I was diagnosed with poly-cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) when I was 15. I’ve always had irregular periods since I started menstruating. Visits to ob-gyn with my mom resulted in understanding the fact that I had PCOS, what it means, and that I needed to make some stringent lifestyle changes to fight it. I was the only child of my parents, born in a Bengali household. Naturally, like any other Indian mom, my mom always fed me a little too extra and I would not shy away from admitting how much I lovingly indulged in those extra bites of buttery and fried food. I was a big-time foodie and I was also plump as a teenage girl. I am aware that I was also taller than average height so my bone structure is never going to be ‘skinny’.
Regardless, seemingly overweight, my ob-gyn told me that I should have known it and should have seen it coming. Her exact words were, “What have you done to yourself? This much weight at only 15. Obviously, you will have problems!” Well, only if someone could go back in time and advise a 5-year-old to put away her food and not ‘indulge’, we could have stopped PCOS from happening, right? So, I was put on a low-carb diet by her and was admonished to immediately make some changes in my lifestyle. I was obedient. I reduced carbonated beverage (Unlike Ronaldo, it was difficult for me to give up the Coca-Cola but I cut it down and to date, I don’t drink it because I don’t trust myself enough that If I start indulging in it, I would go back to consuming it more often), I cut down on a lot of other favourite food. I lost a little bit of weight and my periods got regular for some time. This was until my late teenage years.
At 18, I started facing irregularity in my periods again and went to consult a new ob-gyn. This time, I was put on contraceptive hormonal pills (how many of you cysters feel me?) And of course, I was asked to reduce weight. (same drill).
Now, this is the journey that most women with PCOS encounter, more or less, sooner or later in their life. But, what recently put me in a position to start thinking about what women with PCOS go through, is a visit to my doctor.
I just turned 26 and went to check my PCOS with my ob-gyn. As I had suspected, it was acting up than usual with all the quarantining at-home with zero movement and stress-induced conditions. Initially, nothing my doctor said was surprising to me. You know it: “Reduce weight.” I would wonder what would they say to girls and women who are skinny and suffer from PCOS and also, how many women and girls do they misdiagnose just because they are overweight and assume the weight to be the only reason behind their health issues.
This time however, my doctor asked me specifically to start thinking about having children, as women with PCOS have a hard time conceiving and often experience fertility issues. Now, having dealt with PCOS from 15, this information was not news to me. But, I never thought I would be put on a deadline to make such a life-altering decision when I am barely 26! Isn’t that unfair to me and so many young women? In 2019, it was estimated that one in five women had PCOS. Imagine the pressure and the lack of reproductive autonomy experienced by these women who are rushed into starting a family by their doctors and elders without considering if they are even prepared for the same in the first place?
I don’t see my friends having to decide whether they want kids right away because their time is running out. Then why do I need to take on this responsibility? How can I possibly make such an important decision in my life so soon?
What left me spiraling was that this might not be the case with only women who have PCOS too. There are other many complications that women of young age face and as a consequence, they need to make some big important decisions in their life when they are barely learning how to do adulating properly. While watching Netflix’s The Bold Type, I felt deeply for one of the central characters Jane who had to face similar tough decisions in her mid-twenties. It is shown in the series that Jane’s mother had breast cancer and therefore, she also had the BRCA gene mutation that makes her chances of getting breast cancer very high. She was advised by her doctor to start thinking of having kids to avoid cancer complications in future treatments.
I am sure, just like the fictional world of Jane, there are many real women out there in their twenties who are told the same thing by their doctor. I also remember this conversation I had with a friend who was diagnosed with PCOS too, that her ob-gyn had asked her if she is serious about having kids then she should get married and well-settled at the age of 25. Is that our only choice? Is there no way ahead if we cross 25?
Just when millennial women are learning to live their lives on their own terms, pursuing higher education in their late twenties, switching careers to start their own start-ups, hustling in a world of unequal pay and gender gap, we also have to start making up our minds whether we want kids or not as early as possible?
Then there is the question of what about your future/ current partner? You need to involve them in your decision-making too. Then again, what if his/their priorities change after a few years? Heck, what if your priority changes after a few years? Well, the choice of adoption is always there. Freezing eggs and in-vitro fertilisation are an option too, but how much awareness do we have of them? All we seem to know is that those are super expensive. And at least in India, we seem to continue to keep adoption as the last option, although there’s no dearth of insensitive ‘you were adopted’ jokes.
This makes me think, in Carrie Bradshaw’s voice, I couldn’t help but wonder, do we need more awareness and education when it comes to women’s reproductive awareness in our country? HELL YES! Do we need to make the healthcare system more affordable and accessible to 20-something women who want to freeze their eggs and have more safe options? Do we need to become more adoption-positive as a society? TOTALLY!
But all I know is that currently the patriarchal system lacks proper transparency and awareness regarding women’s health and reproductive issues and the onus always falls on women to make big life decisions and living with those decision forever. And so, I question myself, why am I running out of time earlier than others to decide? Deciding whether you want children at a young age when you can busy scrambling to plan your next presentation before work meetings is A LOT.
Sriparna Samajdar is a Mass Communications graduate who is currently working as a creative writer in a marketing firm. When not drinking a copious amount of tea, she likes to write and talk about travel, pop culture, and everything that affects modern-age women. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.
Featured image source: The Guardian