Every woman can get pregnant, right? It’s so easy. It’s completely natural. What happens however, when you try and fail, year after year?
“So, when are you having kids?”
“Your mother would love a grandchild, you know?”
“Please, have children while you still can!”
Harmless comments? In their own right, I would say, personally, that they are. When the doubt and self loathing creeps in though, they can become overwhelming.
My journey with PCOS or PolyCystic Ovary Syndrome, began when I was just 15. Crippling pain every month saw my worried mother getting me, after much effort, in front of a consultant. His advice? “Have a kid, it’ll fix all your problems. Though, you might have Endometriosis so you probably won’t be able to.” I was 15 years old, in a strange place, with my worried mother trying her best to reassure me. Should I be worried too?
I didn’t know at the time what Endometriosis was, and all I took from my consultation was the last part, ‘you probably won’t be able to.’ This became the norm for me. Something I tried to accept, but always at the back of my mind, I’d hoped his dismissive diagnosis was a mistake.
Over time, I came to switch off when people began to talk about babies. I’d often excuse myself from the room to go talk to the guys in the kitchen about cars, engines, and engineering; anything but babies. If anyone approached me about the joys of children, I’d just smile politely and try and end the conversation as quickly as possible. It was of no interest to me. I could never have kids, so why would I care?
When my Grandfather sadly passed away, it triggered another wave of depression that almost consumed me. Working with Occupational Health in my day job allowed me to notice a pattern in my ‘bad weeks,’ which linked it to my cycle. Further investigation, and an ultrasound later, it was confirmed I had PCOS.
Often Endometriosis and PCOS go hand in hand, but I guess you could say I was ‘lucky’ just to have PCOS. I got the impression from the Dr. and nurses that I should somehow have been shocked by this news, instead I just shrugged my shoulders and moved on. That’s basically what the consultant had told me when I was 15, so why should I be shocked?
Inside however, I felt a little bit of hope had been extinguished. They weren’t saying it was impossible, just difficult, but my husband and I had stopped using contraception 4 years ago, so when does difficult become impossible? Is there a time limit? Is there a definition on the period of time?
“I’ve known for 16 years, of course I’m OK,” I would tell anyone who asked me about my diagnosis, including my husband. He was very good, and so supportive, but I couldn’t help but feel I’d let him down. His three brothers all had children, and although I’m sure it was unfounded, I felt almost left out by his family because I was the only daughter-in-law not to have children. I became a little bitter about the issue, isolating myself further, and trying to get as far away from ‘baby talk’ as humanly possible.
“Even teenagers get pregnant by accident, why can’t you?” I would tell myself. “You’re defective,” would often creep in. Almost daily, I’d be reminded on TV, Facebook or by the stories of my colleagues, about how easy they became pregnant. Even my own GP seemed to be against me. ‘Your mother would love a grandchild, you know?’ he said one day, with my notes right in front of him. I wanted to scream at him, tell him to read the screen. ‘It isn’t through choice,’ I wanted to shout.
I’d try to explain to people how it was out of my control, but I could tell by their glazed over expression, that they understood my weight-gain was a direct result of PCOS more than they understood that it made having children ‘difficult.’ So, I stopped trying, I became silent about PCOS.
The worst experience I can recall, was at the Christmas party. It was for my husband’s company, but I knew a handful of people from previous events and trips out. A Chinese couple were there, and I knew them well enough to say hello in Chinese, which would always bring a smile in return. The conversation quickly turned to children. “Please,” she begged me, almost on her knees, “please have children while you still can!” I was shocked. My usual tactics of smiling politely hadn’t worked. If my colleagues couldn’t understand the true implications of my PCOS, how could I possibly explain to this lady I hardly knew, why I couldn’t.
That experience upset me a lot. I became further withdrawn. Now I didn’t want to talk to anyone about children, babies or conception at any stage; with medical professionals, friends, family or otherwise. It was now a no-go subject. I began to hate the idea, and I became vocal on my hatred of the idea.
I had failed as a woman to perform even the most basic function of a mammal. I did not want to talk about it.
It was about 1 week after I’d started my new job, that I became suspicious. It wasn’t the first time I’d asked my husband to go get me a pregnancy test because I was late; PCOS meant I could be between 2 weeks and 8 weeks apart anyway, so it was probably just one of those months again, and another waste of money to get the test. I was persistent though, and Husband provided.
First test was inconclusive. It neither said I was, or wasn’t, just that it hadn’t worked.
Second test was also inconclusive, but it did seem to suggest I was pregnant.
“Oh f**k! What do I tell my new boss if I am? I can’t be. It’s impossible, remember, 17 years it’s been impossible, why would I suddenly be pregnant now?”
Third and fourth tests were also inconclusive, it depended entirely on which way up you held the strip, and there was no reference on the stick to show you which way was ‘up.’
I began to Google the other symptoms, and it seemed to be enough to conclude that I was.
“What the hell do I do now?”
It took me another week to find out what I was suppose to do. I eventually found I needed to get booked into the SureStart centre.
“When was your last period?” the receptionist asked.
“I don’t know.”
“How can you not know?”
“I have PCOS, and I don’t keep a diary.”
“You must have some idea, guess.”
What? “Erm? I dunno, 8 weeks ago?”
“OK. I’ll put 8 weeks ago.”
With my appointment sorted, I felt relieved that they would at least confirm whether I was or wasn’t pregnant.
2 weeks later, I got to see the midwife, who to my disapointment didn’t check or confirm anything. I was given my blue book, lots of information and a congratulations; which was nice, but it would have been great for someone to confirm this for me.
My referal got lost, and it was another 6 weeks before I got to go for my first scan at the hospital. By this time, I was a bundle of stress and nerves, trying to decide what and how to tell my new boss. I’d just started, he’s going to be furious with me, surely.
Husband wasn’t able to get the time off work, so my mom kindly came with me.
When I saw that little baby on the screen, everything else seemed to just become so insignificant.
“You’re way past 10 weeks,” the Sonographer remarked, “18.5 weeks. You’re 18.5 weeks.”
Why do they measure in half weeks? I wondered. It didn’t matter. I’d done it. I’d beaten PCOS, and I’d finally proven that consultant wrong.
What are you meant to do when you see your first baby on the screen? Am I doing the right thing? Am I saying the right words?
Mom was thrilled, partly by the technology they didn’t have when she was pregnant, but mostly by the little baby up there, her first grandchild, up on the screen, dancing away.
“Would you like to know the gender?”
You can tell? “Yes, yes please.”
“There you go, he’s a little boy.”
17 years of self loathing. 17 years of bitterness and feeling defective. 5 years of letting my husband down. All that time feeling like an outcast, a non-woman, a non-entity, gone.