I was a 17-year-old virgin when my gynecologist told me that I was barren.
At the time, my teenage brain couldn’t process how a doctor’s visit for inconsistent periods had resulted in an infertility diagnosis, especially with a rare condition like Premature Ovarian Failure (POF). POF, also known as Primary Ovarian Insufficiency, is when a woman loses the normal function of her ovaries before the age of 40, and according to the American Pregnancy Association, affects 1 in 1000 women, with under 200,000 cases reported in the US each year. If the ovaries fail, they do not produce the normal amounts of estrogen or release eggs regularly, which can ultimately lead to infertility.
The first sign of POF is irregular or skipped periods. In my case, my always-prompt monthly cycle became sporadic around age 15--the same time my father was diagnosed with stage IV terminal lung cancer. Between being a high school sophomore, working a part-time job, learning how to drive, and most importantly, helping my mom care for my father, I barely noticed that Aunt Flow was only coming to visit me every five to six months. Unless I was the second coming of the Virgin Mary, I knew pregnancy wasn’t the cause, so I prolonged making an appointment and attributed the tardiness of my cycle to stress. After the devastating passing of my father three weeks before my 16th birthday, I attempted to restore normalcy in my life by getting back into some of my old routines, and I assumed that my period would follow suit. After a year of hot flashes, night sweats, extreme irritability, and a period that was still missing in action, I finally decided to see a doctor. I just wish I had chosen a different one.
In retrospect, my initial diagnosis with POF felt more like a scene out of a Shonda Rhimes created TV drama than how any medical diagnosis should be handled in real life. The socially awkward doctor gave me my infertility diagnosis within the first minute of entering my exam room, and he did so without even making eye contact with me. As he verbally compared my reproductive system to that of a 50-year-old menopausal woman, the robotic physician extended the same amount of compassion and empathy that one would expect to receive during a hammertoe diagnosis! It wasn’t until I started crying uncontrollably that the doctor realized that the news that he was delivering would be troubling to any woman, let alone a teenager. I abruptly ended the appointment when this so-called doctor couldn’t explain how a healthy 17-year-old girl could spontaneously become infertile. I figured that I would find better medical advice on Google than from listening to him throw around medical jargon that held no substance to someone without a medical degree.
So, I did my research and sought the additional opinions of two physicians who were considered the crème de la crème in the field of infertility. I entered each appointment with positivity and optimism, only to leave heartbroken when both of my highly praised and twice as expensive infertility gurus landed at the same conclusion (although delivered in a much more professional manner) as the first doctor: Yes, I had premature ovarian failure; No, there was no exact cause of the condition; Yes, I needed to see an endocrinologist and genetic counselor to rule out any other underlying conditions; and most importantly, I needed to get on a daily hormone replacement therapy (HRT) plan until I reached the natural menopause age, which is somewhere around 50, in order to restore the hormonal balance that my body was currently not receiving because of my defunct ovaries.
Over the next five years, I tried every hormone replacement pill, patch, cream, or ring that was on the market; each one introduced a new undesired side effect. My weight skyrocketed, hair fell out, face broke out, and, ironically, I was more hormonal and emotional than a pregnant lady. And those were only the visible changes. Mentally, my infertility diagnosis began wearing me and my confidence down the day that I found out about it. At 17, the idea of motherhood had honestly never crossed my mind; yet, suddenly the possibility of never having that experience became part of my daily thoughts. Lacking a monthly menstrual cycle didn’t make me feel like I was any less of a woman, the daunting reality that I was naturally incapable of creating and giving life is what left me feeling like part of my femininity had been robbed.
As I got older and began thinking about marriage, my subconscious fear became that I would never find a husband who would love me unconditionally, especially if I couldn’t make him father. For years, I used this trepidation to convince myself that I had no desire to ever be married or have children, even though I really did. I figured that if I pretended to have no interest in ever having a family of my own, I wouldn’t be hurt or disappointed if it never came to fruition. Eventually, I developed the perfect defense mechanism to protect myself: focus on building my career and used that as an excuse to sabotage any relationship that was becoming too serious. I built walls up so high that no man dared to break them down; that is until I strengthened my relationship with Christ and realized that I was perfectly created in His image, bum ovaries and all.
It has been ten years since I was first diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure and accepting an infertility diagnosis at a such a young age hasn’t been an easy thing to do. In fact, I think it is something that I will have to continually work at for the rest of my life. However, coming to peace with it became so much easier when I decided to stop obsessing over something that is out of my control. Once I started counting my blessing, I realized that I have so many other God-given gifts and talents to be thankful for instead of focusing on the one that I lack. The moment that I began shifting my perspective, something amazing and completely unexpected happened: I met the man who would love me in spite of all my (infertility) flaws. My bum ovaries weren’t miraculously healed the moment I met my husband, but I do believe that a huge part of my soul was. This incredible man saw the beauty, character, and purpose in what I had once considered to be my greatest insecurity. Infertility always felt like a heavy burden that I was forced to carry all alone; it was MY flaw, MY problem, and MY battle to fight. Since the day that I confided in him, my husband has never allowed me to feel alone or insecure because of my diagnosis; even on my darkest days throughout this journey, he continues to be my greatest ally and pillar of strength.
While the good days definitely outweigh the bad, I still experience moments of sadness and frustration when I realize its going to take a little more effort and patience to grow my family. However, I never allow those feelings to linger on for too long. At 27, I finally realize that my inability to conceive should never be a factor in determining my happiness, confidence, and most importantly, my femininity.
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It doesn’t matter if my husband and I beat the odds and conceive a miracle baby, go through the In-vitro process, choose to adopt, take in foster children, or decide to remain a party of two. Together, we’re looking forward to telling one hell of a story, that is still be written, about the path that we chose to overcome infertility.
Brittany "Bee" Netherly-Boyd is a full-time Christian, wife, daughter, sister, and friend who strives to find beauty and inspiration in every circumstance. In between completing her Masters in Public Administration, she is also working on her first book to bring encouragement to women (and men, too) who are struggling with Infertility. IG: @beesherelxo