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Growing Calm: A mother reflects on cancer, parenting, and finding peace

Jan 09, 2014

I am really good at growing things. When I was sixteen, I found a small round marble under my right nipple. When I was twenty-two, I was brave enough to have it removed. When I was twenty-three I found out I had been growing all of this extra inflamed tissue in my stomach, rendering me essentially housebound for a year with Crohns disease. I’ve gotten out since then. When I was twenty-nine, I lost my thyroid to cancer. Then I grew twenty-five pounds from having no thyroid. My body burgeons like April in Virginia. Seriously. If I it were physically possible for skin to bloom cherry blossoms, I think I could do it. 


All of the mini-gestation periods my body has undergone- the autoimmune, over-inflamed, swollen, thick, cancer parts that have grown - made me certain that my body was severely compromised and getting actually pregnant (with a baby) wouldn’t be so easy. 


The fertility doctor, a small man with a kind smile, said, “If you aren’t 36 yet, don’t worry, I can get you pregnant.” 


I wanted to say, “Well, I appreciate that, but I think I’ll stick with my husband.”  But I didn’t want to seem rude. 


“What’s different at 36?” I asked him. 


“The eggs. The eggs are different. They are older. And your body has been through a lot, so the eggs might present themselves as even older than that. We should get going.” 


Again? Again I was growing bad things? The very things that would grant or deny me my children? I couldn’t stomach it. 


I went home and fell asleep next to my painfully optimistic husband and I dreamt of an endless grocery store full of puckered cardboard egg cartons. I flew through the aisles, opening every one. In some cases they were empty, in others, rotten, leaking thick yellow mush. 


I panicked and made the next possible appointment. 


“I’ll do whatever needs to be done,” I said, nodding my head, agreeing with myself.


“Well, how about this, why don’t you guys try on Thursday,” the doctor answered, and smiled kindly again. “If that doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.” 


We were pregnant by Friday. 


And two years later we did it again, but this time on our own. I was growing good things. Healthy things. Beautiful things. Babies.


I cannot remember a time in my adult life that I have felt as healthy as when I was pregnant. Both times, I threw up constantly, my face erupted in pimples, I was swollen, and pocked, flushed and saggy. My feet only fit in flip flops, my rings had to come off. I was short breathed and heart burned. I couldn’t sleep. I missed sushi.  


But I felt amazing. Finally, once, and then twice, my body was working correctly. Functioning. Flourishing. I was finally growing something inside of me that wasn’t going to kill me. 


I feel done having kids. We are so fortunate to have two healthy, happy ones. But I miss being pregnant. And I am devastated that I will never feel that way again: the power, the gift of having something pure grow inside me. I hate that the next time I feel something growing it won’t have sharp elbows or a pink angel kiss on the forehead. I hate that instead of palming my belly to feel movement of a life, I fingertip-explore my body for lumps of danger. I hate that it will always be possible that there is something wrong, and it will never be that kind of right again. 


For a little while, this thought crushed me. What would I do if I could never grow anything positive again? 


But recently it occurred to me that something else has been growing inside of me for the past few years. Something good. 


I have been growing calm. Like a soft golden nugget way deep down, it grows, and has slowly been filling up my chest for the past four years since I had my first child. Further plumping up since I had my second one. 


I wasn’t always a calm person. Just ask my husband. Or my sister. Or my cat. I was anxious, and quick to judge, sometimes angry for no reason at all. I also did it all pretty quietly, keeping it inside. I allowed it to fester. I allowed it to grow. 


I’m neither medical enough nor yogi enough to know if that anxiety and judgment and anger snowballed into the terribleness that grew inside of me all of those years, but I can not believe it had no connection. 


Which is why when I miss an important commitment because I screwed up on the dates, I apologize, and let it go. When my children drive me to the edge, I do not yell, but breathe in deep. When my husband and I fight, I walk away, and then walk back to him to figure it out. When my cat forgets we have a litter box, when my daughter pours honey on the floor, when my son cries that I am the meanest mom ever in the middle of the grocery store, I choose to go against the fury. 


I have to let the calm grow. Because it has immediate purpose, and I recognize and respect it for the power it yields. It protects me. 


Francesca Kaplan Grossman's work includes contributions to The New York Times Motherlode blog, Brain, Child Magazine, The Huffington Post, Ed Week/Teacher,, S3 Magazine, The Portland Women's Writers Collective (PDXX) and Interview Magazine. She graduated from Stanford University with a BA and MA in Education and from Harvard University with a Doctorate in Educational Leadership, with a focus on writing education and improvement. Francesca lives in Newton, MA with her husband Nick and two children, Theo and Brieza.  She is currently working on her first novel, The Night Nurse, and a collection of personal essays, In Remission; Life and Love in the In Between.

This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post. 

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This is very inspirational and reminds me of my own mother.

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