I have thought long and hard over many years about whether I could or should publicly share this experience. Believe me, telling the world “My Wedding Diet made me Infertile” is not something I do lightly. All I want is for my experience to help others to avoid the same fate.
I got my period today.
Big deal, right? Actually, yes, big fucking deal, because it’s the first time in over three years, and for at least two of those years, I’ve actually been acutely aware that I could actually remain infertile indefinitely.
The worst thing about it? I did this to myself.
Despite medical advice to the contrary, I knowingly treated my body in such a way that it responded with an inability to have children. I ended up with hypothalamic amenorrhea and infertility – for three years. The amenorrhea ended today. Hopefully, fertility will be the next step, and Blair and I will be able to have children in the next couple of years.
While I’ve really wanted to warn you about this before, until today, I’ve been too scared, I didn’t want to ‘jinx’ anything, or open myself up to criticism or disapproval while I was still desperately waiting for my body to ‘right itself’.
Amenorrhea and Infertility
The World Health Organization defines infertility as “a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse”.
Without giving you too much information about my sex life, we have now been married two years and nothing has happened, as a result of amenorrhea – caused by deficient oestrogen/estradiol – caused by diet and (over-)exercise.
I have been a patient of Greenlane Hospital for this reason for over three years, and currently see an Endocrinologist and a Psychologist. My Endocrinologist, Dr Stella Milsom, wrote this article which explains exactly why I have found myself in this position. I have truly wanted to share this article many times before, but for the reasons outlined above, I’ve been too scared to.
An excerpt from the article posted by NZ Herald in 2011
“Dieting NZ women, girls ‘losing chance to have children”
“Dr Milsom said she encountered many “high-achieving personalities” suffering from the increasingly common hormonal deficiency syndrome hypothalamic amenorrhoea. The problem usually occurred in women with low body-fat levels, causing their periods to stop – the body’s way of signalling that it was not healthy enough for a pregnancy.
Career-driven women also developed the disorder as they worked in demanding environments that caused weight loss due to stress, Dr Milsom said.”
Some young women were tricky to treat as they preferred to continue being slim and period-free, refusing to recognise the dangers of dieting.
“No one likes the advice to stop your exercise and eat more. One of the things that always comes up is, ‘But my friends are the same weight’.”
How my Wedding Diet made me Infertile
When I got engaged in February 2015 I had been pretty steadily dropping weight for almost a year, immediately following my Mum’s death in March 2014. The physical effects of grief are well catalogued, I probably don’t need to explain why I lost my appetite, or that experiencing hunger gave me a physical pain which seemed to complement my mental heartache.
I’d only dropped around 10% of my body weight, but because I was already a healthy weight and BMI, even the relatively small loss was enough to cause my periods to stop.
However, by February, I was mentally recovering well, and physically, my body was ready to return to its healthy weight too. Had I returned to a healthy weight and BMI within the next few months, my periods would be expected to return soon.
Unfortunately, instead of allowing my body to return to health, I let my vanity take precedence. I had a wedding to look forward to, a wedding dress to fit into, and I wanted to look “my best” – don’t we all?
Shortly after getting engaged, I ordered my wedding dress from LA – based on my current measurements (a US size 2). The trouble is, as soon as I started eating normally, I began to return towards my normal weight and (in my head) I couldn’t afford to do that.
So, while in the care of the most wonderful people at the hospital who were all trying to help me to return to health, I selfishly and irresponsibly prioritised the way I wanted to look on my wedding day over their expertise.
My Wedding Dress is a sad reminder of what I did to myself
Ultimately, I managed to stay small enough through 2015, and fit my wedding dress on 20 February 2016.
I am now almost 10 kilograms heavier than my lowest weight, and 6-7 heavier than on our wedding day, and my wedding dress will probably never fit me again.
It may sound ridiculous to you, but I wish I could try it on for my second wedding anniversary in a week, and sit in it while I eat the last few slices of the wedding cake still saved. But I can’t.
This is not a pity party.
This isn’t all about me, or my weight, my health, my wedding dress or just my fertility.
I do not deserve anybody’s pity – I freely admit how irresponsible and selfish this was.
Unfortunately, it’s also all too common. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of healthy women put their bodies in harm’s way every single day by restricting their diet and/or over-exercising, in pursuit of their “ideal” body, whether that’s to fit a wedding dress, feel better in a bikini, or get back into to their favourite pair of jeans.
Most of those women will be fine, but many, like me, will suffer detrimental effects to their health and fertility, commonly through amenorrhea or osteoporosis.
If you are a woman who hopes to have children in the next few (or later few) years, and you are already a healthy weight, I implore you to please, please consider what you may be putting at risk through this pursuit.
Infertility is serious. Infertility can cause various psychological-emotional disorders or consequences including frustration, depression, anxiety, hopelessness and guilt. If serious, can have long-standing financial repercussions, and (perhaps most sadly) can critically affect relationships.
I am so incredibly grateful that I am now hopefully on my way out of the situation I got myself into, and I hope that my experience may help you, or someone you know.