Anchel with Syona, shortly after her birth.
I’ve been described as a hypochondriac by my sister, doctor brother-in-law, mom and dad. The truth is they are a tiny bit right. While I don’t freak out over the most straightforward of allergy-induced sneezes, there has been this voice inside that has been whispering at me for the last 15 years, telling me that there might be something medically wrong.
I just wrote that voice off as being totally incorrect. Other than chronic anemia, I was a pretty healthy person with no major medical malfunctions. That is, until Syona was born.
As a low-risk pregnancy, there were no specific worries. I had two ultrasounds, where everything appeared fine. I wasn’t particularly anxious throughout the pregnancy (in fact, I often question that relaxation and wonder if I missed something being wrong). And it was only upon delivery that we realized the pregnancy wasn’t so straightforward. There were some issues with clotting, which meant that my placenta had not been functioning in the way it should or nourishing Syona (before she was Syona) with the oxygen and food she needed.
I’ve never loved my body, but I never hated it either. And I certainly didn’t think of it as defective. But after having Syona, I felt this sense of betrayal. My body had failed me. And more importantly, it had failed my child. Several people told me this wasn’t true. If my body had truly failed, I would be telling — or not telling — a very different story. And they are right: what happened to me was not the worst thing in the world. But I did find a friend who felt the same way because of her experiences with infertility. When your female parts don’t do what they are genetically designed to do (reproduce, nourish your child, etc.) it hurts in a pretty primal way.
After having Syona my body betrayed me again by refusing to produce breast milk, in spite of all my efforts. Talk about rubbing salt in the wound.
The third straw was when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. After surgery, chemo and radiation, she’s now in remission. And though we were told that the type of breast cancer she had didn’t carry any genetic implications for me or my sisters, it still changed how I felt about the female body.
When I read about Angelina Jolie's decision to have a double mastectomy because of the risks associated with the BRCA1 gene, I totally understood. And like every other issue in women’s health, I think it is so crucial that we take charge as much as we can. We empower ourselves with accurate information and make a decision that is right for us. It is personal. It is as personal as it gets.
If there was something my doctors said I could do to ensure a healthier pregnancy, I would have done it without question. On the same hand, if my mother’s doctors had told me that I was at an increased risk for breast cancer I would research my options and take the steps that would increase my chances of living a healthy, cancer-free life. Risking a future with my family isn’t a gamble I’m willing to take, especially if there is a way I can control it.
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