'I'm only 35!': how I had two babies after premature menopause

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

It was during a night out at the movies when that I realised something wasn't right.

It was a cold autumn night outside, but I couldn't focus on the storyline because my cheeks were burning fire and an awful heat kept rising in my body. It made me want to climb out of my own skin. I wondered if I was coming down with a virus. 

Other symptoms followed in the weeks after: I started to forget words mid-sentence and it felt like cotton wool had replaced my brain. My sleep became restless. There was a feeling like I couldn't get my breath up past my heart, my joints ached and I felt exhausted.  

One day I casually mentioned my tiredness to my GP and she sent me for blood tests. The next day the receptionist called, asking me to come in to discuss my results.

"Tara, your blood tests are showing that you are menopausal," the doctor said. "Because you are young, it could be something called premature ovarian failure. Your hormone levels are so low, and that's what's causing all these symptoms." 

The hours after this are a blur. I called a friend, in an utter panic. "How can I be menopausal? I'm only 35!"

She told me to get a second opinion, and some other words meant to be of comfort, but I knew my dream of having children was over. My period had been going haywire for a few months and now it all made sense. I ran out to my car, drove to the most desolate place I knew and I screamed and I sobbed my heart out. 

Infertility diagnosis

My partner and I had started trying for a baby when I was 32. When my period showed up month after month, I wasn't unduly worried. I tried ovulation tracking, then acupuncture and Chinese herbs to help the process, but none of it worked.

Eventually, my partner and I broke up. It turned out we were in a different place. He wanted kids someday, but with nothing like the urgency I was feeling. Although we were in love, he had not been ready for the months of scheduled sex and all of my distress about not being able to conceive.  

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I spent my time trying to recalibrate as you do after broken heart. I went to therapy, did yoga. I changed my hair and moved into a place by myself. I was doing OK on the outside, but after the premature menopause diagnosis everything changed.

I felt like the door to motherhood had been slammed in my face and I was having trouble coping with such an abrupt end. I would look in the mirror and see a woman in her prime, but inside I felt anything but. I became depressed – some days I was too sad to get out of bed. Depression I've since learnt, is also a side effect of low hormones. 

"Premature menopause is when the final menstrual period occurs before a woman is 40. Primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) is when a period stops spontaneously, either prematurely or early. In POI there is a small possibility that ovarian function may spontaneously resume. Premature menopause will have the same symptoms associated with menopause at the expected age of 51-52, however the symptoms are often more severe," says Dr Elizabeth Farrell, gynaecologist and medical director at Jean Hailes.  

Up to 8 per cent of women will have their final period by the time they are 45, and while there are many causes of premature or early menopause including chemotherapy and some genetic disorders, in about 60 per cent of women, the cause is unknown. 

"Often it's a time of feeling loss and sadness, anger, guilt and grief. Women may feel that they are no longer feminine, physically and sexually attractive and if a woman wished to have children, premature menopause can be especially devastating. Seeking counselling can help," says Dr Farrell.  

Being handed the infertility card like that is tough. I questioned if my life was going to ever be happy without children in it. If it was a life I wanted to live. With the help of my psychologist I decided I couldn't walk around with such sorrow in my bones every day, so I decided to stop talking and thinking about it, and I put it all in a box, and threw it onto a high shelf for another time. I closed the door on motherhood and I got on with my life.  

Then, three years later, I unexpectedly got back together with the boyfriend who was not ready to have children, but who had returned from overseas. He encouraged me to explore what our other avenues there were for us to have a family.

Enough time had passed that I was OK with opening up that box again. To my surprise I found the idea of re-exploring motherhood less painful now and more hopeful. We saw a great doctor who said that premature menopause does not always mean you can't get pregnant. He ran through our options: adoption, surrogacy, egg donation, assisted reproduction. We decided to try IVF.

Baby joy

My first round of IVF was at 39 years old and five transfers later, after using a complicated and expensive drug regime, I fell pregnant. I couldn't believe it. Seeing two lines on a pregnancy test stick was a feeling of utter relief, joy and shock all rolled into one. Me? A mother? After all this time? 

In June 2015 when I was 36 weeks pregnant, my waters broke. It was four weeks before my due date, but at the hospital when my obstetrician put his hands on my shoulders and said "Tara, you will be having your baby by the end of this day" I felt like: there it is. I had made it. I'd finally reached the finishing post. 

In the delivery room there was the tiny sound of a wailing animal and my obstetrician held up our dear little son Jesse and I looked at him for the first time. I reached to touch his leg to check that he was real and that we finally had our baby. He was warm and solid and he was real.

Two years later we were lucky enough to conceive our daughter Marla, using the same IVF protocol. She came into the world with relative ease, comparatively.

To be the mother of two children when you've been to the end of your fertility and back is really something miraculous. I look at my children every day, the fluff of their hair, the curve of their marshmallow cheeks, and I hug them and kiss them till they laugh and say 'Stop Mama, stop!' I'm not religious but in them I see God, or something divine.