Life with PCOS

Life with PCOS: It’s not just about periods

Health, Life, Sex

The room smelled oddly like my old GCSE Art classroom. Outside, the world hustled and bustled. Inside, people sat in ones and twos, flicking through upmarket magazines, brochures, and books on trying to get pregnant. A portable digital clock in front of me counted down the minutes ’til I had to go back to the nurse to give up another vial of blood.

Unlike my GCSE Art classroom, expensive-looking paintings adorned the walls. Sun shone through the floor-to-ceiling windows. It was an unseasonally warm February morning. The clock bleeped. I stood up and shuffle-clomped to the nurse. I was in my winter boots – the forecast had said rain – she commented I was a little overdressed. I laughed awkwardly with her, mumbled something about these being my only waterproof shoes with grip. Seeing as I was recovering from surgery, I didn’t want to slip on the ice later. Blood done, I wandered back to my spot; digital clock in hand. I put it down and started flipping through a magazine about women and art.

Imposter Syndrome

In the end I spent over 2 and a half hours in that waiting room that day. And honestly, it was weird. I watched as couples came in, nervous, shy, awkward, anxious. Then women on their own, just as awkward or anxious as the couples, a look and a small smile flashed in my direction as they took a seat.

Every time I smiled back, I felt like an imposter.

Here were women and couples waiting to be seen by a doctor. All, presumably, waiting to find out what they could do to start a family, how they could successfully get pregnant. Here was I, alone, flicking through a magazine, surrounded by the smell of my GCSE Art class. In this place where people waited and learned if they could pursue fertility treatment, I was waiting to find out if I had an insulin problem.

I think that’s partly why it felt so weird. It didn’t help that on my first visit to this clinic a couple of weeks earlier, some language mix-up (as is inevitable when you’re speaking to doctors in a language you are still learning) had led to them asking me when my partner would be arriving to fill in the forms and have his first check with the doctor. Not an awkward scenario at all. No sir-ee.

This time I’d gone on my own for two reasons – firstly it was a Friday morning when most other people I knew would be at work. Secondly, I hadn’t thought I’d need “moral support”. I was only going to sit there and wait for the glucose drink to be processed by my body while they monitored it in the form of taking blood samples every once in a while. As I watched couples being called into consultation rooms I found myself envious of them. At least THEY had someone to go through this with them. At least THEY weren’t dealing with this on their own. And it dawned on me, in that moment, that I had never planned to deal with this on my own.

It’s Not Just About Periods

If you’ve read my previous post about polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), you’ll have a little insight into what I’m talking about. It’s been suspected since I was 18 that I have PCOS. But in the 12 or so years since that vague diagnosis, I’ve not really explored treatment options or really been aware of the additional health issues that can arise connected to it.

Earlier this year (2017) it became time to start exploring treatment. It wasn’t really my decision to be honest – it came more from my gynaecologist discovering white marks in my ovaries that were probably cysts but could be tumours and referring me to the hospital for further tests. At the same time she referred me to what the Germans call a Kinderwunsch (fertility) clinic to determine if I really did have PCOS or if I had been misdiagnosed all those years ago. All of these steps lead to me admitting it was probably time to look into ways in which this condition could be managed and my body could be a bit more “normal”.

Honestly, I never planned to deal with this on my own. I knew one day I would need to get treatment of some kind but I’d been expecting it would be something that would happen once I actually found someone I wanted to be with for forever, someone I wanted to have kids with. The fact that all the research I keep doing into this condition suggests that medical science doesn’t really know how to treat it or what really causes it, didn’t exactly fill me with confidence to pursue treatment. That plus how, unlike some other women I’ve come into contact with the same condition, PCOS didn’t really seem to affect my life that negatively. So really, what was the point in getting treated? It’s not curable anyway.

Know What’s Normal

Well apparently one reason to start being serious about the treatment is the potential other conditions it appears it can lead to in later life. One of those being diabetes. Which brings us back to the reason I was sat in this Kinderwunsch clinic feeling jealous of all the women coming in with husbands, boyfriends, partners, and parting with my own blood in the first place.

The doctor, having now pretty much confirmed I did have PCOS, needed to determine if I had abnormal insulin levels too. Insulin resistance or abnormal insulin levels can be an indicator of PCOS (and obviously if this is the case it adds to the risk of developing diabetes later in life). The thing is, just because you have PCOS doesn’t mean you’ll have high insulin levels (mine are pretty normal by the way), and you can have insulin resistance and not have PCOS. It’s not a hard and fast rule, it’s just one of the things medical research has noted about the condition.

And this is the thing, so little seems to be known about how to treat PCOS and we women don’t often talk about things like this except to perhaps our closest girlfriends – and even then it’s sometimes heavily edited – this is the main reason I have chosen to write about what I’ve been through.

It’s a little scary because there are people out there who know me who are reading this, but in the end, I need you to know too. I need you to know so that you can share it with your friends. Girls, I need you to read this to know that it’s important to know what’s normal for your body – and if it’s vastly different to other people’s normals, to know why that is. I’m writing this because I need people like me to know they aren’t going through this alone. That it’s ok to sit in the fertility clinic and be jealous of the people there who most likely are in a similar position but have a partner by their side. It’s ok to not really know what to do or how to handle this. It’s ok to wonder why your body sucks at this pretty basic human function – being able to reproduce – and to wish you didn’t have to deal with it alone (even if you’re not even thinking about actually having kids yet!). It’s ok to wish there was someone here with you, holding your hand through it all. 

And, you know what? It’s ok to talk about it too. Because it’s through talking and sharing we discover we aren’t really alone. We discover there are others who know what it’s like, and there are friends who wish they could make it better. Through talking we find those who will always be there for us, friends who will listen. And by talking we help other girls, other women, who were told they’d “grow out” of it or that their irregular periods were “just a phase” or those who are tired of trying ANOTHER pill, to take charge and learn to love their bodies, quirky ovaries and all.

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The Reason I Don’t Want Children (Hint: It’s Not A Phase)

Health, Life, love, Sex, women

Every now and then little posts pop up on my social media feeds. Little posts about friends expecting babies. And then, later, little posts of friends actually holding said babies. Let’s all say it together, “Awwwww!” Now, I know I’ve ranted about seeing baby pictures (sex trophies, if you please) all over my newsfeed before, but this isn’t about that. This is a little less tongue-in-cheek and a little more personal. This is about learning to love yourself, and learning to accept yourself as you are, even when faced with reminders of how your body falls short.

In amongst those proud little images of screwy-eyed newborns, there are stories of couples who struggled, cried and fought to see their parenthood dreams fulfilled. Stories of challenges and tears, pain and disappointment, and then hopefully, finally, there are the stories of eventual bundles of joy.

I’m going to be brutally honest here. Sometimes I find it really hard to whole-heartedly celebrate with you.

It’s not because I’m a cold, heartless, childless cow who’s totally focused on her career. Far from it. At some point, I’m open to the fact that maybe I actually will want children. (And now all my friends can climb back on their chairs and close their mouths in the awe of that statement.) I mean, way, way, way, in the future, ok? But maybe. Kids. One day.

Anyway, I really am all for celebrating the journey and the little miracles, the beautiful stories of dreams that are now fulfilled. And those darling little babies. My heart actually does love those babies (although I prefer them when they’re well past the stage of pooping on you, and can tell you why they’re crying). My struggle with your celebration is much more personal.

Let me tell you why.

 

THE SELF PRESERVATION METHOD

You’ve probably never thought about it but infertility isn’t only a problem affecting those wanting to start a family. Infertility affects a group of people you’d probably never think of. A group you wouldn’t expect for infertility to be on their radar.

That group? Single women. Heck, maybe even single men too, I can’t speak for them. But I know single women can struggle with the challenges of infertility.

I know because I am one of them. I am a single woman who struggles (albeit periodically) with the pain of knowing that I might not ever have children of my own. Not because I’m single and there’s no one in my life right now to have those kids with, but because, well, potentially I actually can’t.

And that, truth be told, is probably where my declaration of not wanting kids originated; as a self-preservation method. I mean, how better to deal with the fact that I might never manage to conceive and become a mother at some point in my life than by declaring I don’t want kids. Ever. Period. No pun intended.

Ok, so I don’t have a doctor’s report telling me I’m infertile exactly. I’m not having tests to determine whether I can have kids or anything like that. No one has handed me something that says I will never have children. I’m actively not attempting to get pregnant. So how could I know what it’s like to battle with infertility? How could I say I identify with women struggling to get pregnant?

How? Because my periods are few and far between. And I mean, not having periods regularly is usually a big neon indicator something is probably wrong with your ability to reproduce.

 

BODY PROBLEMS

When I was 18 I was diagnosed with a condition called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). It’s an endocrine disorder caused by a hormone imbalance with various symptoms and affects between 10-20% of women in the UK. (And over the years I’ve met quite a few women with the same diagnosis). For me PCOS means my ovaries don’t release eggs very often. So I can go months and months without a period. It’s both a blessing and a curse. Trust me. And it doesn’t take a medical professional to work out that if you don’t have periods very often, it will probably be quite likely you’ll face fertility problems should you ever try to get pregnant.

Having lived with this knowledge for 13 years now I can identify with so many of the emotions and thoughts I’ve heard friends talk about in their journeys from infertility to parenthood. I’ve felt and thought them, too. The pain, the frustration, the anger and sadness. Not about the baby that can’t be, but about my body that is somehow “broken”, and what that means about who I am and who I am not. Emotions and thoughts, that at the same time as feeling and thinking them, I’ve also felt I couldn’t admit to. After all, I’m single, I’ve no desire to be a mother yet; who am I then to feel this pain and heartache? Who am I to be angry with my body for “not working properly”?

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I have the same challenges and issues as a woman who is actually trying to conceive. Personally, I think we have different struggles with infertility. I’m not peeing on a stick in the hope that I might have a bun in the oven and I’m not upset when that magic line doesn’t appear. I’m not going through endless treatments in the hope something will work. Having seen and heard many friends go through journeys like that, I am fully aware my issue with infertility is not really the same. Heck it’s not even called infertility because I’m not trying to be fertile!

Really my struggle with infertility isn’t with infertility at all.

It’s with my body.

 

CHOOSING CONTROL

As I’ve said, right now, I don’t have children because I’ve chosen not to have them. But I have been through moments in my life where I’ve thought I might actually want to be a mum. I’ve also known the harsh reality that there’s a higher than average probability I won’t be. At least, not naturally. And knowing that means not becoming a mother isn’t necessarily going to be my decision, but a result of my body not functioning as it should. So saying I don’t ever want children was, somehow, a way to take back that control of my body.

During my late teens and twenties, with my PCOS diagnosis at the fore of my mind, I struggled to accept my broken, dysfunctional body. I also struggled to accept the medical condition I was diagnosed with that is somehow both wonderful (6 months without periods! Woo!) and a pain (bizarre weight gain, skin that still thinks it belongs to a teenager, hair in strange places). Deciding I didn’t want children somehow gave me a feeling of control over my body even when I could only see it becoming a chemical slot machine.

It was also a way to “screen” potential future partners. If they were ok with my bold declaration of ZERO CHILDREN PLEASE then maybe we’d have a future. This might sound a little silly, but being a Christian woman looking for a Christian guy to spend the rest of my life with, you come across a high incidence of men who actually want to be dads one day. So finding someone who either doesn’t want kids or is open to other options, like adoption, is actually important to me. In all likelihood, infertility is going to be an issue we’ll deal with, so putting out there that I didn’t want kids gave me an instant defence against the pain of not being able to get pregnant if we ever tried. There’s some sort of logic in there, trust me.

 

NOT NORMAL IS OK

And now to be honest, I’m not 100% sure how to wrap this piece up. I’m fully aware I’m not going through the exact same things that some of my friends who have struggled to have babies have gone/are going through. However, living with the knowledge that I have a condition affecting my reproductive system- about which little seems to be really known – has lead me to feel and think many of the things I’ve witnessed infertile couples deal with. But it’s also led me on a journey to learn what it is to be truly ok with who you are, whatever that means for your body. Normal is overrated.

Let me finish by saying the next time one of your friends tells you they don’t want kids, please don’t simply brush it off and tell them that one day they will. That one day their mind will change and suddenly children will be the only thing they could possibly imagine. They could be in the very process of trying to change their mind already; not to wanting children someday but to accepting the seeming reality that they may not ever have that choice about children at all. As much as we are a generation sharing our lives all over the internet in mundanely minute detail, some things we still keep close to our hearts because, really, how do you tell even your closest friends that the reason you don’t want children is because you’re pretty sure you won’t be able to have them.

 

 

SIDE NOTES:
I’ve been reading around PCOS while writing this post because I wanted to make sure I got the information correct and it made me realise it’s been at least 8 years since I last talked about my condition with a doctor . So I went and got it checked again and I’m now trying something new to help ease the condition.

Also, for what it’s worth, as a Christian, I believe that there’s still every possibility I could conceive a child one day if, at some point, that’s what I want.

 

 

Nobody wants to see your sex trophy before breakfast (Reposted)

Friends, Life, Relationships, Sex

A couple of months ago, in between late nights at the office and learning German, I wrote a guest piece for my friend and fabulous author (yes, I’m biased), Erin Lawless. It’s about parents who post every nanosecond of their newborn’s life on social media. It was/is, perhaps, a little controversial, but I quite enjoyed it all the same and so I’m posting it here as well.

I hope you enjoy it!

You can view the original post here: No one wants to see your sex trophy before breakfast or read it below.

 

“Would you all please stop! I don’t care anymore.”
I recently muttered these exact words at my phone one morning while absent-mindedly scrolling through Instagram instead of getting up.
You see, it appears that whenever I open Instagram, check Facebook, pull up Twitter or even get round to pinning something on my (admittedly neglected) Pinterest, there’s inevitably a baby picture staring back at me. If it’s not a baby picture it’s a “Week 34!” or a “This one doesn’t want to come out” pregnancy shot.
Alright, I get it. You’re pregnant / newly with-child / hanging out with your adorable newborn. And that’s cute. Once or twice. But there’s a limit to how many “Look at my amazing partner/husband/wife/baby and our cute new family” I can take (especially before breakfast).
Here’s one where it’s hiding from the ultrasound. #growingahuman
Isn’t he/she/it so cute?! #adorbs #lookslikedaddy
4am feed time. #tired #butshescute #mumlife
ENOUGH. I do not want to see swollen ankles or large bellies. I am bored of babies in onesies sprawled across a bed. And I’ve seen enough ultrasounds to be able to tell you that, it’s ok, you’re not going to have an alien.
But before you write me off as a callous, cold-hearted, childless bitch; hear me out.
I’m in my late 20s. I actively use social media. I have a wealth of friends and family with newborn kids (and judging by the number of pregnancy announcement Instagrams; it’s about to boom). My friends are having babies and that IS exciting. Some of my closest friends, ones I’ve known for over a decade, are making little copies of themselves. We’ve navigated first dates, first kisses, break ups, fan girl obsessions, proposals and weddings together. It’s only natural our lives have reached the point where we’re now being responsible for another life; be it human or cat.
And yes, announcing on social media is a quick and fast way to communicate the news of “Hey guys, we made an us!” (Alternatively: “We’ve been having lots of sex!!”) to as many people as possible with as little effort as possible. It’s especially useful when the people you want to inform are scattered around the globe. But – and here’s where I get up on my soapbox – I do not need you to document EVERY SECOND of your pregnancy. Believe it or not, once you’ve seen one pregnant woman, you’ve pretty much seen them all. They don’t vary wildly in form. It may surprise you, but I don’t particularly want to see your enlarged stomach. I don’t need to watch a time lapse of your body swelling up. And I really don’t want to see a labour shot(!).
It doesn’t end there either. Once baby has screamed their way into the world, my social media feed is plagued with shots, taken from multiple angles, in an array of microfashion, and filtered with Valencia. I don’t know how to tell you this but, I’m not especially bothered about seeing the 157th picture of your baby trying to smile (/fart).
I don’t want to banish infants from Instagram or free Facebook of baby farting faces (they can actually be quite hilarious). My simple plea is just that there’s a few less babies staring back at me when I log in. Your child is adorable but I don’t need to witness its every nanosecond. Just a small update now and then is fine. Especially if it’s funny – like they try to say “banana” and it comes out as a swear word, or you just happened to film them doing the most fantastic accidental forward roll into the cat while they tried to stand. I welcome those posts with open arms. (Mostly because they will keep me entertained during long and tedious days at work.) But please, stop clogging my newsfeed with your sex trophy.
If you really must broadcast every tiny development of your newborn (perhaps you have family/friends abroad who want to keep up with progress), consider creating a private Instagram account you share only with those who you know want to see every detail of your baby’s life or creating a Facebook list that you share only baby updates with. Spare the rest of us (ok, only the lonely, single, bitter ones of us) from having to trawl through numerous “Just too cute” and endless “Look at this beautiful bundle” moments. After all, I don’t fill your newsfeed with sunsets, cocktails, cats and epic holiday photos do I? Oh… Right.

50 Shades of No Way

50 shades of grey, Relationships, Sex, women

Unless you’ve been stranded somewhere devoid of internet and social contact for some time, you’re probably aware that this Saturday is Valentine’s Day. And you probably also know that it marks the release of a highly controversial “love story” – 50 Shades of Grey.

More like 50 Shades of No Way.
Admittedly, I’ve not read the books. But then, I’ve never had a desire to pick up something that I have been advised is, essentially, badly written erotica. When E L James’ paperback trilogy first hit bookshelves it was billed as “mummy porn”. Despite this, it was still possible to find it on store shelves not too far from kids’ magazines and young adult fiction. Before long it had become a worldwide phenomenon and then someone had the “brilliant” idea to turn it into a film. (As we seem to do with any wonderfully successful book appealing to women/young adults: cf Twilight, The Hunger Games, Divergent, Gone Girl).
I chose not to read the books and, unsurprisingly, I will be choosing not to see the film too. I’m not here to tell you why you shouldn’t see it but I am here to tell you that this is not the love story it is being billed to be. And I don’t understand why anyone would think it’s a great romantic Valentine’s Day treat.
It seems strange to me that, in a world currently fighting for gender equality, bridging the pay gap and getting outraged that women can still be labelled as “asking for a rape attack”, we’re signing up to watch a movie, which, just from my reading of reviews and watching one trailer, glamourises sexual abuse. Double standards much?

This is not ok.

Seriously.

Not. Ok.

It astounds me that things like the wonderful #HeforShe campaign is juxtaposed with the ludicrous advertising for 50 Shades of Grey. This movie is not about sexual or gender liberation, it’s about sexual exploitation. It’s not about love, it’s about power (and patriarchal power at that). And in a time where we are so obsessed with fighting for equality and giving people (women) a voice, how on earth did this piece of explicit exploitation creep past our checks and balances? If this Mr Grey character was an impoverished man, scraping together pennies here and there, I can’t help but feel there would be an entirely different story. Not just in the novel and film, but also in the media.

And yet, the media would have us believe that women everywhere are eagerly awaiting Saturday’s release. Amongst my peers, at least, opinion is (mildly) divided. However, most appear to lean on the side of “not interested”. Whether that’s because they don’t agree with it or just don’t think a movie could live up to a book (I’ve seen a few clips and it makes Twilight look like a brilliantly acted franchise) I couldn’t say. What I can tell you though is, personally, I’d rather watch grey paint drying than watch 50 Shades of Grey this weekend. Or, in fact, ever.