In our new Realtalk series, we're sharing personal stories about fertility and family planning. We hope they offer support and inspire honest conversation about an incredibly tough topic.
A year and a half ago, I walked away from an emotionally abusive three-year relationship. It took his fourth affair for me to find the strength to leave the home I had been building for us and start over on my own. I felt empowered ... for about three months.
Then the physical ramifications of years of chronic stress caught up with me. I was malnourished and severely sleep-deprived. At five-foot-five, I had gone from a healthy 130 pounds to a skeleton of 108 pounds. I spent many days subsisting on coffee in the morning and Wheat Thins in the afternoons. I was floating through the months lifeless, quite seriously allowing my body to wilt away.
Predictably, after all of the stress, my adrenal system was shot. This, in turn, started a wave of hormonal symptoms — which ultimately led to a cease-and-desist notice posted on the door of my reproductive system. I haven’t had my period in 12 months.
According to societal norms, fertility shouldn’t be an issue for me. I’m an otherwise healthy 27-year-old woman. I should be in my prime. In terms of my own predicament, there’s also very little information out there for women like me — which only reinforces a nagging feeling of isolation.
Talking about my fears and feelings of failure to achieve the one thing I am biologically programmed to do often seems impossible the second I allow clouds of emotion to cover my voice of reason.
My Yearlong Struggle To Bring Back My Period
Previously, even during the three years of chronic stress, my monthly cycle could be calculated to the day. I was not on birth control and had a “perfect” 28-day cycle.
But just about three months post-relationship, in August of last year, my period was 10 days late. It was odd, but I knew I wasn't pregnant, so I shrugged it off. In September, I had a day and a half of spotting. But then, nothing.
I called my doctor and was told that this was normal, given what was going on in my life. I asked her when the right time to be concerned was. “Three months,” she said. “We aren’t concerned unless you don’t cycle for three months.”
So I nervously waited for periods that never came in October, November, and December. That was when I made an appointment to take action and get real answers. I wanted to move forward and finally feel like “me” again.
At the doctor’s, I was prescribed 10 days of medroxyprogesterone, a progestin often used to treat irregular periods. I was told that within seven to ten days of the last pill, I would have a cycle and be back to normal. Ten days came and went without as much as a spot of menstruation.
At this point, I decided to visit a nutritionist and pharmacist team who have had a good deal of success with bio-identical hormones. In January, I did a saliva test to assess the levels of my reproductive hormones: My progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone levels were that of a woman in menopause.
Willing to try anything, I decided to go a more holistic route. We theorized that if my body were given a daily dose of all three sex hormones, along with my making changes in diet and exercise and taking supplements to ensure that my body was getting everything it needed, then nature would take over and things would start firing again.
I tried four months of bio-identical hormone treatment. I began eating three square meals a day, protein and vegetables as far as the eye could see, and working out four to five times a week. Over time, I started to sleep better and my energy level began to come back.
But still no sign of my reproductive system.
Where I Am Today
Around the time this was all happening, my college sweetheart and I reconnected. He has been a dream through this whole process and deserves a medal for putting up with everything from my regular frustration to my severe lack of a sex drive (a really fun side effect of having no sex hormones).
We are now engaged. We had always been careful in the past about birth control, knowing that at some point, when the time came, we would stop the precautions and start a big, happy family.
Now the choice is no longer ours to make. We will start a family when we are ready only if my body complies: a concept that is frustrating, terrifying, and — when I am brutally honest with myself — a daily struggle to fully fathom.
We spent years in our early twenties doing everything we could to avoid a pregnancy. Now we fear that when we are ready we will have difficulty — or worse, not be able to conceive at all.
My last menstrual cycle was now exactly one year ago. I have tried just about everything under the sun to get it back. I've consulted my lifelong physician, two OB-GYNs, and a holistic nutritionist. I have drastically changed my lifestyle through work, exercise, diet, and supplements.
Currently, the plan is to retest my hormone levels in a few weeks, see where we stand, and make a new game plan. I have no idea what that new plan might be.
Up until now, I've only shared my experience with my mother, my fiancé, and a few friends. But now, hopefully, also with numerous other women who may be in the same boat. The more we can open up about our struggles, the easier it will be to face them, fight them, and achieve what we desire in life.
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