#CPAW ’16 – Maintaining Normality – Jo’s Story

Picture1I was very lucky to have a very straight forward and uncomplicated pregnancy  with my third baby. Unfortunately at 26 weeks I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma in 2 sites of my right breast.

Whilst my pregnancy remained uncomplicated, I then fell into a rollercoaster of   both emotions and hospital appointments. At 32 weeks I had a mastectomy, staying in hospital for a week. Pathology showed that I actually had 4 tumours not the originally thought 2 and I was scheduled to start chemotherapy a week after my baby was born.

As a very private person, I don’t generally like to discuss my medical details so I made the decision to tell immediate family only about my condition. We didn’t want the baby to be connected with the cancer in people’s minds.
Having had my first daughter at home, I had already planned another home birth prior to my cancer diagnosis, and this made me even more determined that this should happen , as long as there was no risk to the baby.

Having cancer is a full time ‘job’. In the beginning I was averaging a minimum of three hospital appointments a week. I felt as though I was spending an awful lot of my time at the hospital, waiting for appointments, being examined in private places, all I wanted to do was spend time with my family. None of the health professionals I came across had really dealt with a pregnant lady with cancer before, with the exception of the gynaecologist. The phrase ‘1 in 2000 pregnancies’ was quoted a lot. The MacMillan nurse, although lovely could offer little support in that area.

Thus a home birth became increasingly important to myself and my husband. We didn’t want to be the interesting ‘1 in 2000 ‘ case on the labour ward. We didn’t want to have to explain my diagnosis to each new midwife that dealt with me during labour. I didn’t want to explain why I wouldn’t be breastfeeding. I didn’t want to be around other ‘normal’ mums whilst in a heightened emotional state.  Frankly we had had enough of hospitals.Most of all we didn’t want our baby’s birth tarnished by the cancer.

The consultant gynaecologist was absolutely lovely and very understanding of all of these factors, as was my midwife.  My oncologist was also in favour of a normal delivery, as if all was straightforward, I would recover most rapidly from this type of delivery, be at least risk of infection and so be able to start chemotherapy at the earliest possible date.

We were lucky enough to have our beautiful baby girl at home uneventfully.  It was a much more emotional time than my previous two deliveries because of all we had been through. The worry of our baby surviving my having a general anaesthetic and of course as I held our beautiful baby in my arms I was extremely aware of my own mortality.  It was so much nicer and cosier to be tucked up in my own bed with my husband and other children to cherish this incredibly private, emotional family moment. We could weep openly at home.
The other benefit of a home birth is that you can have a bacon butty in bed immediately after!!!

I became aware of Mummy’s Star through my midwife at about 36 weeks pregnant.  It was then that I realised that I wasn’t alone. There were  other families going through similar times to ourselves.  That in itself was a huge support. The Facebook group also helped me immensely, there were other women feeling the same as myself. Although I rarely contributed to the discussion, the sense of involvement was still a great comfort, a family. The sobering knowledge that some of these ladies had much more serious diagnosis reminded me gently on my dark days that I have a lot to be thankful for.

When I found out that Mummy’s Star would be able to help me buy donated breast milk to feed my baby, I cried. I had breastfed my previous two children for 2 years each. I was worried that the cancer would take away not only the bonding that comes from breastfeeding but the added nutritional benefits. I felt guilty for not being able to breastfeed.  Now with Mummy’s Star’s help,one ofmy big worries in amongst all of the other cancer worries has been put to rest. The relief was immeasurable.  My baby would be able to have breast milk, all be it from a bottle.  The advice from Louise and the midwife that supports Mummy’s Star really helped. They encouraged me to combination freed the donated breast milk with formula to extend the amount of time I could feed the donated milk. I also breastfed with my remaining breast until the morning chemotherapy began and then ‘pumped and dumped’ the milk to artificially wean myself dry, at their recommendations.  Because they had dealt with other mums in similar situations they  had  valuable experience.

Mummy’s Star has been such a support to me in so many ways. I am so glad I was put in touch with them, I just wish it had been sooner.

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