When Meghan Koziel packed for the maternity ward, the mama-to-be brought along a banner to hang over her bed. It didn't say "It's a girl," but it was pink—the color of breast cancer awareness—and it was created to raise awareness among hospital staff who might otherwise question why she wasn't breastfeeding her new baby.
"No Breastfeeding Zone," the sign read. "Our miracle baby will be formula fed, and it will not affect her future ahead."
At 26 years old, Koziel was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had to make some tough decisions at an age when many women are considering motherhood. She had a double mastectomy, and preserved her future fertility through egg retrieval. She went through all that—losing her hair, her breasts and the challenges of reconstruction—and then got pregnant with her little girl. On September 15, 2018, she welcomed her daughter into the world and hung up her banner, with a sense of humor.
"Attention please, attention please," she captioned the post. "We do indeed have a mommy-to-be who had breast cancer and a mastectomy which means, without boobs in the houseeeee!"
The sign went viral, and fellow mamas and experts have remarked on what a great idea it was.
"It's such a clear but gentle way of asserting her needs while she's receiving medical care," Kristen Carpenter, director of women's behavioral health at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Yahoo Lifestyle . "She knows herself well enough to know that she doesn't want to be asked about this over and over again."
Koziel hung the banner as a light-hearted way to prevent unwanted conversations with hospital staff, but her social media presence has been sparking more serious conversations about cancer, motherhood and hope.
"If we went back in time and you told me three years ago...the day I was diagnosed that I'd have this precious angel now... I would have laughed in your face," Koziel writes, adding that she recognizes that not every cancer survivor's fertility journey is the same. While some women, like herself, may go on to carry a baby after cancer, that might not happen for others, but it doesn't mean they can't be mothers.
"From IVF, surrogacy, adoption, to foster care... there is ALWAYS a way to become a mom!" she writes.
Koziel's portraits of the early days of motherhood may look different from most. Her breasts are smooth and scarred, with no nipple for breastfeeding. But breasts and breast milk don't define motherhood. Love does, and Koziel has plenty to give.
You might also like:
- What to know about the study linking birth control + breast cancer
- I survived breast cancer—while raising two young kids
- A double mastectomy took away my ability to breastfeed—but we still thrived