As part of National Fertility Awareness Week, Stephanie Trussler, now 29, tells Stylist how setting up an online community for women suffering early menopause helped her cope with an infertility diagnosis in her mid-twenties.
Trainee counsellor Stephanie Trussler was just 26 when she was told by doctors that she was suffering from an early menopause, and wouldn’t be able to have biological children of her own.
Stephanie soon realised she was far from alone. Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POS) or early menopause affects one in 1,000 women under 30 and one in 10,000 under 20, and is a leading cause of infertility, according to POS charity Daisy Network.
“Simply put, it means that the ovaries aren’t working properly,” the charity explains. “They stop producing eggs years, and in some cases even decades, before they should. In addition, the ovaries are unable to produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which have important roles in women’s health and well-being.”
As part of National Fertility Awareness Week, Stephanie, now 29, shares her story with Stylist and explains how setting up an online community dedicated to early menopause and infertility helped her cope with her diagnosis.
“When I was 26 I was diagnosed with premature ovarian insufficiency, otherwise known as an early menopause. For the best part of five years I’d been experiencing hot flushes and chronic fatigue. I was so exhausted that I’d often come home from work and fall asleep without realising, and would regularly skip social events due to exhaustion. At the time I just put it all down to stress and being a twenty-something trying to figure out life.
It was only when a colleague suggested the hot flushes weren’t normal, and urged me to see a doctor that I did anything about it. A month after seeing my GP, I was in a supermarket car park with a friend when I saw the surgery’s phone number flash up on my phone. My doctor explained that my test results had come back and I had premature ovarian failure, now more commonly known as premature ovarian insufficiency, meaning I was unable to have any biological children of my own. I was in complete shock. When I was home I completely broke down to my friend. I can’t recall ever being that upset before. I felt completely grief stricken.
I tried to look for a place online where I could find guidance, support and compassion but I found nothing. I came across one organisation that helped with the infertility side of things, but not the early menopause. So just three days after the diagnosis, I set up my blog (Justovaryacting) and a dedicated Facebook page.
I started writing about the original shock of it all and my concerns about dating. I was brutally honest in some points, probably OTT, and although I made jokey references and was quite jovial, I still highlighted the heartbreak of it all. That feeling was always going to be there, but this was about moving forward. There is a Plan B.
I felt really shocked by the reaction. So many people came forward to share their stories. One person said they found my page really inspiring and it was a breath of fresh air.
A woman in Ireland messaged me through the Facebook page and we shared our stories. We’ve met up since and I consider her to be a good friend. The Facebook page now has 550 members. I feel really honoured to be able to share my story and see how that positively impacts other women also going through the same thing. It offers a place of sanity for our insanity, and feels like a safe haven that I wish I had when I was first diagnosed.
When my GP told me I was going through the menopause, one of my first thoughts was that I would never find anyone because I wouldn’t be able to give them a child. But just a year and a half after the diagnosis I met someone and I told him everything quite soon into dating. I wanted to let him know, so I knew whether or not to continue with it.
He was quite shocked and actually over time it was quite upsetting for him; knowing that I was going through the menopause, and that I can’t do the normal things that a twenty-something can do. For example, I’ll often run out of energy real quick and experience hot flushes. One of the things that made it easier, I felt, was that he already had a child, so he was actually fine with not having another biological child. He also said that being with me is more important than having another child. I did look into IVF, but to be honest after meeting people who have gone through failed IVF, it’s not something I want to pursue.
In some ways, the early menopause has changed my life for the better. I quit my support worker job after a year after diagnosis to become a counsellor. I was already training to be a counsellor, but I just thought life is too short and it made me realise for certain what I wanted to do with my life. Now there’s also scope to be a counsellor for people experiencing fertility issues.
I’ve also made some closer friends than I had before. It also feels good to support others. I’m still vulnerable and times like Mother’s Day can still be painful, but often the early menopause, or just the menopause in general, can bring a life shift for those experiencing it shock of it all – and help them figure out who they are and want they want to do in life. That’s what’s happened to me. When one door was shut in my face, many others have opened.”