Guest Writer Wednesday: Menopause at 30
Guest writer, Susanna, shares her story about premature ovarian failure. She writes candidly and vulnerably about what it felt like to receive this diagnosis knowing that one day she would like to have her own child (biological or adopted). Let’s welcome Susanna to the Unicorn Mission!
It started with hot flashes.
Frequent, beads of sweat on the upper lip hot flashes. It continued with night sweats that were so bad I would wake up in a pool of water. This wasn’t normal and I knew it. But I just figured it had something to do with coming off of birth control after 10 years... my mood swings alone confirmed a hormone imbalance.
The diagnosis was swift. Too swift. One blood test and they knew. A long, drawn-out diagnosis is agonizing I’m sure, but one in the midst of a routine pap has its downfalls too. I was alone when delivered the news and shouldn’t have been. Why hadn’t the doctor warned me she would be changing my life forever? Why did she think I could handle this on my own? I couldn’t. A hysterical phone call to my husband ensued and he was there in minutes.
The diagnosis was swift. Too swift.
One blood test and they knew.
Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). A hormone that I didn’t know existed in my body suddenly became the most important thing in my body (and the most abundant- my level was 10 times that of a normal woman my age). This follicle-stimulating hormone seemed to tell the doctor everything she needed to know.
She explained, “FSH is what tells the follicles in your ovaries to release eggs. Right now your pituitary gland is sending as much of this hormone as it can to your ovaries trying to get it to release an egg, but there are no eggs. At some point in your life you lost all of your eggs. You’re experiencing Premature Ovarian Failure.”
Premature Ovarian Failure is a nicer way of saying menopause to a 30-year-old woman who wasn’t even sure her mother had gone through menopause yet. Menopause is that dreaded time in a woman’s life when she dries up- both in the egg sense and in the carnal sense (kidding…sorta). Menopause is after you have all of your kids and is the biological signal that you’re aging. Menopause at 50 sucks. Menopause at 30 is devastating.
Birth control had kept this news from me for my entire adult life. It had tricked my body into thinking it was doing it’s normal thing and releasing an egg every month, but all along there was something more ailing going on. (BTW- Birth control keeps your FSH close to 0, which is why it prevents pregnancy. That hormone is never released so your ovaries never get the signal to drop an egg. Tell me this is news to someone else!? Despite the logical assumption that BC was then preserving my eggs all of those years- keeping my FSH at 0 and never letting my ovaries release them eggs- it didn’t. So I suppressed my FSH for the majority of my fertile years and still lost all my eggs??? Aaaaand I’m back to not understanding how BC works.)
I come from a family of 4, from a mother who is one of 6, from a father who is one of 6, from an extended family of 24 and I’m an aunt 11 times over. I come from a fertile, fortunate family. Getting pregnant was never a matter of “if”, it was a matter of “when”.
It wasn’t just this belief that ended for me that day. Suddenly I wasn’t just robbed of my fertility- of my unborn children and eggs- but I also felt robbed of my age. I felt like I was no longer 30 and carefree with my best female years ahead of me. I felt like I was no longer part of that women’s club where we complain about PMS, ask for tampons when we’re out together and forgot one, and vent about the food cravings we succumbed to in preparation for aunt flo’s visit. I was part of the hot flash, night sweats club with the 50-year-olds and it felt doubly unfair. As a young woman, you’re acutely aware of what a period symbolizes and you learn to recognize it as a beautiful part of your body. Losing that part of you is difficult and I have a new found tenderness for women going through this stage in our female lives.
The good news is that this menopausal woman can still carry a baby with the help of a donor and I am so so so so grateful!! It offers a big ray of hope in this difficult diagnosis, although navigating through that option is very overwhelming (if you have any advice, holler at me!). And there are beautiful options for adopting which I am equally excited about. I’m learning to accept what I’ve known in my heart all along: a child doesn’t have to share your DNA to be yours and a family doesn’t have to look or act alike to belong to each other. Our family might end up resembling Brad and Angelina’s, but just roll with it.
In the meantime I am back on birth control to maintain healthy levels of estrogen and progesterone for a woman my age. Thanks to BC I’ll continue to have periods (back in that 30-something club!) and a sweat free upper lip until I’m 50. The irony.
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Bio: Susanna is a Colorado transplant from Arizona and a southwest girl through and through. She enjoys spending time in the mountains and taking advantage of all the outdoor activities and beauty that the Colorado Rockies offer. Her husband has managed to turn her into a tennis fanatic and decent skier, and she's turned him into a salad eating yogi (all after only 3 years of marriage!). Susanna has been in the nonprofit sector for over 10 years and is passionate about women empowerment and educational equity for youth.
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