Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome
The summer between sixth and seventh grade, I got my first period.
I did not care about it that much. I was not talking about it all the time the way my classmates were or wielding around my stained underwear like a flag. You would think that Saudi Arabian girls would talk about other stuff but no, they talked about their periods and boobs. I was honestly annoyed that I had to deal with blood. I hated blood; the smell and sight of it disgusted me. To learn that I was going to bleed every month for the many years to come did not make me a happy camper.
So when I did not bleed the next month after my first, I was happy. I had not learnt how to deal with pads and I was not allowed to use tampons (according to my mom, they dis-virgin you) so having that month off was great. All my friends were still talking about it; I just ignored them and went back to reading my books. It was always easier that way, hiding my indifference in books and faking my interest with nods.
By the fourth month of my missing period, my mother entered a weird state where she became worried but did not want to scare me. This meant asking me too many questions, snooping through my clothes, whispering about me in Yoruba on the phone to her sister back in Nigeria who was a doctor. The sister said I was fine and that my young body was just adjusting and it would soon fall into place. That explanation never stopped my mom from worrying but she let up and left me alone.
Years down in line, we moved to Nigeria and I started secondary school and I became …. sick (I was dealing with a lot of things that would make this post way longer than it should be). In the hospital ward, barely awake, the nurse was asking about my medical history. Apparently, telling your nurse you had not seen your period in five months was not a good idea.
Pregnancy test proved I was still a good girl but they told my mother about it. She shrugged it off. I did too. Because it had become something normal to me, not dealing with my period. My classmates would have extra pads in their lockers for the heavy days, they had perfected the ‘fall’ to get them to the clinic and they always had extra skirt in case of a stain. I did not. I did have some periods and I did double over once or twice but they never were as much as the other girls. A part of me felt like an outsider, like my body was not up to par with these other girls. I had a well-developed body but periods are special. They are the first mark of becoming a woman. The joy that you ovulate and you can carry a life. I felt like my body was lie, that I was incomplete.
Ha ha. That is my favorite new word now. Incomplete.
When I came back to Nigeria after my Masters Degree and my mother finally took me to the hospital to find out what was exactly wrong with her bloodless daughter, I was prepared for the worst. Cancer? Fibroids? One of those weird dieses you only hear about on House? Nope, it was much simpler than that.
PCOS. Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome.
Ever since puberty, I had a shortage of female hormones. Because of this, cysts developed in my ovaries and did not allow me to ovulate and if you remember your biology correctly, ovulation leads to either pregnancy or bleeding out of your vagina. PCOS also leads to hairiness (something I had been dealing with all my life especially on my legs and a small stubble above my lips and on my chin) and other symptoms related to diabetics and weight issues. I could have children but it would be tougher the doctor said. I would be put on specialized drugs to force me to ovulate and I could do IVF …..
I blanked out by this point and all I wanted to do was go home. The doctor had confirmed the worst fears I’d had since I was in secondary school, I was incomplete. I was the girl who would become the subject of the Yoruba movies my mothers watched; the girl who could not get pregnant so the mother-in-law brought another wife for the husband. The girl who would have to sacrifice to some gods so that her womb could be free for his seed to impregnate. I would become that girl who saw my friend’s children running around but would have no naming ceremony of my own.
My mother said God will help us as we deal with it. I have been dealing with it through writing and music and laughter.