Childfreedom, subfertility, and womanhood

Polycystic Ovary

Left: What my ovaries look like.
Source: women-health-info.com

I am a woman with two wonky ovaries and no desire to make babies.

No part of that sentence renders the first four words untrue.

I have childfree friends and friends who have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). To my knowledge, I’m the only person I know of whom both can be said. But there’s one thing my childfree lady friends and my cyster friends sometimes say: “I feel broken.” Because society binds womanhood to maternity so strongly as to conflate the two. To be a woman is to be a mother, we’re told. You are the contents of your uterus. To fail to replicate your DNA is to fail as a woman.

Happily, I am free of that notion. I don’t feel broken at all, and I’ve never felt broken for not wanting children. I know plenty of older women who have led fulfilling lives without taking care of children, so I’ve always seen that as a valid option.

You get questions, though.

“So you want to adopt?” I used to skirt the babies question by mentioning my subfertility (NOTE: while PCOS is one of the leading causes of infertility in women, it is not a reproductive death sentence. Many women with PCOS can get pregnant through medical interventions). This strategy backfired for a big reason: my ovaries aren’t the reason I don’t want kids. I don’t want kids because I’ve never been interested in having them.

But wanting kids is assumed to be the default, so people ask me if I’m ever going to adopt. Nope. I think adoption is a beautiful choice for those who have the resources and the emotional fortitude to navigate the system, but it’s not my choice. I don’t want to be responsible for a helpless human being. That crosses off both adoption and reproduction.

But there’s something interesting about being both childfree and subfertile, and to move between both communities. There’s a conclusion I’ve come to from being involved in these spaces:

The assumption that all women will have children hurts people.

It hurts the subfertile and the infertile because many of them want nothing more than to have children, but are being held back by their own bodies. It often makes them feel physically broken, inadequate, undesirable. I encounter these confessions on a frequent basis, being part of the PCOS community, and it’s heartbreaking.

It hurts the childfree because it invalidates our choices, making many women feel like they are socially “broken” or somehow flawed, inadequate. Many people, when they find out a person is childfree, will respond by saying, “But you would make a great parent,” and the implication behind that is that the childfree choice is one derived by inadequacy at parenthood. Maybe that’s the case — one of the many reasons I don’t want to parent is that my high anxiety would likely inflict damage not only upon my potential progeny, but upon myself — but childfreedom is a choice based on preferences, not an obligation based on inadequacy.

Here’s my Advanced Etiquette takeaway: don’t inquire about someone’s family plans unless they bring it up. It can be a painful topic for the subfertile, the infertile, and the childfree.

Of course, men are hurt by the expectation that they must reproduce, as well, but I’m writing from the lived experience of a woman with less-than-functional womanparts. I welcome any childfree or subfertile person — of any gender — to share their experiences in the comments!

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PCOS Product Review: KeraFiber Hair Building Fiber

The magnanimous forces of the Internet are fighting my bald spot!

The magnanimous forces of the Internet are fighting my bald spot!

So the good folks at KeraFiber heard I was having some hair angst and figured they’d send me some product to review. How aces of them!

One of the side effects of PCOS is hair thinning and hair loss. There are many ways to address this: anti-androgenic hormonal birth control (for example, pills such as Yasmin or Desogen) can help stem the tide of hair loss, as can anti-androgens such as Sprironolactone (which can be taken orally or applied to the scalp topically).

I don’t actually do well with hormones, so I address my thinning hair by simply keeping it short and making sure I get good nutrition, including a biotin supplement. That said, I love cosmetic products, and KeraFiber is an intriguing solution for people like me, who don’t really feel like taking hormones.

KeraFiber is short for “keratin fiber” — basically, little fibers that bond to your hair and help make it look fuller and thicker.

KeraFiber hair fibers are made of all natural organic keratin protein, the same protein that hair is made of. The fibers are charged with static electricity so they intertwine with your own hair and bond securely. Just shake on the fibers and they stay in place all day, all night.

There are two basic parts to KeraFiber: the actual fibers, and a hairspray that helps hold them in place. The fibers themselves have a very velvety texture; when I first opened the bottle, I got some on my fingers, and it was very dry and felt-y. 

KeraFiber Thumb

Thumbs up for PCOS!

The application process is pretty simple: you shake the velvety bits on your bald parts, and then spray it. The most difficult part is, honestly, working with the back of your head. My thinning is mostly happening at the crown of my head, near my cowlick, so I wasn’t able to see if I was blending well. (I wasn’t).

Well, my bald spot is gone, but I didn't blend this very well.

Well, my bald spot is gone, but I didn’t blend this very well.

The trick to making the KeraFiber application look good, I found, was blending the colors well and making sure things weren’t too grainy. KeraFiber comes in nine basic colors, from white to blond to black, and you have to mix the colors together to find your natural color. While I have black hair, it is a soft black, so KeraFiber sent me black and dark brown. I think using more brown and less black would lead to a more natural looking application than my mostly black blend. Another issue: my hair is very oily, so the fibers looked grainy on top of my greasy locks.

For funsies, and to see if I could get a better look using the KeraFiber, I used it on my fiance, who is also balding (not due to PCOS, though, as he lacks ovaries completely):

Holy crap! Now THAT is a difference!

Holy crap! Now THAT is a difference!

Chris and I have very similar hair colors, but I think I did a better job figuring out his particular blend of brown and black. Also, because his hair is dry, not greasy, you don’t see as much of a grainy texture.

Chris’s thick, luscious head of hair lasted him all day. He came home six hours later with no fibers on his shirt, and his hair looked naturally thick. I was damn impressed!

My conclusion? I think KeraFiber is a very valuable product if you want to conceal your hair loss — as you can see in that picture of Chris, you can achieve really dramatic results! I would recommend having someone help you apply it, as it can be difficult to see if you’re achieving a natural blend of colors, and I would also recommend not over-conditioning your hair (the way I do).

You can learn more about KeraFiber at their website here: http://www.kerafiber.com/

Losing weight doesn’t give you a pass to bully fat people

Here’s a quick pop quiz: when is it okay to bully somebody?

  1. When you’ve been in their shoes
  2. When you disagree with how they live
  3. When you covet their delicious steak
  4. Never

If you answered “d,” congratulations! You may actually be a decent human being. (If you didn’t, seriously — get your own goddamn steak, and stop whining.)

In my Internet travels, I keep encountering people who fat-shame others, and then justify it by saying, “Well, I lost weight and I had to work my ass off to do it, so why can’t they?”

Ragen Chastain has already addressed this thoroughly: If I Can Do It, Anybody Can’t:

We all have things that we are naturally good at, things that we can do with a struggle, and things that aren’t possible for us.  It’s completely foolish to assume that  list is the same for every person.

Here’s something: I worked my ass off to be able to sing well. I wasn’t born a good singer. I started singing at the age of 12, and my voice was kind of goofy sounding — I didn’t have perfect control over my intonation, volume, and tone. My range was very limited. So I practiced every day until I developed a 3.5-octave range, and my singing role was good enough to land me leading roles in every high school musical I auditioned for, not to mention paying gigs as a wedding singer.

So shouldn’t everybody be able to learn to sing as well as I can? After all, I worked hard, so why can’t they?

Well, because some people just don’t have a sense of pitch. Or they might have disabilities that prevent them from being able to make their voices resonate, or breathe the way singing requires you to breathe. Maybe, even, they simply aren’t interested in being singers, and are happy with the way they are.

“No!” I object. “Surely, they must be lazy! Surely, there must be something morally wrong with them!”

Do you see where I’m going with this?

People who lose weight and go on to fat-shame others make me especially upset because they’ve been there. They know what it’s like to be shamed and bullied. They know how a fatphobic society makes it difficult to live in your own skin. And instead of taking that anger out on the fatphobia itself, they turn it on the same people they used to see in the plus size section of the retail store.

Guess what? Not everyone can lose weight. In fact, most people can’t.

You know what everyone can do? Stop being a bully. You can make that change today.

Post-Accutane skincare for your dry, desiccated husk of a face

Wikipedia | Cassandra, Doctor Who

I regularly feel like Cassandra from Doctor Who. I sort of talk like her, too. Actually, that’s a lie, but you should pretend I do.

As soon as puberty hit, I got greasy. Hair, skin, you name it — and, of course, the acne followed. It didn’t help that because of PCOS, my body was producing all manner of androgens that gave me Super Acne, with the power to leap tall buildings in a single menstrual cycle.

So I nuked my acne with Accutane. I still don’t know if that was the right decision, but for now, I don’t regret it. Well, for the most part.

You see, it is winter here in New Jersey, which this year may as well be New Siberia, and I have Chronic Dry Everything (skin, mouth, eyes) due to Accutane. The air is dry, and to make matters worse, our humidifier is broken. The fiance and I have been flaking all over the place and sort of wishing we had those moisture-recycling suits from Dune, so I’ve been learning to adjust.

So here you go: skincare for dry or dehydrated skin.

What’s the difference between dry and dehydrated skin? Well, dry skin is skin that doesn’t produce enough oil. If you took Accutane, you likely have dry skin. Dehydrated skin is skin that lacks water. Even if you have oily skin, you might wake up after a night of X-TREEM binge drinking with dehydrated skin.

If your skin is dehydrated, drink water like it’s going out of style. Stop reading this blog post and go knock back a glass of water. Do it! (This comes naturally for me because I have dry mouth, so I’m never not thirsty. Silver linings, I guess.)

  1. Cleanse with something other than soap, and use lukewarm or cold water. Everyone’s gotta cleanse their skin — you don’t want all that dirt and bacteria to chill there, forever. And if you think you can’t get acne with dry skin, you’re wrong — all the skin irritation only makes it easier for infections to happen. My recommendation? Good old fashioned cold cream. This cleanses the skin while putting oil — in this case, mineral oil — back into it. At the end of the day, rub the cold cream into your face, rinse it off in the shower, and then apply it again after your shower, before applying your moisturizing cream. Your skin will look balmy come morning — probably.
  2. Moisturize twice daily. I use CeraVe Moisturizing Cream because my dermatologist recommended it. It’s pretty okay! In the morning, I splash my face with warm water, then rub this stuff into my face like I’m trying to penetrate my brain with it. At night, I put it on after my post-shower cold cream application. Yup, I put it on top of my cold cream, because I’m serious about moisture. And here’s where it gets good: I then smear a thin layer of Aquaphor on top. MAXIMUM MOISTURE.
  3. Wear sunblock. Even if it’s winter. Even if you’re tan as hell. Even if you work indoors in the dark. Legit, the sun is your enemy. Okay, it also gives you life, but feel free to show a complete lack of appreciation by blocking its loving rays from your face like they’re trying to kill you. Because they are trying to kill you, and age you in the process. You might be saying, “Well, Natty, you’re so pale you burn looking at postcards,” and it’s true — I can’t speak from experience that your beautiful bronze skin needs sunblock — but I’ve totally read that it does on the Internet, so you can probably trust me here. After I moisturize in the morning, I’ll just plop on a decently thick layer of my SPF 30 BB cream, and feel like I’m doing the responsible thing for my skin.

There you go! Follow these three steps and your face won’t feel like it will split every time you smile… probably. Do you have any great moisturizing tips for dry skin? Please enlighten me in the comments!

I will never watch a Woody Allen film

Nor will I watch a Roman Polanski film. Hell, I can’t even look at Whoopi Goldberg the same way again since I learned of her vile “rape rape” comment.

I stopped listening to The Beatles since I learned about John Lennon’s history of spousal abuse. Yes, it’s an unpopular action to take. Yes, I have just subtracted several albums of beautiful music from my life. I’m fine with that.

I also will not listen to R. Kelly. Ever since I moved, The Rolling Stone has been sending me issues for free, and one of them had an article about R. Kelly. I promptly threw the magazine away in disgust.

I won’t even use this space to entertain debate about whether you can separate the art from the artist. I won’t do that because just thinking about these men and their crimes fills me with rage and heartache.

They don’t deserve a positive legacy.

The silliness of judging somebody’s health habits

Eagle. American flag. Freedom.

Live your life. It’s a free goddamn country.

I sort of have a reputation among some people as being a health nut.

I’m not, really. I eat processed foods with some regularity, and a decent portion of my daily caloric intake comes from pork rinds (they go well with everything!). While I am naturally very athletic, I worked out only sporadically until quite recently. My posture is crap.

But I do have some healthy lifestyle habits kind of rare for a 25-year-old. I get 6-8 hours of sleep every night. I only drink alcohol, like, once a year, and then decide I never want to do that again. I don’t smoke. I eat a ton of broccoli. I take my vitamins.

So I like to laugh when other people judge people on their lifestyle choices. (I guess I do judge people on their judgmental, er, ness. Whether that makes me a hypocrite or brilliantly meta is up to you.)

I love when health nuts, usually following some tightly prescriptive diet, can’t communicate a thought on the Internet without inserting a bunch of healthy buzzwords, and proselytizing about the virtues of “clean eating” or “colonic irrigation” or whatever. I love when people complain about the “obesity crisis,” about the habits of other people.

I think to myself, “I guess you never drink any alcohol then.” And then I chuckle self-righteously. (I can be a little obnoxious, okay?)

People love to get on their high horses about health. But “health” not only means different things to different people, but is a mark of privilege. Able-bodied privilege. Class privilege — access to diverse and high quality foods, the safety of being able to jog in your own neighborhood, and, of course, access to healthcare.

Not only that, but there is no one monolithic healthy lifestyle. Health freaks frequently advocate their lifestyles as The One True Way®, which is kind of stupid because I know really healthy vegans and really healthy paleo people. In a death match, I don’t know who would win (okay, probably the paleo people because the vegans would have an issue with killing to begin with — that was a poorly thought-out hypothetical).

What I’m saying is, the grains aren’t killing the vegans, contrary to what the paleos think. The meat isn’t killing the paleos, contrary to what the vegans think. (NOTE: I know plenty of vegans and paleos who don’t proselytize — I’m talking about the zealots here.) 

What really pisses me off about everyone who shares some article about how eating a donut is going to murder you forever is that for someone recovering from an eating disorder, eating a donut might be a giant goddamn victory in their health. Eating a donut without guilt, without trepidation — just savoring the goddamn food you’re putting in your mouth — that’s a really big step forward in your mental health if you’ve never done that before. Think about these things, people!

And the other thing that pisses me off is just the self-righteousness of it all. Okay, you found a thing that made you healthier. Good for you. Here’s a cookie (or a steak, or kale, or whatever token best fits your lifestyle). Get off everyone else’s ass. I never cease to be amazed by people who are convinced everyone else in the world should live like they do.

I was forced into a strict lifestyle by my ovaries. Were it up to me, I’d close every night with a glass or two of red wine and a heaping bowl of ice cream. Maybe a long drag of a Black & Mild (wood-tipped wine, of course). In college, I developed a deep fondness for the crisp flavor of gin. Burritos are my favorite food, and I used to stuff them with tons of cheese, beans, meat, whatever I could fit in that tortilla. (Cilantro. Tons of cilantro.)

I miss those days, but being able to ovulate and keep my skin on are worth the sacrifices. For me, a strict lifestyle isn’t about being virtuous — it’s about not getting endometrial hyperplasia and cancer, not getting non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, not clogging my arteries due to my easy susceptibility to hypertriglyceridemia.

So if you’re ever around me, feel free to wash down your loaded nachos with a delicious craft brew, then chase both with a few handfuls of M&Ms. It’s your right as an American. Eat whatever the fuck you want. I, for one, will envy — but not judge.

So here’s a lovely GERD symptom: food makes it hard for me to breathe

Wikipedia | Gastroesophageal reflux disease

This is the Wikipedia image for GERD. I’m not really sure what I’m looking at.

My history of disordered eating most likely isn’t entirely to blame for my gastroesophogeal reflux disease (GERD), but I’m also sure it didn’t help matters that I once habitually binged on and purged large quantities of food. Faulty esophagi run in my family — I’ve suffered from heartburn at least as early as seven years old — but I took my jalopy of an esophagus and tried to drive it up a mountain during a massive landslide.

And similarly, it’s not fun to have gastrointestinal problems when you already have a pretty strained relationship with eating.

One of the most delightful symptoms of GERD is shortness of breath following meals. Eating large meals makes me feel like I’m suffocating for a couple of hours. Eating medium-sized meals makes me feel like I’m suffocating for a couple of hours.

I have to eat small, spaced-out meals if I want to have any sort of comfort. And it kind of pisses me off. It pisses me off because I am so way past done limiting the amount of food that I eat. It pisses me off that the amount of food that makes me feel satisfied is equal to the amount of food that makes me feel like someone is holding a pillow over my face.

It doesn’t take a genius to think of all the various ways this fucks with the post-ED psyche. Is this my fault? These symptoms are relatively recent — did I deliver the death blow to my esophagus?

My body is physically forcing me to eat in a way that reminds me of the days when I dieted, when I deprived myself. This isn’t an uncommon situation for people with gastric problems. My fiance has to eat like a bird because of his Crohn’s. This way of eating is convenient for neither of us, doesn’t line up with our schedules or appetites.

But these are the cards we’re dealt, and we cope.

I, for one, have found something of a workaround.

It might sound crazy, but one of the ways I counter my stupid stomach is by drinking my nutrients. The “crazy” part comes in because I drink coldbrew coffee every day. You might be saying, “Coffee? Reflux?”, but for me, coldbrew coffee has been a godsend because it cuts down on the acid, and I drink nice dark roasts that don’t bother my stomach.

I put a generous portion of heavy cream in my coffee, and the fat keeps me satiated without making it hard for me to breathe. I didn’t come up with this idea myself — my friend Lisa, who has stomach problems due to WLS, mentioned once that coffee drinks are a great way to get energy when you’re having problems digesting solid food. Similarly, some of my low-carb friends rave about things like bulletproof coffee, basically a very fatty, energy-rich coffee concoction using grass-fed butter.

So that’s the stopgap for now, at least until I figure out how to fix my food tube.