When she was just 28 years old and trying to get pregnant, Becky found out why she wasn’t conceiving: she had already gone through menopause. But in spite of her condition—called premature ovarian failure (POF)—this determined nurse found a way to have the pregnancy, and the daughter, she always wanted.
I always assumed I’d be a mother. I’m built with big, childbearing hips, and people used to joke that I’d have no problem pumping out the babies. I’d been on the Pill since I was about 17 years old, but the night I got married—in January, 1999, when I was 28 years old—I stopped taking it. My husband Michael and I had talked about how much we wanted children; that’s one of the reasons we’d fallen in love. We thought we’d be great parents. I figured it would take about six months to conceive.
Two months later I felt awful, hadn’t had a period, and thought, “Oh gosh, this must be what it feels like to be pregnant!” I’m a registered nurse, and I was working in a large medical clinic. Rather than take a home pregnancy test, I went to see one of the clinic doctors. I thought she was just going to confirm that I was pregnant, but as she examined me I remember she got a strange look on her face.
I started explaining my symptoms. I told her I’d been having night sweats, really bad hot flashes, vaginal dryness, pain during intercourse. So the doctor ran some hormone tests on me—FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) and estrogen levels. When the results came back, my FSH level was 113; the normal range for a premenopausal woman is 14, and for a menopausal women it’s 30 to 40. While my FSH was off the chart high, my estrogen was way too low. The doctor said it had to be premature ovarian failure.
I completely freaked out.
I was 28 years old and the doctor was telling me I was menopausal, and should just start taking estrogen. My mother had just recently gone through menopause at the age of 55. When I asked, “What about being able to have children?” the doctor said absolutely not. I was devastated.
Michael was fantastic; he couldn’t have been any better about it. He said, “I married you because I love you. If we never have kids I’ll still love you and want to be with you.” I never doubted him at all, but I still wanted us to have children together.
I found out that even though no one seemed to know a lot about this disorder, approximately 8 percent of women diagnosed with it wind up spontaneously ovulating, and can have children. I thought, Okay, I’m going to be one of those 8 percent.
Michael and I went to a reproductive endocrinologist immediately. That woman had the worst bedside manner you can imagine. She stuck a box of tissues in front of me and said, “I’ve looked over your chart. You will never ovulate again. You don’t have any eggs. If you want to have a child you need to use an egg donor.”
They told me that on the sonogram my ovaries looked like those of a 90-year-old woman. Over the years I’ve had lots of sonograms, and most of the time I get that reaction. I’m used to it now, but when all this first happened I went into a deep depression. It wasn’t just the fact that I couldn’t have a child that was so upsetting, but that I also felt less feminine, less of a woman. I couldn’t enjoy sex any more. I had to take pills to feel normal, but even then I didn’t feel normal because I was twenty-something and had to take estrogen. How many twenty-somethings can talk to their mother about hot flashes?
I started drinking, pushing my husband away. Michael and I were fighting so much. Finally I went for counseling, and after talking it out I realized I was unconsciously thinking that Michael deserved somebody who could give him a family. Subconsciously I was trying to get him to leave me. But he’s a strong man. He stayed with me through it all. I love him so much . . .