I was just 37 when I was diagnosed with menopause. Yep, you heard right, menopause.
I thought menopause was something that happened to older women. Women over 50 that were done with having kids. Older women well into their professional careers and established in their lives. Women like my mum and her friends. I didn’t think it was something that would happen to me. But it did.
At the time of my diagnosis, I was newly divorced and a single mum to my beautiful 5-year-old daughter. I decided to stop taking birth control (I mean, what was the point?). One month passed; nothing. Another month passed; nothing. No period but here I was – emotional, depressed and going slightly crazy. I didn’t feel like myself and I really started to worry. Something wasn’t right. I took a pregnancy test – negative (I mean immaculate conception could have been an option?!). Things weren’t making sense and I knew it was time to speak to someone, so I booked an appointment with my family GP.
She suggested several tests including blood work and a transvaginal ultrasound (they’re always fun!). During the ultrasound I distinctly recall the sonographer asking me how old I was. ‘37’ I replied. Looking at the monitor she let out an ‘Ohhh’. I remember naively asking ‘Oh don’t tell me I’m pregnant!? Or is it polycystic ovaries?’ She smiled uncomfortably and said, ‘No, you actually have very little antral follicles.’ Stunned, I smiled awkwardly and remained silent.
It was a long 3 days until my results were in. I nervously entered the GP’s office, but I was also convinced that the radiologist was wrong and that I did indeed have polycystic ovaries.
My doctor had a solemn look on her face then she very directly said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you this but you won’t be able to have any more children. You’re menopausal. You have premature ovarian insufficiency (known as POI). Statistically, this occurs in 1 out of 100 women under the age of 40.’ An uncomfortable silence followed. Then I burst into tears. To be told that I wouldn’t be able to have any more kids was not what I expected to hear. In fact, it was deafening and devastating. Yes, I was divorced. No, I wasn’t in a serious relationship but hey Prince Charming with tanned skin and an incredible jaw line could have been around the corner!? Did I want more kids? I wasn’t sure. But I was sure of this – finding out that Mother Nature / a higher power / the universe / my body (whoever you blame for in these moments) had decided for me and felt incredulously unfair.
I got my period when I was 16 (some would say I was a late bloomer). I then had my daughter when I was 31. Ironically, I fell pregnant first try. Then 6 years later, menopause. It felt like I had gone from puberty to motherhood to menopause in the blink of an eye. But I do recall thinking that I was so bloody lucky to have met my ex-husband when I did because my daughter was meant to be. Some women are diagnosed with POI in their teens. I really was one of the lucky ones.
Over the next few weeks, I underwent further tests including a bone density scan (the lack of oestrogen makes you more prone to osteoporosis and other ailments) and blood tests to monitor my hormone levels. After the initial diagnosis of menopause was confirmed by my doctor, she suggested Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). But I wasn’t sold. I wanted to do more research – my way and on my terms. Being the type A personality and hypochondriac that I (proudly) am I had already started researching POI and the best gynaecologists in my state. I’m also a strong believer in patient advocacy. It’s your body. YOU have every right to decide what works for you and what doesn’t, based on the medical advice you receive.
The next few weeks were exhausting – mentally and physically. I was juggling my homelife, work, my diagnosis, and my daughter was about to start school. I contacted several specialists to find out more, especially about HRT. The conversation usually started with the question, ‘Did you want more children?’ When I replied with, ‘I wasn’t sure and probably no’, many were not interested. They said they were reproductive specialists, and they couldn’t help me if I wasn’t planning on having more children. I was shocked. What I heard was, ‘You’re not reproductively viable or interested in being viable’ so I can’t help you. There was that deafening sound again. Plus, it seemed that everywhere I turned someone was pregnant. Dropping my daughter off at school I would often see mums pregnant with their second or third, glowing and happy, and then there was me; the single mother and one that could no longer reproduce. None of my friends were going through menopause. Hell, none of my friends were divorced! I felt so isolated.
But I picked myself up and finally found an amazing gynaecologist. She’s knowledgeable, honest, witty and most importantly, for me, she has amazing bedside manner. She listened. She genuinely cared. And she’s a single menopausal mother herself (it would be wrong to ask her to be friends, yeah!?). I remember her telling me that there’s not enough information available on this condition and that she understood how I felt. She asked me if I wanted more children. I sighed and explained I wasn’t sure. She said ‘Well, why don’t we arrange an appointment with a fertility specialist so you can find out about the process of freezing any viable eggs? That way you can make an informed decision. I will refer you to a top fertility specialist that I like but I warn you, she’s direct and that may not be your cup of tea’ That seemed logical, so I agreed. I mean how direct could she be? I already know I’m menopausal! I was sent off for further tests to see if they could determine why I had POI and my gynaecologist’s office made an appointment with said top fertility specialist for the next week (apparently being on the brink of reproductively challenged gets you into places quicker. I will remember this when there’s a line at the ladies’ toilets - lady with no baby coming through!)
Stepping into the office of the top fertility specialist was akin to walking into a pink fluffy womb created by Alannah Hill. Everything was pink and velvet and soft and feminine. It even had a fully stocked martini bar (I suppose a sweetener for anyone receiving bad results?!). The receptionist asked where my partner was and if he was attending the session. Cue: my alarm bells. So we have a top fertility clinic who charges a hefty premium and hasn’t read the referral notes as to why I’m here? I politely explained I didn’t have a partner or a husband and was ushered to a velvet chair with a fluffy cushion. Admittedly, it was comfy.
After waiting close to an hour, the Louboutin-wearing doctor called me into her office. I was introduced to her colleague, a fertility nurse who joined the appointment. She reviewed my results. I explained I wasn’t sure about any more children (as I was divorced) but I was here to get some more information and to see if it was even viable to do an egg collection. She looked up from her file and said, ‘I’m sorry with your current hormone levels, egg collection wouldn’t be viable at the moment and we’d have to try to get these up first’. She then stopped mid-sentence and looked at me and said ‘You know why this has happened, don’t you? Your POI diagnosis?’ I answered ‘Oh I don’t actually, I believe I’m in the idiopathic group but please tell me if you have my results’. She replied bluntly, ‘Your divorce. The stress of your divorce caused your reproductive system to shut down’. I was floored. Thanks Louboutin-wearing doctor for pouring more salt in the wound! Thanks for reminding me that I married someone I shouldn’t have; a person that did terrible things that caused me to leave and now can be blamed for ruining my reproductive system! I cried. I sobbed uncontrollably. She turned to the fertility nurse and said, ‘This one needs counselling.’ I was then told they’d offer me a complimentary counselling session with their in-house psychologist and they’d be in touch to see if I wanted to look further into egg collection. I left flabbergasted. That ordeal made my decision for me. My daughter was to be a single child who is loved ferociously.
I went back to my gynaecologist and explained that ‘direct’ wasn’t the word I would have used but I had made a decision and I wanted to look at HRT. She smiled and we started a dialogue.
Fast forward to now. I’ve been on HRT for 3 years and I must say it was the right decision for me. I feel like myself again. I’m less emotional, less crazy and I even get a period (albeit a chemically induced one but a period nonetheless). I cried when I had my first period on HRT. It was like seeing an old friend with whom I’d had a love-hate relationship with. I had missed her.
What I’ve learnt through my POI journey is you have to be your own advocate. You are important. You have the right to be heard and have a health care professional treat you with respect and provide you with all the facts so you and only YOU can make a decision about what’s best for YOU.
Also menopause isn’t just an ‘old woman’ thing. It can also be a hot, single mother under 40 thing who has embraced who they are - and that’s pretty brilliant (FYI I still haven’t met my Prince Charming with the tanned skin and incredible jaw line but he’s coming!)
Written By: One of the WolfGang
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