The more I write about women’s health – and particularly hormonal issues – the more I see the same patterns repeated over and over again. Lack of understanding, lack of choice, lack of support. And medical professionals consistently failing to trust women with choices about their own bodies. Choice and autonomy aren’t just about abortion and reproductive rights; there’s a broader culture of sexism and ignorance around women’s health – but women are starting to speak out.
I was really privileged in May and June to interview a few of those women, all aged between 17 and 41, about early menopause, infertility, and hormonal depression. Many thanks to all of them for their openness and willingness to share their experiences.
This is what it’s like to go through the menopause at just 17 – for NetDoctor:
The menopause is one of those huge life changes that all women know is coming, but no one ever feels fully prepared for when it does. But when it strikes before you’ve even turned 40, the shock is all the more distressing.
According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the menopause typically occurs between the ages of 47 and 53, but premature menopause affects around 1 per cent of women before the age of 40, and 5 per cent of women under 45. So what is it like to be hit by menopausal symptoms so early, and what support is available?
What It’s Like To Go Through The Menopause In Your 20s – for The Debrief:
How often does the menopause cross your mind? It’s something far off, in the distant future, to worry about once you’ve finished building your career, your family, and whatever else you’ve got planned, right? For most of us, the menopause will strike at some point roughly between the ages of 47 and 53, but premature menopause affects one per cent of women before the age of 40. And, for the one in a thousand women under 30 who are affected, it can be especially devastating.
Emily is 17 years old and was recently diagnosed as going through an early menopause. As someone who’s always wanted to have children, she says, it’s been heartbreaking. She feels like she’s lost a fundamental part of who she is. She says it’s isolating, ‘there isn’t anyone to talk to about it, because it’s not a common problem, so it’s always this little thing I’m hiding.’
Throughout puberty, Emily says she’s always felt different from her friends. ‘I was the last of my friends to get my period. It was something I longed for so I was excited when, in year 9, I started,’ she says. ‘I was irregular for the next 9 months, but my mum reassured me that was normal – and then they just stopped. My physical appearance has taken a long time to develop too, so I have very small boobs and no hips.’
PMDD: Imagine Having To Choose Between Your Mental Health And Your Fertility – for The Debrief:
Naomi* was just 14 when, in the fortnight before each period, she started seeing and hearing disturbing images and voices. ‘I thought there were sexual images everywhere – like I’d be watching TV and see sex toys and stuff, or I’d be looking at books and they appeared to have changed, or I thought they were talking to me in some way,’ she says. ‘It was really frightening. Then, when I had my period, the symptoms would stop and go away.’
Now 23, Naomi has been diagnosed with conditions known as pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) and pre-menstrual psychosis (PMP) – and is facing a stark, life-changing choice between her sanity and her fertility.
A severe form of PMS, PMDD is thought to affect an estimated 2-5 percent of women which equates to around a million women in the UK alone and, at its most extreme, symptoms can include acute depression and anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts. While it can be managed with hormonal treatments, currently the only sure-fire way of putting an end to PMDD is with a hysterectomy, bringing on an early menopause and leaving you infertile.
What it’s like to be left infertile by cancer at the age of 23 – for Cosmopolitan:
Becki McGuinness was left infertile by aggressive cancer treatment when she was just 23-years-old. Now 30, she’s launching a national campaign to ensure women facing cancer are given all the fertility options she should have had. This is her story…
“I was 21 when I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma – a rare and aggressive form of bone cancer – in my sacrum and spine. Because the cancer was so aggressive, and located around my pelvis, I knew there was a chance my fertility could be affected by treatment. But doctors explained to my mum and I what treatment I’d be having and told us there were no other options for my condition. We took them at their word.