Premature Ovarian Failure

Dear Robert,

Hello. I am 30 years old and I have recently been diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure. I feel devastated because I have also been told that I have a 1-2% chance of ever been able to conceive the natural way and I am at an age now where I am wanting to plan a family but at the same time the revelation of this has made me feel in some ways rebellious of settling down because the impending feeling of infertility is making me want to act wild and I think this is a part of the process where I am losing my mind. I am in a relationship with my partner of seven years but since I found out the news I have not wanted to make love to him, or even think about myself in a sexual way anymore. It is like I have lost my sense of myself because something is telling me that I am unable to be a parent, which in turn makes me feel less of a woman. That feeling is causing me to want to rebel, maybe have an affair with a younger person because I feel dejected and I don’t want to get close to anyone emotionally. I have suffered hot flushes, anxiety and depression in the last year but now I feel like I am coming through it and I have stopped having them which has been better for my quality of life. I do not take HRT and I personally don’t want to, but the advice is that I HAVE to have it because the consultant told me I need it to replace oestrogen loss and protect my bones etc.. I still feel very much in the dark about it all and I would like to find out more about the causes of premature ovarian failure. In my relationship I have felt a lot of stress around money and careers of my partner & I and it’s also something that has caused me to have to go to counselling. I feel that at times it’s easier to just be on my own with my own problems. I don’t talk to friends about it because they are all having their own lives to get on with and some of them are having babies at this time. I dont really know what I can ask but I suppose it’s a case of, am I normal to feel this way. My FSH levels are abnormally high (120) and so they tell me I am very much in the low statistics of ever conceiving through a spontaneous ovulation?? Thank you and I look forward to hearing from someone at the office. Regards H.

Oh H,

Yes – the medical information you have been given is undoubtedly correct, particularly with FSH levels so high.

But think of this perhaps. All that you say, so graphically, is really important to read and truly important, too, for you to express. All those feelings you so bravely and vividly describe are those that so many people in your situation feel but do not manage to put as well into words. I say so many people because premature ovarian failure is common – much more common than people usually realise – and though it seems little comfort to you right now there are many others who go through this experience before the age of thirty.

I think it is totally understandable that you feel rebellious and ‘wild’. And it is not at all abnormal to think of yourself as not a sexual being anymore, nor that you do not want to make love. And to have all these feelings at the time when money, life and career may not be going swimmingly happens surprisingly frequently, too, because so many people with serious infertility problems, men as well as women, often feel a failure just at the time of life when many careers often seem off course – particularly when you watch or are aware of other people who are able to fall back on having a family and nurture that – giving their life a different focus.

The dent to your self esteem – and the denial of what is happening, by for example not wishing to take HRT – is entirely predictable and in my experience most young women in your situation have similar feelings. Eventually, I suspect, you will take HRT and the probability is you will start to feel quite a lot better too.

But, please think of this. Being a women is not about periods, about oestrogen and progesterone, nor being able to have a baby. You forget the most important of all in this, and it’s not your ovaries or uterus. Forgive me. But it is your brain. Bizarrely, a few neuroscientists sometimes try to suggest that male and female brains show no difference. But they do. You are a women, you feel like a woman, you think like a woman, you express all the emotions of a woman and eventually you will find that you are a sexual creature and that, moreover, you are just as attractive now as you were before this happened and that actually you do have the capacity to cuddle, feel intimacy and enjoy making love. And then in time, you may begin to appreciate more fully that you might even want to become a parent and you will know there are various routes to that option which are not suitable yet but may be in the fullness of time. I have seen so many women, for example, who feel totally fulfilled having received a donor egg.

My deepest respect to you for being so open and for writing me such an important letter,

Warmest wishes,

Robert Winston.