Years after starting premature menopause at the age of 26, Georgina was told she couldn't have kids. Here’s how she proved them wrong.
Premature menopause characterises menopause that takes place before the age of 40 and affects 1 in every 100 women. With little awareness or support around premature menopause, countless women like Georgina are left in the dark to figure out their next steps. Here’s her inspiring journey from debilitating symptoms and unhelpful doctors to trialling Chinese medicine and starting a family of her own.
It all started when, at the age of 26, Georgina started experiencing alarming symptoms.
“I started experiencing body drenching night sweats at the age of about 26,” she says. “I saw an endocrinologist who found no issues so just dealt with it. It brought massive exhaustion and sleepless nights and I struggled to work some days.”
Many women experience similar symptoms, and they can range anywhere from the physical to the psychological side of things. Georgina says she had “night sweats so bad I would have to fetch a towel for under me and one for over me as by the end, I was just too exhausted to get up in the night to charge the linen."
“I was moody like a roller coaster and doctors suggested I try anti-depressants as my anxiety ricocheted. I would have heavy 6-7 day periods and a short cycle, then went for nine months with none at all. My libido was terrible too and sex became painful due to lack of lubrication or just feeling bloated and awful,” she says.
“Other effects were super itchy dry skin for at least ten years, brittle nails, dry skin and hair thinning on my scalp, painful acne then none at all, bowel problems, bloating and weight gain around my middle despite having always been a size 6 and runner.”
A host of psychological symptoms affected Georgina as well, including “indigestion and anxiety, depression, anger and forgetfulness, putting random things in the fridge and having ‘brain farts’ at work or home where I forgot what I was doing/going to say, combined with waking constantly during the night.”
These cognitive and brain fog symptoms are common symptoms, but often one of the most overlooked. Researchers have found that during this menopause and premature menopause, memory function really does change and leaves many with difficulties multi-tasking, remembering things and getting distracted. Like Georgina, many women also experience anxiety during premature menopause, with estrogen and progesterone imbalances held responsible. In fact, research has found that changes to estrogen levels could be to blame for these symptoms of excess worry, restlessness and stress.
It was after testing for haemophilia that Georgina found out she also had premature ovarian failure.
“I have haemophilia type A and wasn’t aware as had never been tested but my twin sister has, so figured I should get a full health check and bloods taken as it’s hereditary. It came back as having the haemophilia but also I was told I was going through POF (premature ovarian failure) and my AMH levels were literally written as borderline infertile,” she says.
“I was then handed a referral to an IVF specialist along with a box of tissues for my tears.”
But Georgina’s experience with the medical system wasn’t what she’d hoped – it left her feeling dejected and disappointed.
“Had I realised that every operation would result in more and more scar tissue and more resultant health issues, I would not have done my first laparoscopic surgery,” she says. “The response is to firstly cut scar tissue out. If this is not cauterised (especially with a bleeding disorder) all that results is even more damage internally.”
A laparoscopy is a surgery used to diagnose a number of conditions affecting the reproductive and abdominal areas, along with being used to remove damaged parts of organs. But as Georgina says, it can cause scarring and further issues with a bleeding condition like haemophilia. But it didn’t end here – medical professionals continued to overlook her concerns and refused to look into the cause for her symptoms.
“Every time I had proposed the mere thought of early menopause, the doctor or gyno would say I was too young and refuse to investigate further but again my gut told me there was more to it,” she says. “I had times when I had missed the pill for many days due to illness and I never fell pregnant.
“I had my first IVF appointment in Greenwich Sydney and was told that due to my low ovarian reserve and likely poor quality of eggs due to the endometriosis damaging my ovaries (and potentially eggs), along with my now 43 day cycle, there was a high chance they wouldn’t be able to harvest any eggs and if they did they wouldn’t be of viable quality.”
Despite this bad news, Georgina didn’t give up – it was an unexpected recommendation for a Chinese medicine clinic that provided the support and answers she’d been seeking.
“This was when my child’s father told me he knew someone who ran a Chinese fertility acupuncture clinic and I booked in,” she says. “They were amazing and I would see Jeanie Kim every week in Balmain. She formulated vile-tasting herbal concoctions, gave me acupuncture to calm me and stimulate blood flow to my uterus.”
Jeanie told her that her body’s inflammation and stressed state was part of the obstacle standing between her and a pregnancy.
“She told me if your body is in pain or a state of stress, your body’s natural response is not to get pregnant since the body cannot maintain that pregnancy, and I did as I was told,” she says. “Ran less, took up yoga, changed to a less stressful job, followed her directions on reducing inflammation in the body by eliminating wheat and dairy.”
Her efforts paid off. Despite the dire news from the IVF clinic and unsupportive doctors she’d dealt with on her fertility journey, Georgina found a way to conceive her daughter.
“I fell pregnant 4 months later, and the pregnancy did not pan out due to a blighted ovum (where the foetus does not develop a foetal pole) and had to have a rather traumatic medically required dilation and curette,” she says. “I then fell pregnant naturally about three months later with my daughter, my miracle, Mirabella who just turned nine.”
What she found so significant about her experience with Chinese medicine, was how attentive and respectful the practitioners were, a stark contrast to the attitudes of many of the doctors she’d seen previously.
“I felt listened to as they asked questions about all facets of my life and not just the symptoms. I felt rested and at peace after every session and emotionally in a much more positive headspace.”
It’s clear we have a long way to go when it comes to support and education around premature menopause, as many are left to research their own solutions and find their own information. Georgina’s advice to those in a similar position is to trust their instincts.
“Get your AMH levels and hormones checked early, the moment you have any inkling and listen to your gut feeling,” she says.