Right to give birth

Alyona Kochetkova

2020 - Ongoing

A women's purpose in life isn't limited to childbirth. However right to give birth is one of the most important for a woman. Cancer surviving women of childbearing age are significantly less likely to get pregnant. The chance to regain fertility depends on the type and duration of treatment and the patient's age. While modern medical science is generally optimistic about the possibility to give birth to a healthy child after treatment, medical advice and care are crucial in such cases. Unfortunately, many women still do not have access to it. Some because of a lack of qualified healthcare personnel, others because of the higher cost of such care, which is not always covered by insurance. Furthermore, there is not enough information about the possibility of pregnancy after cancer. Moreover, taking into account the psychological stress that survivors can't get rid of for years, giving birth after cancer still is a challenge few can accomplish.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on my 29th birthday. After completing the treatment and some years of infertility, my doctor told me that I probably wouldn't be able to conceive a child anymore. I was depressed and then the COVID-19 lockdown hit. Being at a high-risk as a former cancer patient I had to cut off most of my face-to-face contacts and became a prisoner in my own house. After two months of isolation, my husband and I found out that I was pregnant. So a new phase of my life started, joyful yet disturbing. The anxiety grew as my closest relatives became ill. After nine months full of hope and worries I gave birth to a boy.

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  • Me with my husband. When the pandemic spread and lockdowns started around the world the emotional pressure on people grew bigger. There was a lot of contradictory information from mass media which caused panic. Fears, uncertainty, and frequent discussions about COVID-19 all around led us to emotional instability. We wanted to isolate ourselves from it and find peace.

  • Me at home. Then the lockdown started I had to cancel all of my work trips as a photographer. Together with it and the uncertainty that I will be able to give birth to a child, this brought me close to an emotional breakdown.

  • Me and my husband at home during COVID-19 lockdown. The pandemic changed our lifestyles a lot. I cancelled all of my work trips as a photographer. We had to get used to working from home, cut-off social contacts, and find a new balance between our individual and collective goals and needs. This situation taught us to be kinder and more tolerant to each other, though some families were unable to withstand the new conditions.

  • Two of the eight scars I got after mastectomy. Still, the opinion that cancer survivors should avoid pregnancy is very popular. However, research studies show that cancer survivors can give birth to healthy children, but sometimes they need special medical care and advice.

  • Me at my home. I realized that I am pregnant two months after the lockdown in Russia had started. It was hard to believe though very inspiring at the same time. It was a miracle.

  • Me, waiting for a meeting with my doctor at the medical center. My health condition and the COVID-19 pandemic added additional limitations to my lifestyle. Pregnant and cancer survivors are some of the groups which are at higher risk of severe COVID-19.

  • My self-portrait with a curtain. In many traditional communities number of children is a measure for a successful marriage. On the contrary, the absence of children is treated as a sign of an anomaly. This increases emotional pressure on those families who can't have children.

  • My pregnant belly. My body was changing day by day. Some side effects were uncomfortable. Nausea, fatigue, and periodic headache reminded me of the chemotherapy time, but now it felt completely different.

  • Future children’s room in my friends' apartment. They let me stay there while my husband was ill. Isolation gave me a lot of time to analyze my condition. I felt lonely and my phone was the only link with my relatives.

  • Me walking at a playground near the apartment where I was isolated when my relatives were ill. Deserted streets and playgrounds also reminded me of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • During my isolation in my friends' apartment, I had a lot of time but I could do nothing because of worries about my relatives and baby. Photographs I was taking became my therapy.

  • Me having a bath. The child in my belly was growing and so was growing emotional pressure. I tried to find a way to lower it. My self-portraits were a part of my plan.

  • Me alone in the “shelter” apartment (the one in which I stayed while my close people were ill). It was a hard time full of anxiety, worries, and loneliness.

  • Me at the maternity hospital, a few hours before the surgery. My doctors convinced me to deliver via cesarean section because of my health condition. Before I had only one surgery - the mastectomy and it was a painful experience.
    One period of my life was ending and a new phase was ahead. My pregnancy was a difficult time because of my personal medical history and the worldwide pandemic but I was into my final lap and hope was stronger than fear.

  • Me with my newborn son in the hospital. Pregnancy, though sometimes disturbing, gave me a lot of new experiences. I decided to share my story to encourage and support other cancer survivors who probably lost their hope to have a child. Medical care and advice, crucial in such cases, together with hope and persistence can seriously raise chances.

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