Few Politicians Actually Understand What "Health of the Mother” Really Means
Continued from previous page
If I could go back to those sickening, decisive moments in the middle of my pregnancy with the full understanding of what I know now, I cannot say with any certainty what I would do. There are too many competing obligations that cannot be fully reconciled. Too many people who need me. Too many people whom I need.
I have learned that there is a significant survival advantage to diagnosing ovarian cancer early. Women diagnosed when the disease is confined to the pelvis have at least twice the chance of surviving five years than those diagnosed after the cancer has spread throughout the abdomen. If those risks seem insignificant compared to the potential life of a fetus at 20 weeks gestation, you must understand that I shook with relief when my oncologist put my chances of suffering a recurrence (and near-certain death) at 70 to 80 percent rather than the 90 percent I had thought.
It haunts me to think of my husband as a single father. Even given our economic and social privilege, raising two children by himself will tax his psychic and financial resources. It horrifies me to think of my daughters without a mother. When I travel for work, my 4-year-old weeps and tucks the notes I leave behind into her special blankie. It saddens me to think of my parents without their daughter. My mother, who eagerly speculated about how a fourth grandchild would change her understanding of genetic variation, pleaded with me not to dismiss the threat of cancer, not to jeopardize her child’s life. I don’t want any of them to live in a world without me.
But I now know my baby, too. Because she is here, I do not want to live in a world without her. Eighteen pounds of fleshy velocity, curling hair, and two sharp teeth, her existence is no small consolation for a diagnosis that, whether sooner or later, would still have come. In the mornings, she stands in the middle of the kitchen, waving a cloth napkin and shrieking at me to look. In the evenings, she and her older sister fall to the floor in tangled abandon, and their indistinguishable laughs remind me of the pleasures of having a sister. When my spouse holds her, I can see how much she resembles him and how she has made him into a different kind of man, one who can withstand nonsensical screams of outrage with equal parts compassion and detachment.
It is good for me to be here, just as it is good for her to be here. I still do not know how to reconcile those two things. My body, our body, nourished her nascent life but also the disease that is trying to take mine. It is an unthinkable calculus, both now, when we are in possession of facts we could not have known, and a year ago, when we acted based on the best information we could get.
Ultimately, I was spared from having to make an impossible choice. Although I do not know whether it was right to forgo the biopsy or what I would have done if I’d learned of my cancer earlier, I do know that both decisions were mine to make. I came to the present tormented and joyful moment in my life with informed consent about the risks I was taking. The full knowledge that both of our lives were in my hands, and that we might not both get out alive, made that consent meaningful. To disregard the impact of my possible sickness and death on my family was, to me, just as problematic as terminating my pregnancy. Had I been a single mother or had my job been a financial necessity for my family, I might well have weighed my choices differently. I might not have been able to take the chances that came along with skipping the biopsy. It is painful to imagine how I would feel, now, if the choice had been out of my hands—or if it had been so sharply circumscribed that it was clear that it was mine only in form, not substance.