When Lea Grover, a mother of three, suspected she might be pregnant in September 2016, she and her husband, Mike, sat tense on their couch as they awaited the results of an at-home pregnancy test.
With several medical issues, a history of cancer and financial concerns, Grover, of Chicago, Illinois, says another baby was “not a good thing.”
“Although another baby would no doubt fit into our hearts and our lives and our family, the physical toll was too much,” Gover, 33, wrote in a blog post titled “If I Got Pregnant Again, I Would Have an Abortion. This is Why.” “We knew what a pregnancy would mean for me: bed rest, anemia, crippling and untreatable pain, a pre-term C-section, most likely postpartum depression, but most importantly, cancer.”
Grover decided that if the test came back positive, she would have an abortion. The test came back negative. The parents were relieved when they learned Grover wasn’t pregnant, as Grover says she and her family just wouldn’t be able to handle the risks that would come with her carrying another child.
Grover, a mother to a 5-year-old and 8-year-old twins, tells PEOPLE that she noticed a basal cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer, during her first pregnancy with twins in 2009 and had it removed. She says that during the course of that treatment, she learned a lot about the relationship between pregnancy and melanoma.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, melanoma can begin during pregnancy. Although pregnancy does not increase the risk for the deadly skin cancer, the illness develops during a woman’s child-bearing years, according to the association’s website. Grover says it was this knowledge that prompted her to take a pregnancy test in 2012 when she noticed another mole.
“Sure enough, I was pregnant,” she says, noting that she learned the mole had already begun mutating into melanoma. “After that, I had a mole check nearly every month, and as they kept popping up, I started having more invasive exams. I still worry that those rapidly spreading melanoma cells may have set up residence elsewhere, and I completely expect for it to return someday. But I’m in no rush to help it happen.”
Dr. Nathan Fox, a New York-based maternal fetal medicine specialist affiliated with Mount Sinai Hospital, tells PEOPLE that pregnancy is not believed to cause or increase the risk of cancer. However, he says, women who develop cancer during their child-bearing years can end up having the illness while carrying their baby.
“It is true that, in general, pregnant women have somewhat of a diminished immune system and, mostly, that increases their risk of certain infections or having a difficult time clearing infections,” Fox tells PEOPLE. “But as far as we know, pregnancy does not appear to increase the risk of getting cancer and for women with a history of cancer, pregnancy does not appear to make their prognosis worse.”
Fox says pregnancy can sometimes make symptoms from already-existing cancer, such as darkened moles, more severe. This, he says, would likely lead to a diagnosis.
Preventing pregnancy hasn’t been easy for the couple, as Grover says medical conditions have left her unable to take birth control pills or get an intrauterine device. She says Mike attempted to get a vasectomy, but there were complications during the procedure, making it unsuccessful. Since her last pregnancy scare, Grover says she has been looking to undergo tubal ligation, a sterilization procedure to prevent any future pregnancies.
Her fears were compounded by the fact that her husband has been living with glioblastoma, a malignant brain tumor, for several years, and has undergone many surgeries.
“We’ve been unfathomably lucky [that he’s still with us], and we know it. But it means that if I were to die of some preventable disease, I know that soon enough, the children would lose their father as well,” she says. “That’s something I can’t ignore when I’m making a decision about our family’s future. I wasn’t just considering what would happen if I died, I had to consider what would happen to my children with both of their parents dead.”
Grover says she wants to share her story with other women who may be going through similar experiences.
“I decided to share my story because I think the way people talk about abortion tends to be based on misconceptions about who they’re really talking about,” she tells PEOPLE. “It would have been the only choice I could have made under the circumstances, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let anybody shame me for putting my family first.”