You can read the start of Emily’s tale here (part one), along with a little bit of the “why” behind this series. If you want to contribute, ask questions, and/or seek a support net, please don’t hesitate to reach out. 🤗
Emily’s Essay, part two: Amenorrhea and Family
By Emily Fonnesbeck, RD, CD, CLT
After a few years of hormone cycling, my husband and I decided to try for a baby. I was just finishing up my last year of college and starting my dietetic internship. Anticipating that it would take awhile, we just wanted to be proactive. I was advised to stop taking hormones and to track my temperature (as a way to know if I was ovulating). After 3 months of no hormones, no ovulation and no menstruation, I was advised to go back on hormones for a few months. I did a one month cycle but didn’t bleed.
I was really, really tired—which I attributed to working as diet technician in a Newborn ICU each morning from 4:30-7:00 before school—and had really tender breasts so my husband suggested taking a pregnancy test. We were SUPER surprised when it came back positive. I had a great, uneventful pregnancy and gave birth to our now 11 1/2 year old son the day after I completed my dietetic internship.
Before it ends, it might begin again.
After having him, I entered an 8 year struggle with disordered eating—which eventually became severe Orthorexia—and obsessive exercise (definitely could be termed an exercise addiction). Obviously that did nothing for my fertility or menstruation. As a dietitian who now works with eating disorders, I commonly advise weight restoration, moderate exercise habits and consistent, regular and adequate nutrition to restore menses. Obviously I would have liked for that to happen for me as a part of my own recovery, but I had to realize that this issue was there before and is likely much bigger than just food and exercise (although I wouldn’t want to minimize the importance of those).
These are the best thing(s) I could do for myself:
I would actually say that the best lesson I learned from my struggle with disordered eating was how to better manage stress and anxiety. I would be what is termed Type A, and am naturally pretty anxious.
Seeing a therapist who gave me more effective skills and tools for managing my anxiety and perfectionistic tendencies was probably the absolute best thing I have done for my health. I know I am in a much better position for hormone balancing now than I have ever been because of how much more calm, mindful and intentional I have become.
I am also at a very flexible, satisfying place with food and exercise, which feels so, so good. Food has become a matter of self-care – both physically and mentally – rather than an issue for how I look or how perfect I am.
And so it goes…
I wish—oh how I wish!—I could end this essay by saying that x, y and z worked for me and I now have regular menstrual cycles. Unfortunately I can’t. We had 5 failed infertility treatments (3 IUI and 2 IVF) before we were blessed with our now 6-year-old son through the miracle of adoption. He is my everyday reminder that infertility is a gift because I wouldn’t have him without it.
There is no ending yet.
My husband and I have regular discussions about what to do next. I have tried to go extended periods of time without taking hormones to mimic regular cycles in hopes that my body will learn how to function on its own. But females have estrogen and progesterone for a reason and I feel really, really terrible (physically, emotionally and mentally) when I am not taking them. My husband is understanding that way, regularly commenting that he “wouldn’t want to go even a day without testosterone.”
It’s been 18-19 years since that first trip to the gynecologist and now at 34 years old, I’m not totally certain that avoiding hormones would be enough for my body to relearn hormonal signaling. Maybe this is normal? It’s been incredibly healing for me to accept the situation for what it is, and make the intentional decision to support my own wellbeing in the best way I can, regardless of the outcome.
But I still have hope.
I’m not in charge, but I believe in a higher power who is. Doctors have told me that my hormone dose is high enough to prevent issues but low enough that hormones could change. I also know that I had consistently regular cycles for the first time ever after giving birth 11 years ago, which eventually disappeared as I lost more and more weight and eating habits became more chaotic. Not to mention that I was pregnant at one point!
I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons and had a lot of disappointments but there are glimmers of hope in my story that I CLING to. As hard and confusing and lonely as infertility is, I encourage you to accept it, embrace it and learn from it.