My Story: POI & having a family
Annette had just turned 30 when she started to experience debilitating fatigue and regular migraines. Soon after, a diagnosis of primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) meant that her dream of starting a family seemed out of reach – until she made the decision to adopt as a single parent.
“A decade ago, I’d just hit my 30s and life was pretty good – but there was one problem. I was unbearably tired and falling asleep on the sofa at 6pm every evening because it was impossible to fight the overwhelming fatigue. I also started getting migraines like clockwork every month.
At first I put this down to my stressful job. I was working in international events and having a busy time working on lots of different projects and travelling across time zones. As I was single, with very little time for a relationship, I decided to take a break from the pill to see if that would stop the migraines. But three months later I felt even worse – I was absolutely exhausted, had started having hot flushes, and hadn’t had a period since I stopped taking the pill. In hindsight, it’s clear that the pill had been compensating for my lack of hormones.
I made an appointment to see my GP, who was sure that it was nothing to worry about. But he explained that in rare cases it could mean that I was experiencing an early menopause, so he ordered some tests just to be sure. He assured me that this was very unusual, so I wasn’t especially worried.
So I was shocked when my results came in: my thyroid levels were in serious decline and my levels of estrogen and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) weren’t what they should be. I was prescribed thyroxine immediately, which I’ll need to take for the rest of my life, and referred to an endocrinologist (hormone specialist) and gynaecologist for further investigation.
I’d always assumed that having my first ultrasound scan would be a magical moment where I’d get to see my baby for the first time, while a supportive partner held my hand. Instead, I found myself scared and alone in a hospital waiting room, surrounded by expectant mothers, waiting to find out what was wrong.
Then, after lots of poking and prodding, I was diagnosed with POI, basically an early menopause. I sat in the gynaecologist’s office in absolute disbelief, feeling my heart break with every word she spoke. It hit me that the future I had planned was crumbling into oblivion, and she handed me a box of tissues as the tears started to flow.
POI and infertility are often considered to be part and parcel of the same condition, but that’s not necessarily the case. Some people with POI may still have irregular or infrequent periods and may even be able to conceive. But, in some cases – like mine – POI can lead to periods stopping altogether and results in infertility.
After my diagnosis I just wanted to hide away. Dealing with the emotional fallout was so much harder than fixing the physical symptoms. But, after about six months, I decided that it was time to investigate my options. A doctor explained that the only way for me to carry a baby to full term would be through egg donation. This would need to be privately funded, as the NHS doesn’t offer this treatment to single people.
I investigated IVF privately, but with costs of around £10,000 it was out of my reach. So I decided to concentrate on work and put aside any thoughts of having a family of my own. As a result, I started to push people away. I had started dating again but I struggled with how to explain my diagnosis to a potential partner. And whenever I was invited to a baby shower, christening or a child’s birthday party, I’d come away feeling sad and deflated.
Finally, two years after my diagnosis, I accepted that I really wanted to be a mum – even more than I wanted to be someone’s wife or girlfriend. That’s when I decided to look at other options. For me, adoption was the obvious choice, and I made the terrifying decision to adopt as a single parent. Going through the adoption process alone was isolating at times, but I had an amazing support network, and I met some incredible people who were going through the same process.
After going in front of a panel, I was finally approved as an adopter but it took five more months, and two failed matches, before I was united with a six-month-old baby – my son. He came home with me a month later, and six months after that we officially became a family in the eyes of the courts.
It’s now almost 10 years since my diagnosis of POI, and I’m mum to a bright an active son who I believe I was destined to have in my life. My journey to motherhood wasn’t easy or conventional, but it gave me the strength I needed to become the woman I am today. Some people talk about menopause being the end of a chapter – but for me it was just the beginning.”