“I’m too young for this.”
“What does this mean for my future?”
“Am I going to age faster than everyone else?”
These are questions I asked myself and my doctors over and over again when I was diagnosed with premature ovarian insufficiency (POI) in August 2019.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “POI occurs when the ovaries stop functioning normally before age 40. When this happens, your ovaries don’t produce normal amounts of the hormone estrogen or release eggs regularly. This condition often leads to infertility.”
I define POI as “the condition that caused me to think about how I will age, how to avoid being a burden, and what being 60 is going to feel like and look like.”
I’m 34 years old. I suffer from three autoimmune diseases, chronic pain from two accidents, headaches triggered by an assault at age 22, anxiety, and now POI. On the outside, I look like a normal 34-year-old. On the inside, some days, I feel decades older.
I’m an older millennial. Most people my age don’t think about aging and end-of-life plans, but the traumatic life events and chronic illnesses I’ve experienced have forced me to think long and hard about what is yet to come. If I complete menopause before I am 40 (which is the prediction right now), then what does that mean for my life expectancy? How will I look and feel in my 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s? I have friends who just had babies and others who are planning to do so as they enter their mid to late 30s. And here I am, trying to control my mood swings, hot flashes, brain fog, irregular and painful periods, night sweats, insomnia, and weight gain.
I am going through a process that most women go through in their 50s. I’m 20 years too early. I’m too old for my age. My chronic illness, chronic pain and early menopause have made me reflect, from a young age, on what my own aging process will be like. Both my grandmother and mother went through menopause early as well. I think about how they have aged and are continuing to age, and it forces me to consider what my own future could potentially look like. I know that I want to feel healthy, fit, and in less pain than they are.
I reflect on what that will look like for my family. My husband and daughter deserve to live with a vibrant, energetic, pain-free, loving wife and mother. I am blessed to be all of those things now and I work every day to be as healthy and fit as possible – but realistically, there is only so much I can control.
No one wants to be a burden.
My daughter is too young to understand any of this, but I have had discussions with my husband. Talking about aging and death is not something most young couples do, but it is something that we should be doing. Even if you are healthy, young and fit, disease and injury can come at any moment. COVID-19 has reminded us of this reality. We need to start talking about our life choices, ensuring that our loved ones understand our end-of-life care wishes and desires, and then celebrating the life we have ahead of us – together.
My husband and I have opened an important dialogue early in our life together that will no doubt continue. These are not conversations we look forward to; I’m not going to pretend they are. But they do provide us with a sense of understanding, reflection and, for me at least, calm. We are on the same page and understand what each of us wants out of life now, 20 years, and 40 years from now. We understand how, ideally, we want to age and live out the remainder of our lives. We have discussed the possibility of early end-of-life and how to handle that situation if it arose. My aging process is going to be very distinct from his, and I will also age differently from other women in our circle of friends. He will experience “aging together” as a husband very uniquely compared to his friends and their partners. Having these important conversations has brought us closer together and has garnered a new meaning of “in sickness and in health” in our marriage.
After working as a litigation law clerk for over a decade and seeing so many families torn apart by estate litigation, I founded Viive Planning, a company designed to help families through the aging and end-of-life process. At that time, I never expected that I would face the reality of premature aging, but my situation has deepened my conviction that families do benefit from early planning and thoughtful conversations. I am proud of myself and my family for the conversations we have had, and for the work we have done to ensure none of these conditions will take control of our lives. I have a plan in place, and my loved ones understand my wishes and desires as I progress through my life. This plan may (and likely will) change as life events unfold. But one thing is for sure: I will forever be grateful to have planned my life together with my family.
Mallory McGrath is the Founder & CEO of Viive Planning, in Toronto, Canada, which facilitates conversations and fosters an appreciation among family members for end-of-life and legacy planning. Mallory is a mother, wife, daughter and granddaughter whose own chronic illness and pain have launched her towards a career in advocacy and planning.
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