I didn’t have a period for four and a half years.
It disappeared about six months into my struggle with anorexia. I had only lost a quarter of the weight I would eventually lose.
Still, those ten pounds and my low caloric intake put too much stress on my body. I had developed hypothalamic amenorrhea, the absence of at least three consecutive menstrual cycles in a female of reproductive age.
At the time, the loss of my period meant that my food restriction, excessive exercising, and weight loss had paid off. The loss of my period meant that I had taken the right path to reach perfect thinness.
The loss did not mean poor health. In fact, it didn’t seem to mean poor health to anyone around me either.
Friends envied that I didn’t have to deal with a monthly inconvenience.
Doctors said, “it just happens sometimes.”
The first ten pounds I lost made me underweight, but not severely underweight.
My doctors didn’t ask about my eating habits, exercise routine, or body image. They didn’t consider whether I had an eating disorder.
So I lost 30 more pounds.
With 40 pounds gone, my doctors knew I had an eating disorder but remained unconcerned by my amenorrhea. This time, because they did expect it. Of course someone so underweight wouldn’t have her period.
They told me I just needed to eat more and gain weight.
At my first routine gynecological appointment, the doctor refused to examine me. She said, “there’s no point. You basically have the ovaries of a nine-year-old.” She told me to return if I ever got a period again.
I left mortified and still not sure if missing periods were a real concern, thinking maybe I wasn’t sick at all.
Thankfully, I recovered even with that uncertainty. My recovery involved a much more complex regimen than simply eating and gaining weight– but those two components were a part of it and I fought for every single bite and every single pound.
To my surprise, weight restoration combined with consistent daily consumption of 3,000 calories did not bring my period back. I waited a year. I maintained my weight and continued eating 3,000 calories. No period.
My own research, prompted by the concern of my mother, informed me about the consequences of amenorrhea.
Regardless of weight, amenorrhea can cause infertility, bone loss, increased risk for heart disease, dry skin and hair, difficulty sleeping, digestive issues, and low sex drive.
I began to worry. I worried I could never have children. I worried I had let down a future spouse. I worried I would suffer from osteoporosis early in life. I won a battle with anorexia only to face the reality that its consequences could remain with me for life.
I begged my GP for a referral to an endocrinologist, someone specializing in hormone function. At first, she didn’t think it necessary, but relented. I waited months for the appointment, but it led me to finally meet a doctor who cared about my amenorrhea. She ordered a CT scan of my reproductive organs, an MRI of my brain, and extensive blood tests to rule out possible complications like tumors, cysts, or hormone imbalances.
Everything came back normal. She said despite her concern, she didn’t have any ideas beyond ordering those tests.
I gave up the search and hope.
A year and a half later, my period returned.
I didn’t gain more weight. I didn’t change my caloric intake. I didn’t stop exercising.
I don’t know why my period returned.
I have suspicions, but only suspicions.
I can’t tell anyone else how to get theirs back.
I do know that amenorrhea served as the first significant measurable sign of my eating disorder— a cry for help from my body. It went unaddressed.
Thirty percent of women suffer from amenorrhea for various reasons.
But a period never disappears for no reason.
I shouldn’t have needed to lose thirty more pounds for my eating disorder to become apparent. It shouldn’t have taken three and a half years for a doctor to care.
If your doctor doesn’t show concern for amenorrhea, find a new one.