'I Never Thought I'd Miss Having A Period – Then PCOS Made Them Stop'

PCOS is the leading cause of infertility – one woman reveals how it changed her life.

At 19, Vicki Psarias’ periods stopped, and she was diagnosed with PCOS. Here, she explains how that felt – and the decisions she had to make.

I was in my first year of university when my periods stopped. At first it was liberating. I found tampons uncomfortable, and I got swept away with the ease and freedom that came with it. No periods: no pain, no hormonal fluctuations.

But that feeling soon faded and I started to crave normality. Over time, not having a period made me feel like less of a woman, like my body was “broken” because I wasn’t bleeding – and I willed them to start again.

Vicki Psarias at university, around the time her periods stopped.
Vicki Psarias at university, around the time her periods stopped.

I was 11 when I first got my period. My best friend at school had started before me, so I experienced it through her – she’d ring me and tell me all about it, like what it was like, and then several months later I started mine.

My mum and I would talk about periods a lot, she was always really open with me, so I wasn’t embarrassed – but starting my periods was still a milestone of adolescence and quite a significant moment for an 11-year-old. Through my teenage years, my periods were pretty regular, and while I had long cycles they were never really heavy or painful: just the standard hot water bottle scenario or bubbly bath to soothe pain.

And then they stopped.

I didn’t notice at first. Not straight away, anyway. I’d say it took a few months. I was hung up in the bubble of student life, but I remember at one point thinking: hang on, this is odd. So I decided to note it all down – did I have a period in January? February? I couldn’t remember.

Sure, it was fun at first. But it didn’t take long before it became a great worry that was hanging over me all the time. My body wasn’t functioning properly, it wasn’t working. I wanted to be normal, to have a normal reproductive system. I’d sit in halls stressing whether my periods would ever come back – it was stress I shouldn’t have had at 19.

“My body wasn’t functioning properly, it wasn’t working. I wanted to be normal, to have a normal reproductive system.”

After five months, I decided to go to the doctors. I knew I wasn’t pregnant, so I assumed there was something quite wrong with me by this point.

I worried that they wouldn’t take me seriously, or would just assume I was pregnant. I thought that they might just fob me off and send me home – but in fact they did the opposite. The GP referred me to a specialist and soon after I had scans, which revealed cysts on my ovaries. I was given a diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). And the words that followed: “It’s the leading cause of infertility – you are going to have to think about kids before 30.”

I’d heard about PCOS before – I remember Victoria Beckham had been in the news talking about it, so I sort of knew what it was. But I wasn’t clued up, so I did some research. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition affecting women’s ovaries, which can result in irregular periods; fertility struggles; weight gain; and even hair loss. It’s also associated with an increased risk of developing health problems in later life, such as type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol levels.

My biggest fear, though, was my periods not coming back. No one could give me any reassurances – “we don’t know” is all they could say. They were hopeful, but no one could guarantee it would happen at that point.

I panicked about the timeframe PCOS put on my fertility. I worried I’d never meet someone – and in any case, I didn’t want to settle down young. As a student, my focus was on a world of work, rather than considering when I might have kids. I wanted to be a film director and I knew full well that a directing career often doesn’t kick off until later on, so having kids young seemed to be totally out of the question.

It was weird, urging my period to start. I followed strict advice from the specialist in those months that followed: I gave up smoking (which I only did socially, anyway), ate more healthily, and chose low GI foods. I exercised more, lost weight, and took care of my body – having no idea whether it was going to make any difference to my periods at all.

I just remember feeling powerless. Not having a period felt symbolic of a lot of decisions I felt I had to make as I was forced to think more seriously about my future than I would’ve liked.

Vicki Psarias after the birth of her first child.
Vicki Psarias after the birth of her first child.

Perhaps it was following the advice, or perhaps my period was always going to come back – but about a year after it had stopped, it finally returned. At first, I felt complete disbelief: it was only spotting, so I assumed I’d hurt myself or something. I didn’t think it was my period because I was so used to not having them.

I didn’t think, until that point, that having periods would be synonymous to me with a working body.

Soon after, they started to come back regularly. And funnily enough, I ended up meeting my partner during my university years. He was at a different uni, I was finishing my MA, and we knew early on how much we loved each other.

I really didn’t expect to meet the person I’d settle down with in my 20s, but I told him pretty quickly about my PCOS, and the advice that I should have kids before I was 30. It didn’t faze him.

We married at 24. I didn’t feel broody, but he did long before me. I remember a moment where I was thinking the pinnacle of success as a filmmaker would be to win a Bafta – but that if I got there and didn’t have kids, it would be a huge shame.

I decided I didn’t want to take the risk – I may not have had the choice later on – so at 28, we started trying for our first baby. I got pregnant within three months – pretty fast for someone with PCOS. At 31, I became pregnant with my second child.

I feel like my uterus was hijacked because of my PCOS – perhaps I had my kids younger than I otherwise would have done, and throughout my life I’ve yoyo-ed with weight, and my periods have been up and down. I also now suffer debilitating ovulation, period pain and acute PMT in some cycles – but the greatest saviour mentally and physically has been exercise.

PCOS is a condition that doesn’t get enough airtime – but it should.

As told to Amy Packham

Follow Vicki writing about her experiences of motherhood on her blog Honest Mum. For more information and support on PCOS, visit Verity PCOS – a charity helping those living with the condition.