My boyfriend and I had been living together for about four years. I had wanted to have a child for my entire life, but he was really on the fence. Somewhere along the way I started mirroring him, and telling my friends, “I’m not really sure if I want to have a kid” (to which they would say, “what are you talking about?”). But when I hit 38, I got back in touch with what I really wanted: to have a child.
I started going to a new gynecologist who was pretty casual about my chances: “You are older but you’re very healthy,” she said. “Start taking these vitamins and let’s see.” I’d gone on the pill when I was 17 and stayed on it for 22 years without any breaks, until the spring of 2012. But about a month after I stopped the pill, I started getting terrible hot flashes and nausea. I felt terrible.
Meanwhile, my boyfriend, who’s an actor, decided he was going to do a play on the West Coast over the summer. He left, and I stayed in New York, going through what I would imagine withdrawal is like: sweaty, nauseous, unwell, feeling like I needed to lay down. It happened every day, and it could last five minutes or it could last all afternoon.
For a long time, I thought, This is just me getting off the pill, but then it continued for months. Eventually I got some blood tests at the gynecologist’s office and the next week I got a call from her nurse. I worked in a tech environment in this big bullpen and to get any privacy you had to go into these dark, airless spaces that are like phone booths. I went into one of these booths and the nurse proceeds to tell me, “Oh, honey, your levels of FSH [a hormone that regulates the menstrual cycle] are really high. I’m sorry — you’re in menopause.” I was devastated. And angry because it’s the nurse, not the doctor, who’s telling me this — that I’m in menopause, that I have premature ovarian failure.
According to the National Infertility Association, premature ovarian failure affects 1 in 100 women under 40 and occurs when the ovaries stop producing enough estrogen. To me, it seemed like a catch-all term for “we don’t really know what’s happening” and “we don’t really know the causes yet.”
It affected my sense of womanhood. I felt that, “I’m not a vital woman. I’m shriveling up, I’m going to be less desirable, my belly is going to go soft and my vagina is going to go dry and it’s just downhill.” I started seeing an acupuncture guy. I already wasn’t drinking alcohol or coffee; I’d given up chicken and beef and was eating all organic, but I still wasn’t feeling good. I knew that I wasn’t young, but I didn’t think I wasn’t producing eggs. And meanwhile my boyfriend is across the country doing a play.
The doctor suggested that I do genetic testing to rule out other causes for my symptoms. You can’t believe how much blood they need for genetic testing. It was like 17 vials of blood. It was two days before my 39th birthday, two days before I’m supposed to fly out to see my boyfriend — when I got the results from the genetic testing, it didn’t show anything. The diagnosis was still: You’re in menopause.
When I showed up at my boyfriend’s door, I was just a piece of shit. I was miserable and having hot flashes. We were watching TV and I was taking the blanket on and off and I just wanted to burst into tears. Everything was just terrible. We went to take a bubble bath and I was like, I can’t sit in this bubble bath — it’s too hot. Plus, he was giving me these weird gifts that make me feel like, “Do you know me?”
Right after that, I found out he was having an affair. We ended up having this horrible, quick, really nasty breakup. It was a disaster — and, meanwhile, this constant, demoralizing refrain was playing in my head: “I’m not a woman. My womanhood is shot.”
The confusing thing about a Premature Ovarian Failure diagnosis is that the doctors tell you there’s nothing they can do about it, but they also referred me to an endocrinologist to possibly identify underlying causes for it. He told me that it’s possible I could suddenly start ovulating again and that I should use protection. So which one is it? I have zero chance of getting pregnant — or just a small one? This is kind of an important distinction, especially now that I’m single and kind of having a lot of sex.
When I look back on my relationship with my ex, I realize it was just passionless — we got along, we made bread together — but we didn’t have a lot of sex. And now that I’m out of that relationship, I’m like the phoenix from the flames. I’ve turned into a raging slut — pictures, spanking, outfits. So that’s fun, but I’m still having symptoms; I have hot flashes and sometimes I get dizzy. I eventually found a fertility endocrinologist who talked to me about egg donors, so that’s something I would consider.
Before this happened, I had a very controlled idea of what my life was going to be, and rules for relationships: We need to be together like six months and then we’ll do this; and then we’ll do that. That idea got blown to smithereens. You can’t control anything. So now I’m living in the moment more. What do I want to do now, given that this is what I have to work with? What do I want my life to be? It’s shaken me up in a good way.