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.

Stop Saying We Need To Address The Gender Imbalance

Career, future, Life, politics

Over the last few weeks I’ve seen posts like this one on HuffPost and J Law’s rant on Lenny talking about women in our society, whether we’re represented at the top and what we’re being paid compared to our male colleagues.

Everyone’s clamouring that we’re not doing enough and there should be more women in high/authoritive positions, and I don’t disagree, I really don’t, there should be more women in top roles. However, I feel like half the reason that it “hasn’t happened yet”, as so many people bemoan, is because this only started being a real REAL focus in the last 5 -10 years. Probably closer to 5. It hasn’t happened yet because it takes TIME TO WORK to those positions. Merkel is 60 or so right? Most leading politicians are in their 40s or 50s, that means they were born in the 1960s or 1970s when the roles and views of women were starting to change but only in certain circles. These people were born into a world with a very different mindset about the role of women compared to the mindset of the world today on this same issue.

We live in an age where people expect to get things instantly, and we don’t see why we can’t have gender equality instantly. But changing mindsets isn’t an instantaneous thing. Changing mindsets is a long process. It takes decades. Centuries even. How many years did women fight for the right to vote in the way we so often take for granted now? It wasn’t an overnight movement. It took years of protesting and petitioning. It took people, mostly women, making huge, bold moves in the hope something might change this time. Votes for women wasn’t something that was a success within a few years.

To take the UK as an example, modern campaigning for women’s right to vote started in the 19th century. The movement that would become the Suffragettes was born in 1903 but it took 15 years and a World War before Britain let women have the vote. And that was on the condition they owned property and were over 30. It was another 10 years after that before British women could enjoy the same voting rights as British men. Some countries, like Finland, were decades ahead. Others took much longer to adopt gender equal voting rights.

Will It Ever Happen?

As a generation who expects to get things straight away, if something doesn’t happen in the next five minutes we wonder if it could ever happen. We forget that sometimes things don’t happen in the blink of an eye but more in the gestation of an embryo. If something doesn’t happen now, our generation questions whether it’s going to happen at all. This morning’s newspaper is the lunchtime chip paper before it makes it out of the newsstand. Only, no one eats chips in paper anymore. A better analogy would be this morning’s newspaper is lining the cat litter tray by noon.

So yes, we need more high profile powerful women. Women like Hiliary Clinton and Angela Merkel. Women like Tina Fey and Jennifer Lawrence who call companies out on the gender pay gap. But remember 20something and 30something feminist supporters (women AND men) – we have grown up listening to people telling girls we can be whoever we want. We can be a president, we can be a CEO, we can earn the same wage as our male counterparts. But yet, as Always so wonderfully pointed out last year in their ad campaign, “like a girl” is a phrase we’ve all grown up with being used as an insult too.

I don’t want to gain a “top position” in a company tomorrow because I am a woman. I want to gain that top position because I worked my way there. Sure, maybe I still have to work harder and longer to get there than my male counterparts. Sure, maybe I still have to face more prejudices on the way there. But I don’t have to work as long or as hard or face as many of the challenges as a woman in my position would have done 40 years ago. That’s progress.

The Gender Imbalance

Stop saying we need to start addressing the gender imbalance. We don’t need to start addressing the gender imbalance because we already ARE addressing the gender imbalance. Things like this take time for it to show out at the very top. It’s not ideal, but that how things go. When my generation are sat there, drawing our pensions, and the gender imbalance/gender pay gap is still like today’s, THEN we have a problem. But I hope and believe, 30 years from now, the girls born today will be confident in their roles and goals and be on the kind of equal standing with their male colleagues that is our dream ideal.

Sure, make a point. Photoshop the men out of photos of political leaders, business leaders and other male dominated professions but stop whining that we’re not doing enough, fast enough. What we’re not doing enough, fast enough right now is making sure people have basic provisions to live. That people in war torn countries can seek refuge in other nations.

And to get back to Feminism or whatever we call this, we’re not doing enough to change attitudes in places where women are still second class citizens. There are countries in the world where women don’t have the same rights to life and freedom as you and I. Where they can’t drive a car, or wear what they like, or choose their husbands or enjoy the same access to education. It’s all very well us Western Europeans or Americans or Australians crying that there aren’t enough women at the top. What about the places where there aren’t enough women at the middle, or even at the bottom? How about we also shout about that too? How about we stand together to raise future generations ACROSS THE GLOBE who value women AND men and embrace the different things men and women can bring to the table precisely because they have different genders?

We don’t need to address the gender imbalance. Rather we need to keep working to change gender mindsets.