Russian freelance photographer and educator. She was born in 1988 in Kaluga, Russia. Her works have been published in TIME magazine, La Vanguardia, Folha De S.Paulo, Russian reporter magazine, Lenta.ru. Alyona is 3rd Prize Winner of World Press Photo 2019, 3rd Prize Winner of Px3 Paris Photography Prize, Honorable Mention of IPA, Grand Prix & 1st Prize winner of The Andrei Stenin International Press Photo Contest, Grand Prix Winner The Young People In The XXI Century International Contest (Lithuania), finalist of The Circle Of Life contest 2019 (Lithuania).
Right to give birth
Women's rights have drawn much attention all around the world lately. While many people protest against the exclusion of abortion coverage from health insurance, there are many people whose ability to give birth is a precious yet hardly-achievable dream. Cancer surviving women of childbearing age are significantly less likely to get pregnant. The chance to regain fertility depends on the type and duration of treatment and the patient's age. I was at a high risk as a former cancer patient. I was diagnosed with breast cancer on my 29th birthday. After few years of infertility and completing the treatment, my doctor told me that I probably would not conceive a child anymore. I was depressed, and then the COVID-19 lockdown hit. I had to cut off most of my face-to-face contacts and became a prisoner in my own house. After two months of isolation, my husband and I found out that I was pregnant. So a new phase of my life started, joyful yet disturbing. The anxiety grew as my closest relatives became ill. After nine months full of hope and worries, I gave birth to a boy.
Me with my husband. When the pandemic spread and lockdowns started around the world, the emotional stress on people grew bigger. There was much contradictory information from mass media which caused panic. Fears, uncertainty, and frequent discussions of COVID-19 all around led us to emotional instability. We wanted to isolate ourselves from it and find peace.
Me at home. When the lockdown started, I had to cancel all of my work trips as a photographer. The uncertainty that I would be able to give birth to a child brought me close to an emotional breakdown.
Me and my husband at home during COVID-19 lockdown. The pandemic changed our lifestyles a lot. I cancelled all of my work trips as a photographer. We had to get used to working from home, cut off social contacts, and find a new balance between our individual and collective goals and needs. This situation taught us to be kinder and more tolerant, though some families could not withstand the new conditions.
Two of the eight scars I got after mastectomy. Still, the opinion that cancer survivors should avoid pregnancy is widespread. However, research studies show that cancer survivors can give birth to healthy children, but sometimes they need special medical care and advice.
Me at my home. I realized that I was pregnant two months after the lockdown in Russia had started. It was hard to believe though very inspiring at the same time. It was a miracle.
Me, waiting for a meeting with my doctor at the medical center. My health condition and the COVID-19 pandemic added extra limitations to my lifestyle. Pregnant and cancer survivors are some of the groups which are at higher risk of a severe form of COVID-19.
My self-portrait with a curtain. In many traditional communities number of children is a measure for a successful marriage. On the contrary, the absence of children is treated as a sign of an anomaly. This increases emotional stress on those families who cannot have children.
My belly. My body was changing day by day. Some side effects were uncomfortable. Nausea, fatigue, and periodic headache reminded me of the chemotherapy, but now it felt completely different.
Future child room in my friends' apartment. They let me stay there while my husband was ill. I felt lonely, and my phone was the only link with my relatives. Isolation gave me much time to analyze my condition.
Me walking at a playground near the apartment where I was isolated when my relatives were ill. Deserted streets and playgrounds also reminded me of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Me during my isolation in my friends' apartment. I had much time, but I could do nothing because I was worried about my relatives and baby. Photographs that I took became my therapy.
Me taking a bath. The child in my belly was growing, and so was growing emotional stress. I tried to find a way to lower it. My self-portraits were a part of my plan.
Me alone in the shelter apartment (the one in which I stayed while my close people were ill). It was a hard time full of anxiety, worries, and loneliness.
Me at the maternity hospital a few hours before the surgery. My doctors convinced me to deliver via cesarean section because of my health condition. Before I had only one surgery - the mastectomy, and it was a painful experience. One period of my life was ending, and a new phase was ahead. My pregnancy was difficult because of my personal medical history and the worldwide pandemic, but I was on my final lap, and hope was stronger than fear.
Me with my newborn son in the hospital. Pregnancy, though sometimes disturbing, gave me a lot of new experiences. I decided to share my story to encourage and support other cancer survivors who probably lost their hope to have a child. Medical care and advice, crucial in such cases, together with hope and persistence, can seriously raise chances.