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/

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.

Weight loss does NOT cure PCOS

Cat with glowing eyes

Weight loss won’t make my cat’s eyes stop glowing, either.

I really believe that if doctors stopped believing that weight loss cured PCOS, we’d have better treatment options.

I was inspired to write this post by a woman in a forum who was frustrated that she wasn’t losing enough weight to alleviate her PCOS symptoms. But even by the bullshit measure that is the BMI, she is not overweight.

Any time you look up “PCOS treatment,” “weight loss” is listed as a primary objective. This is problematic for two reasons: one, PCOS is a metabolic disorder, so weight loss is extremely difficult with PCOS, and two, weight loss does not cure PCOS.

If it did, I wouldn’t be complaining about exploding cysts, or horrible mood swings, or hot flashes. I lost 70 lbs. My weight is considered “normal” now. Where is my cure? Where do I cash in?

I ovulate now and my triglycerides are low. That is not due to weight loss. These things happened mere weeks after I started eating a certain way, while I was still obese. But my hair continues to thin. I still have symptoms. I still whine about my symptoms on this blog!

I feel like researchers are less concerned with making cysters’ lives better and more concerned with making us look more pleasing to them. Does that sound cynical? I don’t care. There is a lot of fat bigotry out there, and it would be naive to think that that’s not influencing research. Ever since I lost weight, I’ve been met with incredulity when I tell new doctors that I have PCOS. “You don’t look like you have PCOS!” they say, because obviously they can see right through my pelvis and into my ovaries.

No, I don’t “look” like I have PCOS. I’m thin. My hair is only in the beginning stages of thinning. I groom my facial hair. I nuked my acne with Accutane. My shirts cover my stomach hair. A lot of people can’t seem to get it through their thick skulls that PCOS is more than an aesthetic condition. As a matter of fact, it’s a leading cause of infertility in women. It’s a risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer, and type II diabetes. And for many women, like me, PCOS is very physically painful.

Doctors, researchers: stop focusing solely on how women with PCOS look, and start caring about how we feel. Weight loss will not and did not cure me. Weight loss will not cure anyone. Give us better options.

Tips for getting through bad ovary days, or mittelschmerz

Polycystic Ovary

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

Well, I’m having yet another bad ovary day. It’s not as bad as my last bad ovary day, but it’s still bad enough to force me to think critically about my pain management strategy and/or will to live.

So here we go! How to get through mittelschmerz, or pain during ovulation:

  1. Make sure it’s the weekend. You can’t just have cyst pain on a weekday — what, are you nuts? Do whatever you have to do — incantations, seances, calling up Russell T. Davies and asking him to write one more Doctor Who episode, just for old time’s sake — to make sure you have no obligations while your ovary is tethering you to the ground like a swollen, bloody anchor of human tissue.
  2. Take whatever you have that’s strongest. My doctor (like, my primary care physician, not David Tennant) gave me Tramadol for my bad ovary days. Maybe you’re more about NSAIDs — go for the Aleve. Maximum strength. And maybe a shot of whiskey. I don’t even like whiskey, but I’m considering it now — and it’s 8:56AM.
  3. Don’t move. Not even a little. Don’t walk. Don’t lean. Don’t even turn your head too far to look out the window (oh look, a pretty bird, I think it’s a cardinAGHH!). Consider investing in a bedpan, but a better move is just not to drink anything, because pissing hurts on bad ovary days. Have a caring soul blast your furnace so that you sweat all your fluids out. Which brings me to my next point:
  4. Don’t be around anyone. You’re sweating, and it’s inadvisable to walk to get your deodorant, so stay put, because every step feels like a medium-sized dog with lockjaw is hanging from your hip with its teeth. You’re going to smell. You’re going to be ornery. You’re going to want to spit poison from under your tongue at anyone who looks at you funny (this is actually a little-known adaptive ability of PCOS cysters. Try it on your friends!).
  5. Let it out. Wail. Gnash your teeth. Wear nothing but sackcloth, rub ashes all over your skin, and make sacrifices to the fertility gods. Now is not the time to be proud, cyster. Let the tears flow. Between this and the sweating, allow your body to become a dry, desiccated husk, emptying yourself of precious life force to show the cruel forces of the Universe that you are humble enough to do their bidding if it means ending this pain. PROTIP: If you must sell your soul to the devil at the crossroads, don’t just settle for a clean pair of ovaries. Make sure you at least hook yourself up with some sweet bluesy guitar skills. Do some peyote, sell your new eggs for some one-of-a-kind six-string, and do a tripped-out cover of Robin Trower’s “Bridge of Sighs.” I’ll listen to that shit all day long, cyster.

Well, there you have it — Natty’s short, simple to-do list for bad ovary days. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go cry a little.

Man, gaining weight still ain’t no picnic

I’m still a human. Despite my activism, my beliefs, my fire for size diversity, it still doesn’t tickle when I gain weight. I’m working on being better about this!

I mentioned that I’ve gained about 10 lbs in the last six months or so.

I couldn’t tell you why. Likely just my metabolism being wonky, as it is wont to do — PCOS and all. I don’t look much different, or else I don’t think I do. Some of my pants are a little tighter, which sucks. My boobs are bigger, which is fine with me!

My main concern is that goddamn wedding dress I had the genius idea of buying a year before my wedding.

Now, I have a bunch of engaged lady friends, and most of them have done the same — purchased their dresses a year in advance. This isn’t a fool’s venture when you don’t have a metabolic disorder. But I do. So now I’m just hoping that I don’t have to flush that money (and the perfect dress) down the toilet once my non-wedding arrives.

My body is never the same weight for more than a few weeks at a time. It’s always in flux, always gaining or losing, even when my habits are static. This makes having a wardrobe difficult. I have the same pair of jeans in three different sizes in my drawer, and they all can fit me perfectly at some point in any given month.

PCOS, man. My ovaries are harsh mistresses.

My PCOS Holiday Party Checklist

Santa Cat!

Santa Cat!

It’s that time of year again — the time to dust off all that expensive shit you bought at Sephora but never have occasion to wear because you get to be pretty for your coworkers!

It’s Office Holiday Party time.

This year, I didn’t have any weddings to go to (next year I’ll have, like, fifteen), and I didn’t have anything to get dressed up for. So this is my one occasion to fancy myself up. After over a year of unbroken casual-ness, there are some tasks and routines that may slip my mind, especially given my excess of male hormones.

So here you have it, ladies: a PCOS Holiday Party Checklist for you, me, and all our hirsute cysters!

  1. Shave my hobbit feet. I was breaking in my heels yesterday when I realized that the tufts of black hair on my feet looked pretty conspicuous next to the black glittery bow adorning my sparkle-pumps. I never bother getting rid of that hair because you couldn’t pay me to care, but I’ll make an exception for this occasion!
  2. Get rid of my ladystache. I have to admit to taking a sort of lackadaisical approach to my upper lip grooming. To wit, I have an emergency razor in my car for when I don’t realize until it’s almost too late that my mustache is looking especially thick that day. I was trying on my red lipstick last night when I realized that things are looking awful shadowy in Facelandia. Nothing makes a mustache pop quite like red lipstick.
  3. Make sure I’m prepared for all menstrual possibilities. PCOS turns ye olde endometrial shed into guerrilla warfare. Expect the unexpected. All sanitary items, pain pills, and chocolate must be accounted for should the Redcoats come.

Don’t let me forget any of these things!