Friday, June 25, 2010

The Construction of PCOS

PCOS: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.  Affects 10% of women.  Leading cause of fertility problems in women.  Symptoms include "high" free testosterone, infertility, ovarian cysts, acne, obesity, difficulty losing weight, infrequent or absent menstruation, lengthy/heavy/painful periods, and hirsutism.  Prescribed treatments include hormonal birth control, fertility drugs, anti-androgens, and weight loss.  Many women with PCOS do not have all of the possible symptoms.

I hate PCOS.  Not just because I apparently have it.  But because it's a syndrome (that is, a combination of symtpoms) that revolves almost completely around the idea of traditional femininity.

Women aren't supposed to be fat or hairy or have acne.  Women aren't supposed to have more than a specific amount of testosterone.  Women aren't supposed to have trouble having babies.  Periods aren't supposed to interfere with your life, and they should come regularly.  In fact, the only symptom that isn't on what I would consider the spectrum of health would be ovarian cysts; those motherfuckers HURT when they rupture.

I don't know how doctors decided I had PCOS.  I wasn't getting my periods regularly, which isn't that uncommon in young girls.  I didn't mind not getting my period regularly, except for the fact that it was usually a surprise when I got it.  My acne was cleared up already, and while I wasn't hairless, I did NOT think I was that hairy.  I didn't think there was anything wrong with me.

Until I had two cysts rupture.  Then all of a sudden, I was too hairy, too fat, my skin was too gross, I had too much testosterone (SO?).  And my doctors (both my pediatrician and an endocrinologist) did some things that should have gotten them suspended.

Both of them bullied me to start taking hormonal birth control.  I didn't want to take it.  The battle went on for over a year, when I was 15.  The endocrinologist performed a pelvic exam on me without telling me what she was going to do.  I think it's actually fair to say that I was moderately traumatized by that; I cried when I got in the car, and my mom was livid when she found out what the doctor did (my mother was unaware of what the physical exam would entail).  I remember going back to school that day, and my brother, who was a senior at the time, was shocked when I told him about it.

Now that I'm twenty-three, I look back on that experience and believe that this prominent adolescent endocrinologist should have been suspended.  When I think about what she did, I feel as angry and helpless and upset as I do when I think about my sexual assault, which did not involve penetration.

Both the endocrinologist and my pediatrician lied to me about what PCOS would mean for me.  I asked them both a very basic question: If I decided not to take any medication for PCOS, would I be able to have children when I was older?  They both lied and told me that UNLESS I took hormonal birth control, I would probably have even more problems conceiving later on.  This isn't true; I would have just as many problems conceiving regardless of my decision.

I told them I didn't want to take it.  I told them I thought it would be embarrassing to take birth control at age 15 (later, 16).  I told them that I was concerned that it would impact my decisions about sexual activity (specifically that, since it would remove the obstacle of aquiring birth control, I would be more inclined to take an earlier chance to start having sex).  And if I were a doctor, and a fifteen-year-old patient of mine was explaining to me, maturely, that she did not want to take birth control pills, that should be the end of it.

But these two doctors kept telling me that I needed to take birth control, until I caved a year and a half later, age sixteen and a half, no boyfriend in sight.  And I spent six months trying to find a better prescription; my first two pills gave me morning sickness, and I would miss school several times over the course of one week, every month.  I hated it.

Now, I've been on the same pill for about 7 years.  I want to keep taking hormonal birth control; I enjoy that my periods don't surprise me, and by cheating with how I take my pill, I'm able to have periods that don't last 5 days.  Cramps are uncomfortable, but manageable and not long-lasting.  I haven't had any cysts in these past 7.5 years.  And I'm sexually active; while I use condoms, I like the extra insurance that comes with just not ovulating.

But I wish I could have made this decision, to go on the pill, when I was older, when it was my decision, and not my doctors'.  And I'm still fat, still hairy.  My acne is gone, but thanks to Accutane, not the pill.  And I will probably never be able to conceive easily; if I go off the pill, I won't ovulate regularly by MAGIC.

Treating PCOS is using medicine and hormones to make corrections that aren't necessary.  I was fine the way I was, and I didn't need to be bullied by two doctors when I was an insecure teen.  This is a made up disease.

1 comment:

  1. I've had trouble with doctors pushing birth control on me too. I have never been told I have PCOS, but I've had ruptured ovarian cysts that I think were caused by birth control. Doctor's solution? More birth control!