POI & Premature Menopause - A Year In One Young Woman's Life!
ONE YEAR ON!
As part of our World Menopause Day campaign in 2018, Annabel shared her story of being diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Insufficiency and premature menopause, aged 15. Since then, it’s been a roller-coaster year for her. She tells us about the experience of going public with such a personal story and why she has no regrets!
On World Menopause Day last year, Positive Pause (known at the time as Hot Flush) gave me the opportunity to share my story. For 9 years my diagnosis of Premature Ovarian Insufficiency had been kept a secret. Very few close friends and family (including one very random first date) knew I was infertile, but the rest of the world had no idea. I felt a sense of guilt, as if I had lied to all the people I had met and not told. All the inappropriate conversations replayed in my head; would they even remember what they innocently said that I was insulted by? Of course not, they couldn’t have had any idea about my diagnosis or what POI even was for that matter. Previous employers were shocked to find out my hidden disease and had wanted to celebrate other colleagues’ pregnancies. Even close family members were unaware, a decision made by my mother to protect her daughter during the initial years.
Scared, knowing how social media can be unnecessarily harsh with ‘friends’ on Facebook judging, I became anxious, which is not like me at all, people would think I was just being an attention seeker, with no good reason why I wanted to write an article about a diagnosis I was given at 15 years old. My immediate family seemed concerned and raised questions as to why I wanted to share such a private matter with basically everyone I knew.
The answer was simple; I wanted to share my story to inspire. Trying not to sound too cliché, I wanted to encourage people to be brave, share who they are and what is important to them. Having spent nearly 10 years try to accept my diagnosis of infertility, it was time to raise awareness of an invisible disease and the battles many young women have to experience alone.
The response I had was completely overwhelming, there is no other word to describe the support I felt the weeks after my first article was published. An unbelievable number of comments, messages, emails and phone calls from my own network and well beyond gave me a sense of pride.
‘I am now 22 years old and diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure. I’ve never told anyone because when I say it out loud it’s too real so I’ve kept it inside me for a very long time, now saying it out loud it still hurts but reading about you gives me hope, like I have someone to talk to. So, thank you for writing this and showing me that I’m not the only one’
When I read this comment from a now friend in New York all the worry that maybe it wasn’t necessary or the right time to share my story disappeared. When I wrote my article, I told myself if I managed to make even one woman feel less alone it was absolutely worth it. It really does show the power of social media.
The last 12 months have been eye-opening. Shortly after my initial article I was asked to write for both Glamour Magazine and the BBC. I was interviewed for Radio One Newsbeat, which was an odd but exciting experience. Months followed and I was contacted to be filmed for a segment on BBC Breakfast following a 15-year-old teenager who has just been diagnosed with POI, spookily her name was Annabel (spelt Annabelle) too. In May I gave a presentation at Megs Menopause which led to a standing ovation after I unexpectedly broke down on stage, a humbling experience to feel such support from women that could to some extent relate to my menopause and the symptoms I experienced as a teenager. Speaking on behalf of the Daisy Network at Positive Pause’s Feelgood Fair again, I felt like I was informing and enlightening the audience about an invisible and devastating diagnosis.
365 days after my first article was published, I am writing again for Positive Pause, the place where it all began. As a filmmaker I want to push myself and my creativity ultimately generating as much awareness as possible. I want to provide a network for the brave women who have experienced infertility so young so that they can finally have a voice and finally, I want to continue educating society especially young people about Premature Ovarian Insufficiency through platforms like the wonderful Positive Pause. Watch this space!
Annabel May Oakley-Watson ©