Surrounded with all my favourite people, I drank warm prosecco on the beach, ate cockles from a polystyrene pot, swam in the murky sea and laughed heartily as the sunset cast a pink hue across my sun burnt nose. To an outsider it must have looked like the 30th birthday that dreams are made of. Deep inside of me though, I was drowning in a whirlpool of anguish and anger.
You see, a few weeks previously I’d been told by my Oncologist that the toxic chemotherapy I’d been given had forced my body into an early menopause. The cruel irony of my twisted fate was that in saving my life, the chemo had destroyed my life making organs. I’d been plunged into the menopause, decades before I was meant to have been. Medical science had played Russian roulette with Mother Nature and neither had come out winning. My oestrogen levels had plummeted and hormonally I now had the body of a 50-year-old woman.
For the first few weeks after hearing this news crying became routine, as I mourned the loss of my fertility and my youthful, once virile, oestrogen rich body. Somehow, I felt less of a woman, as if my sexual being and femininity had been stripped from me by the aggressive chemicals. Everything felt so unfair, so cruel.
Anger flooded every part of me. Gone were my periods, it was a different colour of red I was seeing now.
Iphones got smashed on floors, people got shouted at, fists got banged on walls and I’d find solitude curled up in the foetal position on my bathroom floor, bitter teardrops seeping into the bath mat. It had thrown a curve ball into my existence, my life plan. I’d always wanted children. A younger me had pictured myself as a happy, healthy mother, babies dripping from my hips and suckling from my breasts, all knitted booties and bunting and perfection.
A realisation occurs. Maybe the reason I’m going so cray cray might have something to do with my hormones? It might be to do with the fact that my body is in a serious period of flux and that my hormones are playing havoc with my moods.
I’m all over the place. I can’t sleep, I want to sleep more, I feel anxious, aggy, low on energy, restless. I start forgetting things, I can’t focus, quite frankly I feel pretty depressed and out of control. Thanks to a decrease in collagen production due to my lowered oestrogen levels my skin loses its dewy, youthful glow, instead becoming lacklustre, sallow and dry. An itchy rash spreads across my face and around my middle I pile on the pounds, “Middle aged spread” as my Gynaecologist so beautifully puts it. I find alcohol sends me haywire, so I try to control my urge to drink too much.
I have no libido, whatsoever. I literally have zero, and I mean zero, desire to have sex. I’ve gone from being a sex loving twenty something, to someone who never even thinks about sex. My vagina is about as dry as the Sahara and thanks to the lack of oestrogen in my system I’ve got vaginal atrophy, a thinning of my vaginal walls meaning sex actually hurts, quite a bit. There’s also the increased risk of osteoporosis, heart disease and stroke associated with Premature Ovarian Failure to contend with. Oestrogen is a powerful, important hormone for women under 50, and to put it bluntly, without it I was pretty fucked.
Luckily, medical science can provide me with some clever little drugs to set things straight and trick Mother Nature back to my 30-year-old body again. As friends’ quaff cocktails on Friday nights, my new drug of choice will be oestrogen, with a dab of progesterone on the side. Hope, in the form of a tiny pill, will become my new normal.
Baby's don't come from freezers. That's not how this was supposed to go.
There’s promise for my fertility too. Before my chemo treatment I had an ovary removed, and ovarian tissue stored in a freezer. A few more years of clear scans and I will be able to look into IVF as an option for conceiving.
Of course, I wanted a natural conception. I wanted to have passionate sex one balmy summers evening, all hair pulling and bra tugging and impulse. Or even just boring, standard sex. A 15-minute missionary sesh would have sufficed. Really, I just wanted to have sex and to get pregnant and then nine months later to give birth to a baby. I didn’t want an egg, frozen in some fridge in Oxford Hospital, to be thawed and mixed with my partner’s sperm, then injected into my womb. Baby's don't come from freezers. That's not how this was supposed to go.
But this is how it goes. Physiologically things may have changed, but mentally I will not let them. I will not let an early menopause get the better of me. I will not let it take away my youthful charm and pizzazz for life or my desire for children. I will enjoy my thirties with a renewed sense of sexual identity and lust for everything life has to offer. I will find ways to manage and understand my body better.
I will not let my hormones beat me.
For more information on early menopause and Premature Ovarian Failure (POF), please check out: