I wanted a second child. Then I went through early menopause at 36

While waiting for the telemedicine appointment to start, I started to sweat. It was a hot August day and I had just run home, leaving my 2 year old son, Felix, and his husband, Tom, to complete our daily afternoon walk without me. However, it wasn’t sweat after the sprint. I was red with spiky piercings sticking out like tiny shards from my pores. At 36, I had hot flashes like this – up to 7 times a day – for six months.

It started in March 2020 when the world – and my periods – came to a standstill without warning. But when a doctor’s visit confirmed a negative pregnancy test and normal blood work, I blamed it on stress.

My periods were still regular and I got pregnant the second month after I took the babysitter out. A few minutes after giving birth to Felix, who had been face-up, and the long and intense labor, I was exasperated and pal, joking with the nurse: “Never again!”

We were in a bit of a mess when Felix was born. My water broke three weeks before my due date on the volleyball court where we played beer league. I, who always had a toothbrush in the car in case an adventure arose, hadn’t even packed a bag because I was so superstitious.

The first night home from the hospital, Tom said, “I’m not sure I can be alone with him,” as I slipped away to sleep. Then, irrationally terrified of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), I insisted on attaching a baby breathing monitor to Felix’s diaper, which stopped our hearts multiple times with false alarms. And somewhere in there, Tom got shingles.

An only child herself, writer Liz McCaffery always thought she would have a second child so her son could have a sibling.Courtesy of Liz McCaffery

But Felix has brought Tom and me closer than ever. Navigating these early days of the pandemic together as a family of three got us seriously thinking about having another baby, which was our plan all along, especially since I’m an only child.

For as long as I can remember, I would obnoxiously say to my friends, “If you commit to one, you commit to two,” when they were discussing their plans to have a baby. Like it’s my personal crusade – or business of mine – to reduce the number of only children like me wandering the planet.

“You fasted too much and ran too much,” my mom suggested when my hot flashes started. “Relax and see what happens.”

But the sweat kept coming, all day and night too.

“I think I might be going through menopause,” I joked with my friends on our weekly Zoom date, back when it was still new.

“Oh my God, Liz,” they said, and they sighed like they always did when I thought a sinus headache was a sign of a brain tumor. “Your body is probably still re-regulating after breastfeeding.”

But at the end of May 2020, after about three months without a period or a positive pregnancy test, desperate to find an answer, I saw my first blood test results again. Just above the nurse’s signature, my FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) level read 32.3 mIU/mL. Even if the report missed the middle range, a quick google search told me it was much higher than it should have been. And another series of tests soon after proved that I was right.

It was now August, almost six months into my symptoms, and I was bracing myself for what the fertility doctor might say. She had been referred to me by my gynecologist for an official diagnosis. I took a quick sip of water as the doctor’s video came on, and waved my shirt off to dry the sweat, pen and notebook in hand. We quickly got past the jokes, and then in almost a breath she said, “You have primary ovarian failure. You are in premature menopause.

Just as I was trying to remember how to write words on a page, the doorbell rang.

A moment later, a text from Tom: “We’re on lockdown. In my haste, I had locked the door, and Felix’s potty—we were potty training—and Tom’s work laptop were in the house with me.

As my stranded family sat outside praying for no pot emergencies to occur, I nodded and scribbled down the details of my diagnosis as the doctor spoke, including the “5% chance of pregnancy”. Suddenly, I realized that Felix was also getting a lifetime tag: he would probably be an only child. I wanted to add impotence to my list of side effects.

Tom didn’t have a key, I was eggless, and Felix probably wouldn’t have a sibling.

Raised by a single mother, as a child I longed for the partnership of a sibling to get through complicated family dynamics and weird holidays like the 4th of July when everyone but me had someone. one to date by default – someone who was in it with you, a friend forever.

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