Your Birth Story, Part 4: Afterbirth. Reflections.

(Part one is here)

And this, dear daughter, is where the part of your birth story that’s addressed to you ends: “It was the best day of our lives for your Daddy and me, although you’re even more fun to be with now, six years later.”

But, dear readers, the story wouldn’t be complete without the “boring grown-up stuff.” Readers, you know how the first chapter ends and you understand that parenting is complicated. There’s no way for me to experience the story without reflecting on the monstrous loss that was to follow.

Gavin was diagnosed with a stage 4 cancer before this child could stand: at seven months. That shock and stress, the barbaric surgeries, the chemicals, the invisible and then precipitous decline, and his departure are intermingled with all my experiences of parenting her from first crawl, to walking, learning to speak, far into weaning and potty training.

So I wonder, how would the day of your birth have felt if we had known what was brewing, or how things would turn out?
That thirty months later, my husband of nine years, my partner for fourteen, would be gone, leaving me with his child, alone?
That he’d welcome our girl onto the planet only to leave it himself?
That likely, as he witnessed her crowning, his body was home to a cancer that was bound and determined to spread everywhere, destroying everything, top to bottom, as he walked and breathed?

Because the tumor, in November, was 14 cm long. For his cancer, it had to have been there a while.

Would we have felt differently? Would we have made different decisions?

Of course not, we’d both have said. Not from the time of her birth, or from any time in the pregnancy. Getting to that point was the victory in what we’d hoped was the one and only great fight of our lives.

But what if we’d known before we conceived her? That question, no one asked, thank God. We wouldn’t have answered. But now, I wonder.

In the shock after diagnosis, we said several times, Thank God she’s here, because we never would have had the strength to go through fertility treatment once the cancer showed up. Our cups ran over with that cancer gratitude.

Sugar, little one, you were the best thing that ever happened to us. I hate to say that the cancer was the worst thing and point out that it had surely already arrived. I hate to put you opposite the Beast. But the cancer and the child were so close. It’s hard not to draw a line between them, to pose them as two ingredients in a crazy, non-returnable gift basket.

A year later, in the heart of the battle, I suggested we have another child. Our girl was learning so much, to speak, catch, run. She brought us so much joy, redeemed every minute, gave us an excuse to go on. He shook his head, sadly, shrugging away discussion.

So I think this would have been another situation where we disagreed. Another one where we couldn’t talk about it, where there was no chance of reconciliation, just the sure knowledge that the distance between us was growing and, one day soon, it would span the worlds.


* * * I'd be honored to hear your response in a comment or through other connection (Facebook, Twitter, Formspring, at right) * * *


womanNshadows said...

this whole story is exquisitely painful. the imprint of it will stay with you no matter how much time passes to try and temper it. your daughter is a beautiful legacy. as for the disagreements, i have no words. i lived with my mom in hospital for the 6 months it took her to die and i did nothing right. it was harrowing to watch her die knowing i was a disappointment as her daughter. i never questioned it being a result of the cancer. it was all my fault.

in retrospect, i'll always believe what she felt about me based on my 20 years with her and not the cancer that killed her.

the proof of the blessing of your years together and your marriage are borne out in your child. from all the loved ones who have died during my life, i accept there will never be resolution to the relationships that were. i hope in the telling of this story that some very beautiful memories have come forth that are yours alone.

i will watch for the remaining chapters in your story and pray my small comment only brings you peace. you and your little family are always in my thoughts.

Hyla Molander said...

This writing is exquisite! I am deeply moved and honored that we have connected.

annie said...

My daughter was just a bit past her first birthday when the DR's finally diagnosed her father's symptoms as a physical illness as opposed to the multitude of mental health labels they'd slapped on and peeled off him for the first year of her life.

By then, his brain was so damaged he only referred to her as "Sweetie-pie" because he couldn't remember her name.

Jen said...

We also went through heroic means (2+ years of infertility treatments) to finally end up with our daughter. And 21 months later, her daddy died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart arrhythmia. While I NEVER planned or wanted to be a sole parent, I feel so incredibly fortunate that we had her. She carries her daddy into the future for me; reminds me of him every day in so many ways; and makes me feel like my life with him (we were only married 5 years) was real and had meaning and purpose. And as she grows and develops, she marks the time that he's been gone. She walked at 16 months, weaned at 18 months, and just 3 months after that he was gone. She's 3 1/2 now, so I equate the end of her babyhood with the loss of her daddy.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Supa. You know how to bring the tears.

I'm sure I've shared some of this on another topic, so I'll 'try' to keep it short (but I'm never good at that). Elias was diagnosed before we had the girls, but at that time we were told it would not likely come back. Still, it was always on our minds. The fear crept up with each 6 month MRI. None the less, we decided to continue our lives, and, baby #1 comes along.

Cancer returns when she was about 8months. After surgery #2 and radiation, we were told it would come back in 10-15yrs and when back, we could just deal with it then. A little less trust in the docs, but still. . . queue second pregnancy.

Three days overdue with baby #2, Elias has a seizure. At this point we knew it was back (an MRI 3 months earlier showed 'likely scar tissue from radiation'. wrong) and he was schedule for an MRI in two weeks. Determined to give birth so I could go with him (and because I was now 12 days overdue), a dose of castor oil (in an iced cappucino - yum!) got labour under way.

I can tell you, without a doubt, when that baby was born - cancer was the farthest thing from our minds (except for the fact that Elias' hair was dyed an awful shade of yellow for a cancer fundraiser at his work . . .) and that is pretty rare. We held that little girl in our arms and were celebrating, joy, love, creation, beauty - ours. The 'beast' had been on our minds so much over the years, and especially the 9 days leading up to her birth - but that moment was all ours.

Fast forward 2 days, and the confirmation that it was back and he was going on chemo (and no one let me go with him) - sure, the tears and fear, etc were all there. But we had our moment.

Things were up and down over the following 19 months, but I don't think it changed much of our parenting. We discussed having a third 'one day'. He would brush it off and joke that the baby would have an arm growing out of it's head because of all his meds. And, because of the meds we couldn't try. But, as much as he tried to stay hopeful, he didn't want me to have to raise two on my own, let alone three - and since we already had the two it didn't 'seem' as important.

Turns out there was no time anyhow. I've heard of others who have gotten pregnant immediately after diagnosis - knowing what was to come. I think, perhaps, if having children is important to you - you do it regardless. And that moment can still be 'cancer free'.


Supa Dupa Fresh said...

There's no way for me to respond to your comments adequately. I'm verklempt. These posts have been very hard to write, as all our stories are, and I'm grateful that anyone finds hearing them helpful at all.

All of us have such sad stories -- and yet you all are the most vital, fun, interesting group of people I've ever spent time with. The sadness is just the leading edge when we share -- behind it is the love and strong appreciation of life and whatever other "wise" junk we carry every day and can share with "civilians" and those waiting at dark intersections of their journeys.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

annie said...

I don't know that I think of my story as sad anymore or even if I would call it "my story".

It's just what happened and I lived it day by day just like I live life now. If I have anything of worth to share, I would hope it is the sense that live will not always turn out the way we expected but that even in the tough or tragic times, there is another day looming out there somewhere that is better.

Hope that I would one day be happy again was the only thing that got me through. If I'd listened to those who deemed grief some never ending slog through life - I wouldn't have made it.

Supa Dupa Fresh said...


We should do an interview sometime. I find your perspective so interesting and yet sometimes I can’t pinpoint why it’s different from mine. Always love to hear what you think, that's for sure!


annie said...

I can't imagine that I would interesting to your readers. Most widowed folk find my pov baffling or heresy or a little of both.

Supa Dupa Fresh said...


Why would I want to interview someone if I didn't think they had something different or new to share?

Yeah, we do some validation/affirmation here, but I try to push myself AND those around me, too.

:-) You rule!



annie said...

I'm just saying. I haven't any problem sharing my experiences or opinions - I imagine you've figured that out - but I am wary/weary of the response it draws.

You can interview me anytime you like.

Kim said...

Thank you for your brave sharing, honey - you are blessed with plenty of soul.

Anonymous said...

When Hadley was born, it had been just a week since Jim was diagnosed. During her birth, it was the farthest thing from both of our minds. It was just her...it was just the arrival of our little redhead...the redheaded daughter he'd been hoping for. We hadn't found out the gender but he'd wanted a daughter. After the delivery, for a few hours it was a little normal. And yes, she was a blessing and yes, she helped me keep going. I'm glad you got to enjoy your daughter's birth without the spectre of what was to come. The moment of birth deserves to be pure joy.


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