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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine disorder that triggers hormonal imbalance, metabolism hinderance and a complex mix of other problems. An estimated 20 per cent of Indian women suffer from PCOS. A pan India study conducted by Metropolis Healthcare shows that over a period of 18 months, 4824 women reportedly faced hormonal complications due to PCOS. The study revealed that their primary symptoms included irregular periods, cramps, excessive body hair, weight gain and infertility.
One of the primary consequences of PCOS is infertility. In our society a lot of importance is given to concept of motherhood. From a young age, girls are made to believe that their true purpose and main aim in life should be to conceive and give birth. So deeply engrained is this concept that failing to produce a child drastically impacts the psyche of a woman. In her mind, the “true essence” of being a woman culminates in bearing a child.
It has also been observed that people who are diagnosed with PCOS are 3 times more prone to anxiety and depression. Though the exact cause for this is unclear, doctors and researchers attribute it to the imbalance of hormones. A paper titled, “A study on Domestic Violence in Infertile Women” reveals that women who are not able to bear children are more susceptible to domestic violence.
Thus, women suffering from PCOS are under grave stress. Due to the societal pressures put on their shoulders, they believe they are failing in their primary duty of becoming a mother when they are diagnosed with PCOS related infertility. Moreover, they are constantly belittled and ridiculed for their condition by their own family members. There have been many cases where the husband has left the wife or married another woman who is able to conceive.
PCOS is treated more as a fertility disorder. Instead of focusing on other difficulties and the exact cause of the disease, women suffering from PCOS are more urgently treated for their infertility or their cosmetic problems. PCOS is often not looked at in it’s entirety. Thus, it feels like a stain on the idea of femininity for those who battle it. By not giving importance to the underlying cause of the disease, the mental stress which comes along is often overlooked.
As mentioned earlier, women with PCOS are unable to conceive, adding to their stress and anxiety. In their own family, they are a subject of ridicule. The patriarchal, proprietary notions of the society which mandate that a “complete” woman is one who is able to conceive and bear children. This further stirs range of emotions in women with PCOS.
Hence, this societal definition of femininity is detrimental. A woman suffering from PCOS who is unable to bear children is frowned upon. She is constantly pressurised by her family to produce a child. The doctors also prescribe medicine or treatments which will enhance her chances of becoming pregnant.
This shifts focus from the other physical and mental effects of PCOS. The added stress of infertility exacerbates mood swings, cramps, acne, and weight gain. Coupled with the constant need to meet the ideal social standards of beauty, these feelings further deteriorate the self esteem of women.
PCOS related infertility shaming increases the pressure on a woman’s mind and body. She is lead to believe that her value or worth can only be determined by becoming a mother. We must change the discourse on the norms or standards of femininity. Women are people of their own who have an identity beyond their capacity to conceive.
Motherhood is a choice and there can be several ways to pursue it. Whatever be the course, the emotional and physical well being of the woman is paramount.
Featured Image: Ritika Banerjee for Feminism In India