In Anne Geddes new book, nine mothers share their journeys through pregnancy and childbirth. Here's an excerpt.
A few months after I began shooting for this pregnancy series, an intriguing email arrived from Gina, who said she had heard about the project and that she’d love to take part because she thought she had quite an inspiring story.
What an understatement that turned out to be! Gina was nearly 40, and had already suffered one miscarriage when she found out she was pregnant again. Four days after her pregnancy was confirmed, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Gina’s tale is one of the most inspiring pregnancy stories I’ve ever heard. She displayed such courage and determination on so many levels throughout her dual journey with pregnancy and cancer.
Initially told that she should terminate her pregnancy, she refused, and went on to overcome all of the obstacles thrown at her, including a course of chemotherapy in her second and third trimesters, eventually giving birth to a beautiful baby daughter.
Here's part of Gina's story in her own words:
So we had eight weeks apart then I came home and again within two weeks I was pregnant. I was thrilled to discover that I was pregnant, but I didn’t believe the baby would go full-term. I wanted to believe it, but deep down I thought, “I’m an older mother and I’ve already had a miscarriage,” so I didn’t really believe that I would have a child. “It’s for everybody else but it won’t actually happen for me.”
I had many questions about the baby’s health and my age. Everything you read says that once you’re forty it’s dangerous. And from everything I read, I thought, “I’m way too selfish to look after another human being. I can barely look after myself.” So the idea of having a child with Down syndrome became a huge responsibility, particularly as such a child can remain dependent all his or her life.
I thought, “I’m pregnant, holy crap, there’s all this stuff that can go wrong." Four days later I discovered I had breast cancer. Instinctively I think I knew I had breast cancer.
When I found a lump in my breast while I was at tracker school I was very concerned. But when I got home I procrastinated and didn’t have it checked out.
I procrastinated long enough to get pregnant. I went to the doctor before I was sure I was pregnant and got a referral for a mammogram and ultrasound. My doctor called me at home that night. The radiologist had phoned her at home and asked that I come in right away. I immediately knew why.
By nature I’m incredibly optimistic and I don’t tend to get hung up on the future. In general, wherever I am right now, that is where I am. I thought, “Okay, cancer, that’s what I’ll do now.” It wasn’t like, “My life’s over and I’m going to die.” Although all of that eventually comes up for anyone with cancer. And I thought, pregnancy and cancer, “What does that mean?” It was too much to think about at that point.
Coming from an alternative therapies background for twenty-plus years, I thought I’d be all right with cancer — and I wouldn’t do chemotherapy or radiation. I’d do it without any of that. Little did I know.
“You will die if you have this baby,” my GP said, “this is very bad news. You must terminate, this is very bad.” She kept saying to me, “You must terminate this baby.” It was shocking to be told that. Later, the surgeon who I ended up with said to me, “Of course you can do chemotherapy in the second and third trimesters. We don’t see bad news too often, and usually the babies are fine.”
I needed an ultrasound and I went back to my GP again and saw her husband (also a doctor) and he abused me for fifteen minutes about still being pregnant. “Why are you still pregnant? This is very bad advice; you will die if you have this baby.”
I ended up saying, “Do you know what? Stop doing that right now. You have to respect my decision.” I was furious with him for telling me I would die. Here I am now with a healthy baby, and I’m healthy. And it all happened because I didn’t listen to a forceful and abusive doctor.
The journey with cancer for me was all about looking into conventional western medicine and not being overwhelmed, because conventional western medicine and cancer are all about fear and statistics. If you don’t do this you’ve got a twenty percent chance of dying; if you do that you’ve a three percent chance. Friends also pass on all of their fears: “Oh my God, you’re going to die.”
More in books
And family say, “Oh my God, you’re going to die.” And everyone in the medical profession says that if you don’t do what they say you are going to die.
It’s like you have to take this huge, big breath all around yourself. This is mine and that’s yours. When I told friends, they would burst into tears and I’d end up holding them.
After a while I would say, “You know what? I really respect that you are in grief right now and that this is really difficult for you, but this is yours and I don’t need it. I’m dealing with enough now, so what I need you to do is to go away. I still love you but I can’t hold you like this. Have your grief, but please don’t throw it on me.”
I made sure I was as strong and centered as I could be. For me, healing is an ongoing daily practice. I’ve got twenty years of all sorts of tools and skills, and I’ve traveled all over the world and met amazing people to get these skills. So my tool box is nice and full. I might give myself a breathing session or have a big, fat cry or throw a conscious tantrum.
Reprinted by arrangement with Geddes Group Holdings Pty Ltd from my Pregnancy: A Woman's Story. Copyright © 2012
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive