The first time I went to a gynecologist, I had no idea what to expect. I got my periods very late in life, and even then, they were never very regular. When they refused to stabilise for over a couple of years, my mother finally decided it was time to take me to the gynecologist. I grew up inside a prominent university campus in a major metro city, and hospital facilities came attached. This means that the gynecologist that I went to also served hundreds of young women who were just exiting their teens and entering their twenties; a time where we all need gynecological help.
My first visit to the gynecologist was uneventful. The gynecologist seemed skeptical because I had none of the telltale signs of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). I hadn’t put on spectacular amounts of weight, I hadn’t grown a lot of body hair, I did not have periods that were extremely painful, and I did not bleed too much or too little. She listened to what my mother and I had to say, told us that it was probably nothing, and prescribed vitamins. As an afterthought, she told us to get a sonography done.
This is when things took a bizarre turn. When I went to collect the report from the sonography doctor, she quietly handed it over to us. My mum asked her if I had ovarian cysts, but she refused to say anything. After that weirdly stoic interaction, we went back to our gynecologist who then confirmed that I indeed had ovarian cysts. She told me that I was mostly infertile and that I would have trouble conceiving. She made sure, however, to reassure me that with the right hormonal treatment, it would be difficult but not impossible to have a baby.
I was a 15-year-old at that time and the news meant nothing to me. I was least concerned about having a baby, and as I grew older, I realised that this was a blessing. The one thing that I would not have to worry about when I had sex was that I would become pregnant. This did not take away the need for using condoms, but it did make me a little more comfortable with the idea of having sex.
Mentally, I wouldn’t have to deal with the shame and stigma associated with becoming pregnant out of wedlock (even with the most supportive parents in the world), and physically, I would be spared the whole process of finding an abortion clinic and doctor who is non-judgmental, and putting my body through the actual abortion. I also realised that this meant that no one would ever be able to put pressure on me to get pregnant, neither parents and parents-in-law who might have been keen to become grandparents, nor a partner eager to have a child.
My body would never have to go through the trauma of childbirth, not unless I put myself through rounds and rounds of often dehumanising fertility treatment. The icing on the cake was that I got my periods once in 3-4 months, and it’s just been very convenient overall. I loved my PCOS, and barring the ‘specter’ of weight gain, I read it as having an overall positive impact. I was quite casual and nonchalant about it and made sure to slip it into conversation whenever I was able to be serious with someone.
Generally, when a woman is diagnosed with PCOS, it is seen as a huge problem. And for many of us, it can be. PCOS can lead to a lot of weight gain, growth of thick hair on the face and other body parts, and all sorts of hormonal imbalances. If we stopped body shaming women, whether for their body hair or their weight, PCOS would become nothing more than a routine hormonal problem to which a solution needed to be found.
Yet, the narrative around PCOS and menstruation is more focused on fertility than anything else. What is important is not to mitigate the symptoms we suffer from, but to ensure that our condition does not make us infertile, because our bodies would be no good them. The focus, yet again, is on our appearance and our ability to have children. Our bodies are reduced to mere instruments, and our mental well being is secondary to the function that society expects us to serve.
My own reading of my PCOS is completely at odds with the way other people look at me. Every time I (gleefully) tell someone that I am infertile, I am always told, “Oh I’m so sorry”, or “Oh, it doesn’t make you less of a woman” and I’m always taken aback. Why would someone assume that a person unable to conceive would necessarily be unhappy about it, or worse, feel inadequate? I always explain to people that I looked at it as a positive thing, and then it is their turn to be taken aback. Don’t necessarily assume that a person with PCOS or a person who is infertile is sad or heartbroken about it!