My pandemic pregnancy: From infertility to cancer to IVF to a 20-week scare: ‘It happened exactly how it was supposed to’

‘Olivia was meant to be born in this time’

Hillary and Bobby Calhoun (Photo used with permission from Madison Timberlake Photography/provided by Hillary Calhoun)

Author’s note: This is not MY personal story, per se, (despite the “my pandemic pregnancy” headline), but a story told by our readers, week by week. Today’s is shared by Hillary, from The Woodlands, Texas.

You might have heard that being pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or delivering right about now is strange, in this age of coronavirus. But how? In what ways? We’re going to tell you. To contribute your own experience, scroll all the way down to the bottom of this article and tap the link.

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When Hillary Calhoun’s fertility doctor brought her in for a procedure and then a nurse called her just a few short days later, asking her to come into the office immediately, the now-36-year-old had a hunch something wasn’t right.

Hillary’s husband, Bobby Calhoun, was out of town for work, so he couldn’t accompany her to the appointment, but Hillary headed to the Houston-area clinic anyway, holding her breath a little, so to speak. The couple had been trying to get pregnant for years. Bobby had even gone under the knife as doctors reversed his vasectomy, which happened about 3 ½ to four years ago, Hillary said in a phone call last week.

But back to Hillary’s appointment. It was April 2019, and Hillary was in the office to learn about the results from her procedure. The previous Friday, doctors had performed a hysteroscopy, which is when they take a look at the uterus. A camera, of sorts, goes up the cervix, and specialists can then examine the fallopian tubes, ovaries and womb. Hillary waited and waited for the bottom line.

“(The doctor) kept using the word ‘abnormalities’ -- and he went on and on without really saying it,” Hillary said.

After battling infertility for years, Hillary was aching to know what “it” was.

Then the doctor showed her the test results on a computer, and Hillary spotted the word “carcinoma.” She’s had family members who’ve experienced cancer, so she was familiar with some of the terminology. She knew that word.

Finally, Hillary said something to the effect of, “OK, so I have cancer?”

The doctor confirmed: That appeared to be the case. He told Hillary he thought the cancer looked to be in its early stages, but she would have to go through some more tests. The cancer, Hillary learned, was endometrial.

“It was like, within one moment, someone took my dream away to have a baby,” Hillary recalls thinking.

As soon as she could, she called Bobby, who was still in North Carolina on business, and she broke the news to him over the phone. Bobby was up on a roof at the time, and he got down and sped to the airport to be by Hillary’s side.

The couple has been married about seven years. Bobby is a wonderful husband, Hillary said. He was incredibly supportive through this stressful time.

What next?

Hillary then made an appointment with a gynecological oncologist, who confirmed the cancer, ordered more tests and recommended a hysterectomy. The doctor said she believed this was a serious and life-threatening situation. A hysterectomy is an operation to remove a woman’s uterus entirely. But Hillary wanted to pause before making any major decisions.

“Now, I’m not trying to be reckless with my own life, but I thought it was early,” said Hillary, adding that the doctor did confirm that the cancer appeared to be stage one.

“I wanted to preserve my fertility,” Hillary said.

Hillary stands near a crib. (Photo used with permission from Madison Timberlake Photography/provided by Hillary Calhoun)

While Bobby has four children (who are now a little older) from a previous marriage, Hillary still dreamed of becoming a mother. So she examined her options and asked about the possibility of hormone therapy. Her doctor agreed -- she could give it a shot.

Six months after starting, Hillary was cancer-free. It worked.

And then in October 2019, she went straight from cancer treatment to in vitro fertilization. It was a whirlwind.

Before they knew it, January arrived, and the couple learned they were pregnant. It worked.

“It was unbelievable news,” Hillary said.

A dream turned reality

To rewind a bit, the Calhouns weren’t always sure a baby would be possible.

Between Bobby’s vasectomy and Hillary’s history of endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome and uterine fibroids, she said, she had been told by doctors over the years that pregnancy “might not be in the cards” for her.

She’d tried the infertility drug Clomid to no avail.

And at some point, she started to fear that the doctors might be right.

“I thought I’d have to kiss that (pregnancy) dream goodbye,” Hillary said.

But the couple thought it was worth it to fully explore the possibility. It was Bobby, after all, who was inspired and motivated to go for it.

“I just kept thinking, if God’s going to put it on my husband’s heart, there has to be a reason,” Hillary said.

Hillary and Bobby (Photo used with permission from Madison Timberlake Photography/provided by Hillary Calhoun)

The reason

Cancer, Hillary said, turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

She had been experiencing some unexplained health issues, and her yearly or bi-yearly exams weren’t showing anything out of the ordinary.

But a Pap smear only tests for cervical cancer, not uterine cancer, Hillary said.

“If I hadn’t had infertility, I wouldn’t have known,” she told us. “It was better than being diagnosed later, like when I had an infant. It happened exactly how it was supposed to, and this is how it was supposed to be.”

Hillary has clarity and confidence about this. You can hear it in her voice. She’s also incredibly warm, chatty, open and ready for this miracle baby.

“By waking up every morning and being grateful for the small things, it keeps you from getting frustrated from not being able to do all the things we’re used to doing,” she said.

All things pandemic

And that’s not to say the ongoing pandemic has been easy on the couple.

Hillary was a few months into her pregnancy when COVID-19 hit. She and Bobby agreed: With so many unknowns, she’d essentially go on lockdown mode. It seemed to be the safest option. Luckily, Hillary was able to work from home, for the most part.

“It’s just one of those things where you adapt because you have to,” Hillary said. “You survive because you have to. You can’t let the fear consume you.”

Still, she didn’t shy away from addressing the sad parts. It feels strange that Bobby hasn’t even met her doctor. Their doula, as it stands now, won’t be able to attend the birth.

The couple even went through a bit of a scare at 20 weeks -- a bad bleed, as Hillary describes it -- and she had to take an ambulance to the emergency room.

Policies at their medical facility were strict. At first, hospital officials wouldn’t even let Bobby in the door. Although he was eventually permitted into labor and delivery, where doctors were treating Hillary, he was told he couldn’t leave the couple’s room -- “not even to get a Coke,” Hillary said.

Hillary (Photo used with permission from Madison Timberlake Photography/provided by Hillary Calhoun)

The baby, by the way, is a girl. She and Hillary are doing just fine these days, despite a hot Texas summer. Olivia Grace is due Oct. 2. Her name has been picked out for a while now. It’s almost like she’s here already, the way Hillary talks about her and refers to her so effortlessly as Olivia. This is the little girl she was destined to have.

As far as labor and delivery are concerned, the plan for now is to labor at home with the doula for as long as possible. When Hillary arrives at the hospital, she’s told she’ll have to wear a mask throughout labor. It sounds hard, but she’s been rolling with the punches.

“I’ve had to learn to be a lot more open,” Hillary said. “With coronavirus, it’s easy to let fear consume you. And that could affect the delivery. So I want to avoid that as much as possible. I (have to) just go with the flow.”

For a couple who doubted at some point that they’d ever get to this stage of life, it sounds like they’re doing a lot of stopping, taking in their surroundings and appreciating the beauty all around them.

“(This surreal time) is a lot more intentional than normal life, which can be like, ‘go go go go!’” Hillary said. “To slow down has been really healthy for my pregnancy. Olivia was meant to be born in this time. There was a reason for it. I’ll find out someday.”

Were you, or are you, pregnant during the pandemic? (Or TTC?) If you're open to sharing your story -- as a guest contributor or just in speaking with a journalist -- click or tap here to see what we're looking for and to fill out our form. Thank you for considering!

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