A cancer diagnosis at the age of 28 could have shattered the vision Triona Benton had for her future. But she continued to cling to God, trusting that somehow she would have the children she longed for
I’ve sat in lots of waiting rooms over the last ten years. I remember one particular wait, in the spring of 2012. I’d been struggling with my health for months, seeing umpteen doctors and having various tests to no avail. I was so bloated, uncomfortable and in pain – and desperate for answers.
But when I had a call following some scan results asking me to “come into hospital tomorrow”, the urgency of the appointment suggested that something was up.
Where was Jesus in my storm? And who was I if I couldn’t be a mother?
As I waited with my fiancé, Nick, I had a glimpse of the consulting room. It was comfortable and serene, the sort of consulting room where bad news is given. And it was. I had cancer. My first thought? “I must walk down the aisle.” Nick and I had been engaged just three weeks. His proposal was the culmination of years of prayerfully considering God’s future for us. I distinctly remember our conversation after I said “yes”; our imaginations running away with us as we dreamed about the life we’d live and the children we’d have together.
Living in hope
We left that consulting room with the word cancer still ringing in our ears, but then Nick hopped on his bike and went straight to a job interview. Perhaps continuing with life was our way of coping, or maybe it was a symptom of our confidence in God’s goodness and healing presence with us.
But life couldn’t just continue as normal. The following week we were back in another waiting room for investigative surgery and an operation to drain fluid that had gathered in my uterus. We braced ourselves for the prognosis afterwards and, while I lay recovering, Nick and my siblings were told that my uterus and both ovaries would have to be removed.
I remember shaking when they told me the news. I think I continued to shake the whole of the next week with my body’s reaction to the magnitude of what was happening. It was emotionally exhausting, but amidst all the tears and bewilderment I continued to cling to hope.
When I had been lying on a hospital bed, unaware of what the doctor was telling Nick and my siblings, a nurse had come into my room and said: “by his stripes you have been healed”. I never saw her again and am convinced she was an angel. Her words set the tone for the next week, as many family and friends began to pray for my healing.
A week later I turned up at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London for the life-altering surgery. Remarkably the surgeon told us that there was a chance he could save my uterus, and perhaps even one ovary. Friends and family circled the hospital building, praying continually throughout the six-hour procedure.
And against so many odds our hopes were realised. The surgeon also confirmed that I wouldn’t need to undergo chemotherapy, admitting it was strange considering how advanced the cancer was. It was such a phenomenal relief and a testament to the power of God at work.
The recovery was long and extremely painful, but three months later I walked down the aisle. It was the most incredible celebration of love and life.
Searching for my children
We continued to remain hopeful and confident that we’d have a family of our own one day, but things were about to get even more complicated. My remaining ovary needed regular monitoring and an appointment on my 30th birthday revealed potential problems. On Nick’s birthday, exactly six months after mine, we received news that I would need to have my ovary removed.
All we knew about the couple the embryo had come from was their eye colour, hair colour and height
A team of researchers at Oxford University had identified a process of removing ovarian tissue and re-introducing it back into the body at a later stage; some women had been able to become pregnant following this process. I clung to this chance, only to discover that there were abnormalities with the tissue they had taken from me. The reality of having no opportunity to have my own biological children was devastating.
The next season of life was like a treasure hunt – a long, tiring and confusing one, which seemed to have no end. We so wanted to have children…but how? There was much to contend with emotionally; my grief at not being able to have my own biological children, and the challenge that posed to my own sense of womanhood.
Added to that were the opinions of other Christian friends and family regarding fertility treatment and the sovereignty of God. It all felt so complicated. We had appointment after appointment with fertility doctors, and lengthy discussions about adoption, but we didn’t feel God’s peace about any of the options presented to us.
We ruled out egg donation quickly. Nick knew it didn’t sit comfortably with him – if a child wasn’t to come from my eggs, then neither would they come from his sperm. The natural next step was to consider embryo donation, but it is rare in the UK.
We discovered a clinic in the US offering embryo adoption. We found the use of the word ‘adoption’ so helpful. Ordinarily the procedure of embryo donation is fairly clinical and practical, but this clinic took prospective parents through the process of adoption, providing the time and support we needed to steady ourselves and consider the journey ahead.
The embryos were donated by couples who had finished with fertility treatment. We were able to find out about the couple the embryo came from. At that point, it felt so important to have a sense of who our children might be.
We went through three attempts of embryo implantation via this clinic. After the second failed we got in the car and drove from Missouri to Colorado. For twelve hours we stared at the road ahead of us, tears flowing, worship music blaring loudly to dampen the noise in my head.
My desperation for Jesus was as real as ever, but I felt so let down and abandoned. We returned to the UK following the third and final implantation. This also failed. It was such a dark time for us. I knew God was good, I knew I was loved, but these truths also hurt. Where was Jesus in my storm? And who was I if I couldn’t be a mother?
Chosen before birth
There was so much to process and so much grief to surrender as we mourned the children we hadn’t been able to hold. Perhaps God knew I was at the end of myself, for he carried me through the next season with such gentleness.
We met a woman at a conference who had successfully had two children through embryo transfer at a clinic in Spain. The process was more clinical and straightforward, but the work we had done through the clinic in the US and the term ‘embryo adoption’ remained significant. This is essentially what we were doing; adopting a baby nine months early.
In 2018 the first embryo transfer worked. I was pregnant! Amidst the natural anxiety of cradling a longed-for pregnancy, my mind was also awash with other thoughts and concerns. What would they look like? All we knew about the couple the embryo had come from was their eye colour, hair colour and height. So much felt unknown. We were nervous. And yet, at the same time, the experience of pregnancy felt right and familiar. This child was a part of me, my blood flowing through them, my body holding them.
Nine months later I brought our son into the world. I had no idea how I would feel and on occasions I wondered if my emotions were normal…the myriad of joy, bewilderment, love and detachment. But it turns out this is how many new mothers feel, whether their baby is genetically theirs or not. So, we embraced the journey as new parents do. And, amazingly, as our son grew we discovered that he even looked like us!
The clinic had set aside three sibling embryos for us at our request. If one worked, we wanted to be able to have another child who was genetically related to the first. Two years later a second transfer worked. We had another beautiful son.
In a sense we have ‘arrived’ in the reality of all we longed and prayed for over so many years. And yet our need for Jesus, as we navigate the all-consuming joys and chaos of raising young children, runs as deep as ever.
We often wonder how conversations will develop with our boys as they grow. We hold nothing of their story back from them and have books to guide us in helping to explain it. But in many ways it feels odd to share what happened; I look at them now and feel that every inch of them is ours!
I pray they will grow up knowing where they come from, but assured of where they belong. Adopted before birth and fully our children. Chosen and loved right from the start. Their story feels so comfortingly familiar. A story of being chosen before birth, and of being adopted, loved and nurtured into the family of God.
Triona recommends The Rhythm of Hope annual day-retreat. Aimed at couples who are facing primary or secondary infertility for a physical or medical reason; rather than those who have chosen to foster, adopt, or remain childless. therhythmofhope.co.uk