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Episode 462

Briony Benjamin – Natural conception post chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s lymphoma

In today’s episode Briony shares her experience with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, her five year recovery and the surprise natural conception of her baby, Charlie. She talks at length about the gratitude she had for her body and the overwhelm of early pregnancy where persistent nausea took her right back to her chemotherapy experience which she admits was really confronting. After much consideration, Briony opted for continuity of care with a private obstetrician and was supported by a doula throughout pregnancy and labour. She spent 12 hours labouring at home before making her way to hospital where she stayed active and used the TENS machine and water for pain relief. Despite the immense pain and challenge of labour and second stage, she birthed baby Charlie (named after Indigenous elder and activist, Charlie Perkins) and savoured an uninterrupted golden hour where he latched and fed beautifully.

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Briony’s book is a must-read for anyone navigating life challenges. It’s called “Life it Tough (But So Are You)” and it’s available online and at all bookstores.

“I was working at Mamamia and it was the best, least stressful job I’d ever had so I couldn’t figure out why I felt so awful and why I kept getting sick. Thanks to the persistence of my mother to get more blood tests, I was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkins lymphoma. I was 31 and the question of motherhood came to the fore; there is nothing like a cancer diagnosis to put motherhood into focus. I needed to start chemotherapy immediately but they could give me a small window to do an egg collection cycle because chemo can wipe out your fertility and age your ovaries by ten years. It prompted some pretty heavy conversations with my partner at the time and it felt like a pressure cooker of decisions. I was very fortunate to have the time to do that cycle and get eggs and made a few embryos with my then-partner which was a decision I later regretted. Once the egg retrieval was done, I started chemo the next morning.

“I lapped up the two-week bubble IVF gave me before I started chemotherapy. It was a really special and beautiful time; the house was full of friends every night who came and held me and told me they loved me. It was a time of immense gratitude. I always tried to approach my diagnosis with thinking that I’d be okay but there’s so much unknown and it is sobering.

“I responded quickly to chemo and I did it for 12 weeks. When you finish chemo, you have time to sit with it; you’ve got no energy or hair and you feel like a shell of yourself. You’re in limbo land because everything feels awful, my relationship had ended, I was living with my parents and my whole life was turned upside down. I grappled with chronic fatigue for four years after that and in many ways it was harder than cancer; cancer has a treatment plan and chronic fatigue doesn’t. I was cleared of cancer after being in remission for five years and it was around that time that I conceived Charlie.

“It was on the second date with Byron that I was very honest about my desire to have children and he admitted that he was very clucky, too. We were together for seven months when we decided to start trying and two weeks later we were pregnant. We were equally shocked and ecstatic. It was the ultimate sign that my body had healed and was ready to grow new life and I had immense gratitude in that moment.

“We were living in Sydney and I had no idea what to do so I went and bought your book and it validated so much for me. I was actually really flat for the first few weeks – I was so overwhelmed and fearful. I looked at a range of care options and I had such a wonderful experience in the public system but because of my background I wanted continuity of care with someone I could check in with regularly. My OB turned out to be someone I went to primary school with and she was so competent and caring.

“I hired a doula for the birth and she was amazing, it was the best decision we made. I was a week past my due date and my obstetrician was starting to talk about induction. I was working on the referendum at the time and two hours after the result came in I went into labour with mild contractions that I really had to breathe through. I woke at 3am and went downstairs and from then till 3pm I was at home, moving through contractions. I started vomiting a lot at home and that was a bit of a concern so once I got to hospital they tried to put a cannula in but that didn’t work. I used the TENS machine for as long as I could and then I got in the shower. I was really drowsy at that point and in a trance; I was sitting on the birth ball under the shower and I held onto the railing with all my might. I got in the birth pool for a few hours after that. Mentally the challenging part was not knowing how long it was going to go for. I didn’t want to know the time and I didn’t want to know if they’d called the OB. The contractions felt like they were slowing and I was getting concerned so they did another vaginal examination and I was about 7-8cm at that point. My doula got me up and out of the bath to keep me moving and that was a really challenging part of labour because I had to have GTG monitoring on the bed and I couldn’t move. I started asking for pain relief and regretted my decision to attempt a vaginal birth.

“Soon after my obstetrician walked into the room and it was one of the best moments of my life because I knew I was close. I was down on the floor on all fours but they were worried about his heart rate so they put me on the bed but he just wouldn’t budge. I had in my mind that ending up on the bed on my back was the worst thing I could do but once he crowned and I touched his head and felt its softness, I felt so much better. He was born, he looked up at me and he latched straight away and as he was feeding he was looking up at me. It was just so special.”

Connect with Briony

Briony documented her journey from cancer diagnosis to recovery in the video ‘You Only Get One Life‘. This led to a book called ‘Life Is Tough But So Are You‘ and a passionate drive to help individuals face the toughest time of their lives with more ease and less fear.

Topics Discussed

Hodgkin's lymphoma, Natural conception post chemotherapy

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