When you try to not see something, that’s when you see it everywhere. I wanted a baby, but couldn’t have one and started seeing babies everywhere. Stork covered cards with good wishes were passed around work in plain manilla folders like vital documents. The bank teller waddled to the safe in her “bun in the oven” tunic and leggings. Every woman on the sidewalk had a stroller, baby carrier, or the sticky hand of a toddler struggling to keep up. The couple in front of me in the check out line bought diapers and formula while they giggled about sonogram pictures and heartbeat sounds. And then, to add the cherry to the sundae of misery, a cousin of mine had a baby four months earlier than she should have. I was expected to visit and be supportive and crap. Yeah, I said it. Crap. The last thing I wanted was to see anyone’s child. Especially the child of someone that I thought didn’t deserve a child. Sounds harsh, I know. I would venture to say that every woman who has struggled with infertility has passed silent judgment on those around her who seem to be able to conceive with just the mere thought of sex. We don’t like thinking about those thoughts. We are just so hurt and scared that it won’t ever happen for us.
For the next few months, I would lay awake nights with silent tears slipping down my cheeks and hiding in the creases of my neck as my husband lay there snoring peacefully. Despite him being there every day and being supportive, I felt terribly alone and defective. Women are supposed to have babies. It’s one of the primary things that makes us women. With the frequent facial hair removal, I needed something to make me feel like a woman. I could grow a beard but not a baby. And that just plain sucked. A gripping spiral depression had me in its clutches and was fighting to keep me there. To make matters worse, the winter chill settled in and drove the optimism of the sun far from me.
Meanwhile, I had managed to lose another job. I had started graduate school and was looking forward to classes starting in late January. Depression does not stop us from being active, it just makes it harder to be active. Part of the PCOS madness is emotional unrest. This can range from mild mania to deep depression in a lot of women. The future was getting brighter, or maybe I was just too busy to notice that nothing really had changed.
I always felt that I was different somehow. I just wasn’t really sure how. As my body morphed from prepubescent to adolescence, my doctor had no problem defining the difference. The telltale signs of irregular menstrual cycles and stray strands of unwanted facial hair confirmed a diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This was nearly 30 years ago when much was not known about the disgusting disease. The condition was blamed on my weight and I was told that if I lost 20 pounds, I would be cured. Well, I did that and guess what? Still had fifteen day periods and a beard. So, clearly, weight wasn’t the issue. This was solidified for me when I met a young woman at the specialist’s office who was a size 2. She was told it was in her genes and there was nothing that could be done. I felt defeated and helpless.
Girls are not supposed to have facial hair. My peers, especially the male ones, never let me forget that I was a freak. The girls were a bit better and more understanding. Some of them struggled with similar issues or had aunts or cousins that did. It wasn’t until I was in college that I would meet friends who had hairy upper lips and bizarre cycles. In an all-female dorm, there was a mix of everything. Unfortunately, the teasing did not stop with adolescence. It carried on throughout college and my weight increased as a result of feeding the hurt.
In my late twenties, I met a man. A man who was aware of my condition because his family members had the same issues. He was understanding and supportive. Our relationship grew and soon marriage was on the table. We both wanted children and with some research understood how PCOS causes fertility issues in women. Returning to the same specialist who diagnosed me with this hideous disease, we were hoping for some good news. Ok, well, maybe not good, but at least not devastatingly bad. Sitting in that office, that had not changed much in the past decade or so, I was surrounded by girls and women who held their head down or wore a bit too much concealer and foundation to mask the large pores from the hair follicles on their face, chins, and necks. I too worked to blend the shame of this manly feature. Leafing through magazines in the waiting room, I came across an article linking the hormone imbalances that cause PCOS to increases in weight because of insulin resistance. The ah-ha moment rushed over me. PCOS was the cause of the weight. It was the cause of diabetes. It was the cause of the hair. I also found out that day, that it was the cause of my inability to get pregnant. Two years of trying, only to be told that I should stop because it would never happen. The doctor said science would have “to do it for me.” My eyes wept while my lips smiled. Having an answer, I relaxed. I was not the lone freak I had grown up believing I was.