Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fighting for Motherhood

Editor's note: This essay by Beth Gainer is Loop's first regarding motherhood. I was impressed by the author's determination not to let breast cancer steal her hope.

For years, I dreamed about becoming a mother. But something always got in the way.

In 2001, it was breast cancer.

I found it myself during a routine monthly breast exam; the biopsy results confirmed the malignancy. Before I could even catch my breath, doctors were breathing down my back with chemotherapy and radiation regimens.

Knowing that chemotherapy could cause infertility among younger women, I asked my doctors about harvesting my eggs, but they talked me out of it. I felt rushed to get the treatments as soon as possible to save my life. One doctor told me that my type of chemotherapy regimen causes infertility in only 1 percent of women.

Feeling reassured by that, I dropped the egg-harvesting idea.

And the chemotherapy dropped a bomb on my ovaries. I was that one percent launched into premature menopause. I grieved, knowing I would never be able to birth and nurse a baby.

But after an amazing pity party for one, I decided I would not allow my dream of motherhood to die.

I started what would be a four-year process to adopt a child from China. During this time, I attended many baby showers and stood on the sidelines as one co-worker after another gave birth. I was truly happy for them, but knowing I was infertile made me feel painfully inadequate.

Still, I was grateful to be alive. But I was not prepared for an unexpected hurdle.

During my long adoption wait, my oncologist called me to say that an MRI had picked up a growth in the breast that had had cancer years before. We both feared a recurrence, and I almost stopped the adoption process.


I didn’t quit, instead choosing to be level-headed. I would have to see whether the growth was malignant before I made any decisions about motherhood. Luckily, the biopsy results showed the growth was benign, but my team of doctors and I agreed that a preventive double mastectomy with reconstruction was needed.

This procedure was necessary for my health. However, just as important, I did this for my future daughter. After all, she would need a healthy mom.

After my nipples were tattooed onto my breasts almost three years ago, I grieved all over again. I wanted the breasts I was born with, and felt defective as a woman. How could I ever embrace motherhood with fake boobs? Our society views breasts as an integral part of motherhood, and I fell into that trap.

That grief has since been replaced with joy, knowing my daughter is now sleeping peacefully in the next room. Six months ago, I adopted her in China.

Turns out that breast cancer was a gift after all – it taught me not to take life or motherhood or my daughter for granted.

She was well-worth the fight.

Voices of Breast Cancer: The Healing Companion: Stories for Courage, Comfort and Strength (Voices Of series)Beth L. Gainer has had numerous publications, including an essay in the anthology Voices of Breast Cancer. Her popular Calling the Shots blog at offers information and advice on how to navigate the medical system. She is a contributing member of Medpedia and Navigating Cancer.


  1. Thank you for your sincerity, and revealing your most personal struggle with us!! Your endurance and zest for life are truly encouraging. I'm so glad that you are able to realize your motherhood dreams through adoption. Your daughter will some day read your story and be very proud of you... and thankful.

  2. Judy, thanks for the lovely comment!

  3. Loved it, thank you!

  4. Thank you Judy and Lauren for your kind words!