Tonilyn Hornung is an author and freelance writer who lives with her husband, son, many furry friends, and never enough closet space.
Lesley Anne Murphy is a woman going places and we’re ready to follow her. We first met Lesley on season 17 of The Bachelor and it was her openness and honesty that we loved so much. Next, we followed her journeys as a travel journalist and blogger and adored that she gave us all those BFF tricks and tips so our quests could build us the best of memories.
Then… we watched in awe as she took us through her positive BRCA diagnosis. She brought a much needed awareness to an inherited harmful cancer gene. Lesley is a BRCA Previvor, travel journalist, yoga teacher, and now–a new mom. Her truthfulness is taking her places, and in her new motherhood journey, we’re ready to go with her and learn, too.
Lesley Anne Murphy’s pregnancy
Lesley always knew she wanted to be a mom, but even with that deep inner knowing, her journey to motherhood was completely unexpected. She and her fiancé, Alex Kavanagh, talked of starting a family in their not-so-distant future, but their dream became a quick reality, “I got engaged February 2020 right before the world shut down,” Lesley begins, “and we always knew we wanted to be parents. But, it came a little bit sooner than expected I guess, because four months later, we found out we were pregnant…”
Lesley believes there’s no one set path for how life experiences unfold so becoming parents sooner rather than later happened perfectly for them. “We got engaged and then we had a baby, and now we’re planning a wedding so we’re really excited,” she says. Baby Nora Blanche was born in February of 2021 and Lesley says Nora is so much fun, “She’s just now getting her personality and I’m smiling and she’s so happy,” she says of her daughter.
Testing positive for BRCA
Every day parents are out there making the best choices they can for their kids, and years before Nora was even born, Lesley was asked to make a tough call that would safeguard her future family’s wellbeing. In 2014 her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she remembers exactly where she was when the news came, “I was living in Argentina, and I was in my apartment, and my dad was on the line, and my mom was in the background and I’ll never forget it. He said, ‘Your mom has breast cancer.’ I was on the stairs and I just remember sitting down. It was full-body numbness because you have no idea what’s going to happen,” Lesley says.
Not long after her diagnosis, Lesley’s mom went into surgery and had a double mastectomy. She says it was through this process that her mother learned she was BRCA positive for a gene mutation that gave her cancer. According to Cancer.gov, a positive test result means that you have inherited a harmful variant and an increased risk of several types of cancer—specifically breast and ovarian cancer. Lesley says that her mother’s test directly led her two sisters and herself to be tested for this gene. “I finally had time to do it (the BRCA test) between trips and I remember I left for the test and she said, ‘Oh, it’s fine.’ It’s going to come back negative, and that’s absolutely not the case. It came back positive,” Lesley says.
Choosing a prophylactic mastectomy
After Lesley got the news that was BRCA2 positive, she had a talk with her gynecologist. She carefully considered all the alternatives and decided that in order to maintain the lifestyle she loves, it was her best option to go with a preventive prophylactic double mastectomy. Lesley says, “I always tell women who come to me for advice that it is my greatest hope that they find courage and all this empowerment on the other side because that’s what I feel. And now after having a daughter and having a family now, present day, I know I did it for her because she now has a mom who is going to be around for as long as possible.”
Supporting personal feeding choices
When Lesley made the choice to have her preventative double mastectomy, she knew she wouldn’t be able to breastfeed her future babies. This realization hit hardest when she was carrying her daughter, but she was still certain she made the right decision for her wellbeing. What leaves her confused is when she’s approached by those who tell her she should’ve breastfed first and taken care of her own health second, “I still am told that it was a selfish move to remove my breasts before I had the potential to breastfeed.” She goes on to say that the way a parent feeds their baby isn’t a measure of their worth and adds:
“I’m so proud of myself that at 29 years old I got my breasts removed so that we, and when I say we, my whole family could be a healthier unit in the end.”
Keeping motherhood honest
Lesley hopes that by being honest and putting her story out there she can help and inspire other women going through similar circumstances. “… it feels good to be a point of positivity and honesty that people can turn to on the internet because the internet can be a super scary place. And, I’m always going to shoot it straight…” Lesley says. This honesty applies to her feeding journey with Nora as well.
However, we choose to feed our babies is okay whether that’s a medical reason or a lifestyle reason or simply because you don’t want to breastfeed, it’s all okay.
With this same unchecked openness, Lesley talks about the mixed messages she’s received (especially through social media) about her choice to formula feed her baby. “I don’t know how we got here, to where we feel that we can judge somebody based on our own parenting styles and choices. Something that’s so intimate as a feeding journey, because like I said, we don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors. We don’t know if there’s some kind of medical issue or a lifestyle change, or simply a desire not to breastfeed,” she says.
How do you bond with your baby if you can’t breastfeed?
The question she gets asked most frequently when it comes to feeding is “How do you bond with your baby if you can’t breastfeed?” She finds that one interesting because there are so many other ways “to bond with your baby other than their feeding journey, but we bond over bottles like there’s no tomorrow. It’s beautiful,” she says.
Moms, you’re not alone
A fussy baby, sleepless nights, and 3-second showers are only a few things parents juggle with when caring for a newborn. New moms have a lot going on and Lesley says hearing such negative feedback about feeding when in such a vulnerable space is dangerous. That’s why Lesley hopes that every mom is able to find an inner belief in themselves. “I ultimately just want women to find that inner confidence in themselves, in motherhood, and how they are raising their babies and how they’re feeding their babies, because I think as women when we lose that confidence, we lose so many other things about ourself,” she says.
Moving through this whole feeding experience, Lesley wants new mamas to know they’re not alone. “I think at the forefront of every new mom’s mind is feeding your baby and wanting them to be comfortable and be well-fed, and that can come in so many different ways. Once you find it, and whatever that may look like, that’s what works for you. And please just be comfortable and relish in that happiness once you find it because there are so many ways to feed your baby. It can look like anything,” Lesley says.
I mean, this child is so happy on a bottle. I kid you not. She is happy with a bottle in her mouth and in that bottle is Bobbie so I seriously wouldn’t change it for the world. I really wouldn’t.
Lesley Anne Murphy is partnering with the Arkansas Food Bank to help families in need of formula.
Lesley is part of the Bobbie formula feeding campaign ‘How’s Breastfeeding Going’ along with new dad Tan France, mom Hannah Bronfman and mom of four Kelly Stafford. Her goal is to help #shakethestigma on formula feeding. Join her and Bobbie on this mission by visiting howisfeedinggoing.com.