms who deliver "sick" kids feel this way, guilt over something they could never control. Maybe even some dads feel this way when their child has a congenital health problem. I am sure we all would do anything to take away what happened, to go back in time and change whatever it was that led that one cell to mutate. But we can never go back, and the fear of what could happen lingers.
I know of a few other families who have been brave enough to have another baby after having one with cancer. They have beautiful babies, and their survivor kids are doing great. I can only imagine a life where I won't be haunted by the thought of what could go wrong; I know too much, have seen too much to ever be blind to it again. It will be a few years before we even consider it, if we ever do, but I can't help but wonder when I'll feel safe again, like my own body won't betray me and my child.
(Note: When I read this to Chris, he said it was pretty intense. Sorry about that.)