Last October, I was dealt the crushing blow that the man I'd loved and trusted my heart to for six years had lied. About everything. And suddenly, my broken heart (and empty womb) had to accept the fact that I was still single with absolutely no decent prospects in sight. Almost immediately, my body responded.
It was as if, along with my heart, it gave up. At first I didn't get a period. For nearly three months.
I thought I was pregnant. I hoped I was pregnant.
I wasn't pregnant.
Then I started getting periods every two weeks. Heavy periods like I'd never experienced before. Plus I had bloating and unexplained weight gain around my belly that was not only unattractive, but also unusual for me. Blood tests showed my thyroid and adrenal glands were out of whack. My ob/gyn sent me for a variety of tests to rule out anything serious.
"It could just be hormonal changes, your body slowing down -- but it could also be a tumor or a cyst on your ovary..." she explained.
I sadly realized that I wasn't sure which diagnosis I preferred.
"Maybe it's just perimenopause," my male technician casually said as he left the room. He'd just given me the "good" news -- no apparent cysts or fibroids to explain the heavy bleeding. He just threw it out there, like an after thought, as I lay there, still on my back -- half naked in an open gown.
"Well, I don't really want that either..." I managed to reply as the door shut behind him.
Why don't you JUST punch me in the face instead? I still want kids, dammit!
You don't know me. You don't know how I feel about my fertility, or my ability to have a family, or my fears of being alone forever. You don't know what that word means to me. Maybe there should be a box you check off at each new doctor's office:
__ Still hoping -- please be kind.
I'm not saying it's as bad as hearing you have a life-threatening disease, but please try to understand -- it still feels awful. Like go home and hide in bed for the weekend awful. It's as if someone is saying "you know that dream you've had you're entire life, since you started babysitting at age nine... ? Give it up. It's never gonna happen."
It's true what your parents say about getting older: regardless of the number of candles on you cake each year, you don't FEEL it. Mentally, physically, and emotionally I'd swear I was at least 10 years younger. I'm told I look it too. So when doctors repeatedly tell you that your body is "shutting down," it feels like some cruel joke.
Before smacking headfirst into this new phase in my life, I had never really noticed the word perimenopause. Dr. Marcy Holmes, NP, Menopause Clinician defines it as "the years before menopause; hormone fluctuations can occur anywhere from the 2 to 10 years before a woman stops having her period. If you are aged 35-55, and you are still having periods but something is different about them, you are probably in perimenopause."
It's wildly different from woman to woman, and it's entirely possible to get pregnant during menopausal transition.
But still, being forced to face the incredibly heartbreaking reality that I may never have a child of my own has proven to be an emotional rollercoaster I face daily on my own. And I think what adds to my pain is the loneliness that accompanies it. So few of my friends or family share my desire to have kids without the ability to do so. Or ever did. I seriously considered the astronomically expensive option ($15,000) of freezing my eggs, having a baby with a gay friend, and adoption -- but the money isn't there, the friend wasn't ready, and my studio apartment and single-parent lifestyle really isn't practical. All this has led me to try and accept that it's all in "perfect order."
I still cry daily.
About 10 years ago, my wise and caring integrated internist warned me not to be "one of those women" who focuses only on her career and wakes up one day, alone with no family of her own. I remember thinking: as if there's something I could do?
I never dreamt I'd be in this predicament, not in a million years. I started dating at 12. Seriously -- like car dates with "older" boys (the first was 15.) And I've had lots of great boyfriends.
I fell head over heels in love for the first time at 17. He's a Texas rabbi now. I remember being so well prepped by my mom on birth control, that by the time I lost my virginity to him two weeks before prom, I was on the pill. Little did I know I'd be on it for most of my childbearing years. Never once did I experience the "what if" fear of a missed period until I was old enough to hope for it to actually happen.
I fell in love again with the sous chef where I was waitressing at 25, was engaged at 29 and called the wedding off at 31. He was a great guy, just not the one for me.
I remember being so excited to be single and "out there" after we split. I was SURE I'd meet the right guy within a year. Six years later I finally found love again -- or rather, he found me. I thought I'd finally met my soulmate, but after three years of walking the heart wrenching fine line between his great love and self-destructive behavior, I was forced to walk away to save myself. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. So hard, I spent the next three years waiting and believing his "I still want you" and "I'm working on it" texts and promises. More lies merely meant to feed his fragile ego and suck the hope from me like a soulless vampire.
What we'll believe when we truly love someone...
I have never NOT wanted love and a family of my own. I walk down the streets of Brooklyn and ache to be one of those moms with the curious toddler repeatedly asking "Why?" from their stroller. Why indeed?
I was even a nanny one summer, after advertising took a major dive in 2002. Best job ever.
Life balance has always been crucial to me. But I want a family, not just a baby. And it's not like there's a degree I can get, or store I can shop at to find love. It happens when it happens.
And yes, I know family comes in many packages. Adoption, divorced or widowed men with kids -- even the ability to still get pregnant on my own. I'm open to any and all of the options. It's very true that everything is possible, but still -- being told that having a baby of my own, one made from love with the genes and characteristics of a man I adore, is likely off the table... well, that's a really tough pill to swallow.
So please -- married friends who envy my empty weekends, family who are tired of your own kids, and doctors with your heads in a chart -- please don't throw that word around like its a joke or a badge of honor. Please stop using "perimenopause" so casually. I believe in the power of my mind, and I need to believe, for as long as I'm able, that anything can happen.
Even if ultimately something else does.