Societal attitudes to motherhood and the impact on people with PCOS
By Freya Slack
Edited by Molly Warnke
“I just can’t see you as a mother.”
“Well you definitely won’t be having kids will you?!”
“And you want to be a parent?” Followed by a slight frown of despair.
I am 23 - unsure how to make a decent cup of tea, unable to use Microsoft Excel, still not clear on what a mortgage actually is, and powered by rosé wine. I could also count, using my fingers and toes, how many times people have expressed their concern over my ability to be a good parent, whether jokingly or seriously.
These comments seem to have tagged along with my recent diagnosis of PCOS, making it sting a little harder. Now, if you are unaware, a diagnosis of PCOS doesn’t mean one will not be able to have children or even face issues surrounding pregnancy, but one of the very first things you’ll hear when diagnosed with PCOS is:
“You may face issues with infertility”.
For those who may be unaware, PCOS is also linked to conditions such as type 2 diabetes, depression, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease. Yet issues surrounding fertility are the most common and, in the eyes of the medical world, the most significant. Somebody with a recent diagnosis of PCOS may find themselves feeling overwhelmed when googling the condition, due to the articles focusing on how to lose weight or how to get pregnant - especially if they’re a young person.
I'm sure it seems bizarre for readers to think that these two things could even possibly relate to one another: a drunken joke about my parenting abilities one evening and a PCOS diagnosis. However, I have recently started to feel the weight of my doubts about my ability to parent on top of doubts surrounding fertility. Or maybe, to put it plain and simple, I am being a massive drama queen.
Or, just maybe, people latch onto the topic of fertility in environments where it shouldn’t be brought into question, i.e. in the comfort of your home, at work, or in educational settings. Especially when those people aren’t even parents themselves.
This unwarranted judgment can plant seeds of doubt that may later sprout into painful uncertainty on top of a PCOS diagnosis. Particularly when considering how reactions towards this common medical condition place emphasis on the ability to bring life into this world over the individual’s health and wellbeing.
People expressing concern in regards to your ability to parent can make you second guess your personality, whilst a doctor expressing their concern about your physical body means that your entire person is under judgment - both biological and personal.
Suddenly, “I don’t think you’d make a good parent” starts to sound much more than just a momentary joke or a good-humoured reading.
Even if that person isn’t diagnosed with a medical condition that affects fertility, a comment or joke could still lead to that individual second guessing their personality. The ideology of feminism discourages us from making assumptions surrounding a woman’s desire for motherhood, whether wanted, unwanted or uncertain.
If you are an individual making jokes about others’ non-existing parenting abilities, do take a moment to recognise how these comments can affect a developing identity and their sense of direction in life.
Internalising those doubts made by others before one has even really contemplated parenthood could then affect someone later on down the line when viewing their own success or abilities as a parent. If an opportunity arises for you to make a joke and get a few laughs, even to a close friend, maybe keep your mouth shut.
“I just can’t see you as a mother” ... Thank You For Your Concern.
*As stated, PCOS is a common medical condition affecting 1 in every 10 people with ovaries in the UK. If you feel that you are showing signs and symptoms of PCOS (irregular periods/no periods at all, difficulty getting pregnant, excessive hair growth, etc) then you can speak to your GP. It helps to keep a diary of how long your period/menstruation lasts as the GP will have a number of questions surrounding this. *
(My diagnosis of PCOS was very recent and I am still processing my understanding of the condition. A doctor who suffers from PCOS has an Instagram page, @thepcosdr, which has been a massively helpful resource for me and many others.)