However, our identity is something that can absolutely be challenged by being told, often as a teenager that we won’t ever have periods (well that seems good right?…yay!), will often have to undergo some treatment to have a comfortable sex life (getting less ‘yay’ by the second) oh and your lack of (or underdeveloped) uterus means you won’t ever be able to carry a child (‘yay’ is now in a far distant land ).
As a woman you learn about the female body and how it works and what should happen and when. You aren’t taught that sometimes those things don’t happen or why they don’t happen. So when you are presented with an effective void where there should be something that for all intents and purposes identifies to you a part of ‘being a woman’ then processing that and accepting that can be a challenge.
Periods are seen like a symbol of female identity and womanhood. So the absence of this makes you feel different, particularly as a teenager going through hormones, puberty, peer pressure and well just everything. For me, I definitely felt different. When everyone else was talking about periods I was finding myself making things up just to feel like I fit in or excusing myself from the conversation. I didn’t feel like a freak, I didn’t feel un-normal, I just felt weird.
The mere thought of ‘owning up’ to the fact I didn’t have periods, well I couldn’t even fathom what the girls in my all girls comprehensive would say. So I just didn’t say anything because I was pretty scared about the response. As a teenage girl this was not how it was supposed to be!
That being said I wasn’t afraid of telling people about MRKH, I was oddly quite proud of being able to say (and spell) the full acronym, I was just selective of how I did it and who I told and what I shared. I think I even gave one of my friends a very medical/clinical leaflet(!) or I often snuck it into a conversation like it was totally normal. Like on the way to Geography or something.
But I didn’t tell everyone everything and I definitely didn’t want some girls in my class to know for fear of ridicule or perhaps being thrown in a dustbin again (that had happened before). In reality my problems were not ever going to be at the forefront of peoples minds but if some people knew would they just laugh or worse, feel sorry for me?
What was actually easier to do was talk to a boy friend. They don’t have the sympathy or empathy in the same way and I found that bit the hardest when talking to my female friends. They also don’t ask so many questions!
Boys don’t really understand girls or girls bodies which helps 🙂 (at least not as teenagers and some I would argue never get to that point). Telling a boy was one thing but telling a boyfriend, something else.
My boyfriend was 2 years older than me and it was very daunting (and I am underplaying it here, its terrifying) to tell him at a time when we at least felt like we were under a lot of peer pressure – ‘hey its great and you’re awesome but I can’t have sex until I have done this treatment which will probably sometime next year’ – it could have gone a lot worse than it did.
Sexual identity much like periods is a part of life that I wanted to explore but I felt very embarrassed, stupidly so, that I wasn’t at that stage. In reality of course I think it gave us the chance to respect each other much more and find other ways to have fun. It really isn’t all about sex.
Even after the treatment I was then permanently worried if it felt different, or weird or bad because I wasn’t the same as other women. But of course what does being ‘the same’ mean. I can look back now and think how silly I was but at the time it feels all encompassing.
For both Mia and I the fact we had met each other at a time where we were both going through this treatment was a true blessing. I know we were both curious about the other and also probably as nervous as each other to finally meet.
Suddenly this thing which affects 1 in 5000 women, which was a hard to fathom number, felt a lot smaller when there is a girl in the next room who totally understands and is going through the same thing. Someone else who totally got where I was coming from. Sure there were differences to our experiences but many similarities too and that was also interesting to learn and to go through together.
What is perhaps obvious, but I found interesting and a little comforting, from Mia’s great writing, is that the feelings we have are often no different to those of us with different sexual development, fertility issues etc. Perhaps those feelings come at a different stage of life but they are no less important.
The general feeling of being different is compounded by the ‘feminine ideal’ and whats the ‘norm’ without considering that there is a huge heap of women (and of course men) who go through or have fertility issues. That’s not a small number, it’s at least 1 in 8 couples globally.
I really like this paragraph from Mia’s text so I am copying it verbatim. Its no wonder that our ideals around women and our own identity can be challenged in a society that has to dominantly been focused on the female identity as periods and motherhood.
Feminine research equates motherhood with femininity (6; 2; 4; 3), thus it is unsurprising that the participants feel on the outskirts of societal norms. 5 describes motherhood as women’s “raison d’être”, so it is unsurprising that the participants should feel at a loss in fulfilling the societal expectation of gender ideals. Feminists have identified menstruation as ‘the uniting entity between women’, as something that all women share (1). This positive view of menstruation and ‘womanhood’ neglects that women with primary amenorrhea have never experienced a single period and never will.
Despite there being papers used here that are 30-50 years old some of these ‘ideals’ are very much still part of our society today even though they are antiquated and quite frankly incorrect.
Ultimately, we need to continue to educate people.
I know a considerable amount of work is being done across the wider community to raise awareness of MRKH as well as of other fertility conditions that don’t fit into that ‘societal norm’. By raising awareness there is an opportunity for wider acceptance of the different issues and challenges that can affect women (and men) so that it no longer becomes an assumption that everyone will have those same experiences and we will no longer treat such topics as taboo.
We still sadly have a long way to go.
This blog is part of my Born Without series building on the work of Mia whose name has been changed on her request as she wishes to remain completely anonymous. She has provided me with permission to kindly share all of her research specifically for my blog. Love you M x.
References (for completeness):
- Kitzinger, C., & Willmott, J. (2002). ‘The thief of womanhood’: women’s experience of polycystic ovarian syndrome, Social Science & Medicine, 54, (3), 349-361, doi: 10.1016/S0277-9536(01)00034
- Glenn, E., Chang, C., & Forcey, L. (1994). Social constructions of mothering: A thematic overview. In Glenn, E., Chang, C., & Forcey, L. (Eds.), Mothering ideology, experience and agency (pp. 1–29). London: Routledge.
- Oakley, A. (1972). Sex, gender and society. London: Maurice Temple Smith Ltd.
- Rich, A. (1976). Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. New York: Norton. doi: 10.2307/3346405
- Russo, N. F. (1976). The Motherhood Mandate. Journal of Social Issues, 32, 143-153. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.1976.tb02603
- Weaver, J., & Ussher, J. (1997). How motherhood changes life a discourse analytic study with mothers of young children, Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 15,(1), 51-68. doi : 10.1080/02646839708404533