After about six months of going to doctors and more doctors to try to find an explanation for some strange physical symptoms I have been having, I was recently told that I am very likely to go through menopause in the next two years or so. As a 26 year-old who recently finished a master’s degree and just finished my first year in a job that I love, this news was not only surprising, but also devastating. I’m single, have always been healthy, and haven’t really given much thought to having children yet. Now I’m faced with decisions that I feel completely unprepared to make. I have talked with my doctors who have suggested that I look into freezing my eggs (sooner rather than later), fertility clinics who have overwhelmed me with information about the process of retrieving, storing, and freezing my eggs as well as IVF, and friends and family members who all have opinions of their own.
I have spent these past few days reflecting, weighing my options, praying, crying, trying to listen to myself, and trying to make some sort of decision about whether or not to go through the extremely expensive process of saving my eggs, knowing that the success rates are low. I do not know whether I want to have children. I know I’m not ready to have them now as I am starting a career and figuring out who I am, but what if I want them in five or ten years? I know adoption would be a possibility–and I know that I could love an adopted child as if they were my own biological child.
I went from living my life in the present a few weeks ago to being rushed into the future. I suddenly have doctors asking me how I would feel about having a child in the next year or so (which I’m not ready to do) or how I would feel about freezing my eggs (or fertilizing them and freezing the embryos) or how I would feel about never having my own biological children. I’m overwhelmed with such big questions, and I feel completely unprepared to make these decisions.
I see a therapist regularly, and she and I have begun to talk through my options and all of the pros and cons. It feels like there is no “right” or even “good” choice. The more information I gather, the more complicated and confusing everything seems. I am leaning toward letting my body do what it is going to do naturally and to later adopt children if I choose to do so, but I’m afraid to commit to that decision, because I know it comes with deep grief, sadness, and potentially irreversible consequences. No matter how much I obsess about this or learn more about the process, I don’t come up with a decision I feel good about. How am I supposed to go about making such a decision?
A: Your situation moved me deeply because your thoughtful nature and awareness are so keenly attuned to the dynamics of your situation. I hope I can offer a perspective that can be helpful.
Dan Gilbert is a Harvard psychologist who studies how we think about the future and try to predict what will make us happy when we get there. I am reducing his immense body of work to a few sentences which could not possibly do it justice, but in essence he explains that we don’t do a very good job of predicting what will make us happy –that we are more or less over-influenced by the present moment and that causes us to make systematic errors in what we think will make us happy down the road.
What tends to be true is that our happiness and what brings us a sense of contentment comes from having the courage to face our life circumstances directly. When we can accept our challenges and joys that are hidden in our life circumstance with an open attitude then we take our life and turn it into a work of art.
Stay with yourself. Stay present with your mind and your body. You already have a trusted therapist and a team of doctors. It seems to me the work is to stay present with yourself and don’t lose these moments of your life to indeterminate futures. What I am encouraging you to do is cultivate a mindfulness meditation practice. Notice where your mind takes you. Here is more information about mindfulness.
The shift is toward self-acceptance and believing that you will be okay with yourself regardless of what you decide.
Tomasulo, D. (2012). Early Menopause?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/11/30/early-menopause/