Way before I dreamed of being a mom, I had to make a decision that would affect a very big aspect of being one—removing my breasts. At age 20, I was tested and found positive for a genetic mutation of the BRCA1 gene, leaving me with an upwards of 85% risk of developing breast cancer in my lifetime. This type of finding and prognosis, as a mid-20s college student who was also dealing with a sick father, was enough to keep me occupied—but also came at a point where I could put it aside. I was young, in school and I could compartmentalize for a while. And then my father lost his battle with cancer, weeks before my college graduation. This type of loss was obviously one that stung, and still does, but in ways that caused more scare and anxiety for my own future than I ever saw coming. I inherited my genetic mutation from my father, and now I had seen him fight and lose a battle at a young age. I was now scared that it would come for me next. So at age 25, and after lots of meetings and conversations and recommendations from genetic counselors, surgeons and family members, I decided to take this risk into my own hands and have a preventative bilateral mastectomy, reducing my risk of breast cancer in my lifetime to less than 5%.
During this whirlwind, I was recently engaged to my college sweetheart and though starting a family was still years away, motherhood was something I have had to think about since my surgery decision in my mid-20s. I knew by having a double mastectomy, I would not be able to breastfeed. I knew that this would be a burden I’d have to bear—not only physically, but mentally and socially and within mom communities all around me. “Breast is best” is what we’re often told, and I knowingly and willingly took that choice away from myself, years before even becoming my son’s mom. Then I got pregnant with my son when I was three years post-surgery. Through all the excitement of pregnancy, a little bit of questioning and worry sometimes snuck in my mind, when I thought about how I wouldn’t be breastfeeding our little one. I very quickly found myself needing to explain to employees at baby stores why I was registering for only bottles and no breastfeeding gear. I couldn’t help but feel strangers’ naive questions leaving me second guessing. Should I have had my surgery after having kids? Would my baby’s health be compromised, never having the chance to breastfeed ? Would I be missing out on an important part of motherhood?
And here’s the truth—we’re almost one year out, and we’re all okay. We’re all great, really. I’ll admit, there were a few more of those tough (awkward) conversations at birthing classes and pediatrician interviews when I had to give a background explanation as to why we knew our son would be exclusively formula-fed before he was even born. Most understood after a brief few sentences, some maybe didn’t agree or didn’t want to agree, but no one was mean about it. Maybe people silently judged because they didn’t know my background, but no one said it was wrong. I think that’s what’s changing in our world. Some of us can choose to move away from “breast is best” to “healthy is best”—in whatever way you can give that health to your baby. My son is just around the corner from his first birthday, and he couldn’t be healthier or happier. I don’t take that for granted. I know that I’m lucky to be in a position where I can give him formula to nourish him. We’re all lucky to live in a home together that’s filled with so much love—that our baby has parents who love him and have done what’s best for him, even before he was born into this world. And most importantly, I’m grateful that I can confidently tell him one day that I made a decision at just 25 years old that didn’t just change the way he was fed as a baby, but was made with the sole purpose being that he would have a mother who did everything she possibly could to be around for him—healthy and happy to just be his mom.