I was first diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS at the age of 17. Any prior knowledge of the condition was restricted to a two-minute conversation with my friend in my biology class when she spoke about one of our peers being diagnosed with PCOS.
I distinctly remember that when I asked her what exactly PCOS was she said: “I’m not certain dude, I think it is a little extra of a male hormone that makes these weird pimple-like things appear on her ovaries… Maybe that’s why her voice is extra deep.”
Ever since that comment, like many women, I associated PCOS with a lack of femininity.
When I asked my doctor how to treat this condition, she said: “Just lose some weight, beti. It will all get better then.”
I decided to try that. I joined a kickboxing class, ate more veggies, cut down on my junk food consumption, and I felt much better. But did my cysts recede? No.
I still suffered from a highly irregular menstrual cycle and when I did get my period, it would flow for nearly two weeks with excruciating cramps. I spoke to my friend who also had PCOS, but she brushed me off and told me that I was making a “big deal” about it.
It felt like my uterus was betraying me, that by having this condition I was less of a woman. I tried to ignore the problem, hoping it would just fix itself.
It was not until I came to college a full year after my diagnosis and decided to make PCOS the topic of my paper for a class that I could no longer ignore it.
After doing some serious research I found out that roughly 10% of the female population in India have PCOS, but only a fraction of those women have actually been diagnosed and received proper treatment before it became too severe.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a condition that occurs when a woman’s oestrogen and progesterone levels are out of balance because of the presence of excess androgen. Androgen is a male sex hormone, but is also found in women’s bodies in small quantities.
This leads to benign masses known as cysts growing on a woman’s ovaries. If left untreated, these cysts can cause type 2 diabetes and in some cases the cysts dilate or rupture and require surgical removal.
However, this is preventable because PCOS can be treated easily with birth control.
While reading numerous articles about birth control in India, I realized that by 2010, India’s choice for “birth control” was sterilization.
When I discovered that by March 2013, 4.6 million Indian women had been sterilized, I realized one major flaw in Indian policy: the focus was not on reproductive health, but rather on statistics published by World Bank and a fear of overtaking China as the most populated nation on Earth.
Indian policy towards women’s reproductive health has been extremely short-sighted. Even though there have been family planning policies in the late twentieth century, the implementation has been subpar. There needs to be a bigger conversation regarding women’s reproductive health.
Looking back to the 7th grade when I had the first of several sex education “talks” in my school, I was always given the same information: you get your period, you bleed for roughly five days and it will come once a month. That was it.
There was no discussion about the possibility of birth control or about late periods, a common symptom of PCOS. The information I received in those “talks” was simply inadequate.
Yes, I have PCOS and ignoring it is not going to make it magically vanish. This is such an important issue and it stuns me that there isn’t a larger national conversation about it.
Connecting uterine conditions to a woman’s femininity or linking the consumption of birth control to being against Indian values is an absolutely ridiculous notion.
It is also another reason why women do not want to come forward about such conditions.
By not talking about this issue, we are trivializing it. We also need to address the bigger issue that Indian women should have better knowledge about reproductive health and access to adequate forms of birth control.
PCOS is a big deal. Women’s reproductive health is important.