A student has told how she was ‘heartbroken’ after she found out aged 15 that she will never be able to conceive because she’s going through the menopause.
Sheree Hargreaves, 19, from Burnley, Lancashire, was also worried she would never find love after she was diagnosed with Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (POI), where a woman’s ovaries stop working normally before she is 40.
Sheree was just 15 when she received the shocking news and kept the condition a secret for years as her dreams of becoming a mum had been shattered in her own childhood.
Since then, Sheree has come out of her shell at university and now doesn’t let her condition stop her from enjoying nights out and having fun with friends, despite still getting hot sweats in lecture theatres.
And after recently becoming more open with friends and family, the young woman, has taken to Instagram to share advice – and admits she even gives sex tips to older menopausal women.
Sheree, a philosophy and sociology student at University of York, said: ‘It was completely and utterly earth shattering to find out that I couldn’t have children, when I was only a child myself.
‘Not being able to have children naturally worried me a lot when I was younger so I wanted to keep it a big secret.
‘Whenever my friends had their periods I used to carry pads and tampons around and pretend I was on mine as well just to try and fit in.
‘I never really raised an issue but when I was 15 I went to the doctors and they were quite shocked that I hadn’t started yet.
‘I never knew when the right time was to admit that I can’t have children – I was always worried about leading someone on.
‘It took me four years to even tell the closest of my friends and family – only my mum and dad knew because I didn’t want anyone else to know.
‘Lockdown helped me get to the stage in my life where I felt comfortable to tell people like my brothers and sisters because I got to sit down and think about it, away from my busy uni life.
‘It made me want to discuss it more openly because when I was 15 I would have loved to have heard someone spread awareness about early menopause and make it seem like it’s a bit more normal than I thought it was.’
Doctors first tested Sheree for a brain tumour when discovering she hadn’t started her period, but CT scans were clear and blood tests showed extremely low oestrogen levels, indicating early menopause.
In a rare case, medics told Sheree that she had begun losing her ovary follicles at the age of six, which would have been when she started the menopause.
Sheree said: ‘I was diagnosed in the middle of my GCSEs so I had to push it to one side to focus on my exams.
‘I’ve always wanted children so looking at my ultrasound and knowing there would never be a child growing in my womb was absolutely heartbreaking.
‘The reason why I was most upset was because the cause of my POI is unknown – doctors think it’s genetic but they’re not too sure.’
Sheree believes her symptoms made a lot more sense as she grew into her later teens, when previously she thought her night sweats and hot flushes were just illness.
Since starting university, she now lives her life to the full even though sometimes she needs to relax a little more than others.
Sheree said: ‘On certain days I feel like a grandma and have to stay in bed because of my symptoms so at first POI held me back at uni.
‘I sometimes come out in hot flushes in lectures so I dress like I’m expecting it by carrying around a jumper but wearing summer clothes in the winter.
‘But now it doesn’t stop me from pulling on nights out and having a good time – I’m quite the big flirt.
‘I’ve stopped worrying so much about infertility because it’s a tiny part of me and there’s other options out there for me.
‘Boys who I have told aren’t too fussed about it – a lot of boys in uni are probably just happy that if we have sex I won’t get pregnant.’
Sheree shares tips and advice online with youngsters – and even over 50s – and wants teen infertility to be taught in sex education.
She added: ‘I have talked to a lot of older women who have said they can’t believe I’m going through the menopause now when they’re going through it at 55.
‘I’ve helped them with their own sex lives because when you’re young you’re meant to be in your prime, especially at uni going out, so I’ve had to learn different things about ‘down there’ than others.
‘I really want to go into schools and talk about it because I think girls at a young age should be prepared with some knowledge of infertility options if they find out they can’t get pregnant.’
A spokeswoman for Daisy Network, a for POI charity, commented: ‘Premature Ovarian Insufficiency happens when the ovaries stop functioning before the natural age of menopause.
‘This means the ovaries no longer produce eggs and are unable to produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone which are really important for women’s health and wellbeing.
‘Approximately one in 100 women under the age of 40, one in 1,000 women under 30, and one in 10,000 under 20 experience POI.
‘POI can be caused by autoimmune conditions, cancer treatment, surgery or a genetic cause, however for 90 per cent of women diagnosed with POI, the cause is unfortunately idiopathic, meaning there is no known cause and it happens spontaneously.
‘Getting a POI diagnosis means that because there is an extremely low chance of ovulation, IVF with egg donation is the suggested route to pregnancy.
‘It is also necessary for women to take Hormone Replacement Therapy up until the natural age of menopause, to get those vital hormones they are lacking in order to support bone, brain and heart health.’