"There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage."
--Martin Luther

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Medical Mondays: Coming Out of the (PCOS) Closet

I missed it last month, but I'm back now to link up with Medical Monday, hosted this month by Jane at From a Doctor's Wife and Emma at Your Doctor's Wife.

Today I'm getting very personal.  I try to avoid anything that brings you into the very centre of our private life, but as this issue is more about me than our marriage, I'm opening up.  In a way, I find writing about my issues is cathartic.  Disclaimer:  I'm trying not to overshare, but if you're freaked out by any mention of "lady issues", you may want to pass on this entry.

At 19 years old, I was diagnosed with Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).  I had really no idea what that meant, and as these were the days before Google, I accepted the doctor's statement that I shouldn't worry.  She put me on birth control pills to regulate my (barely existent) cycles, and I pretty much put it at the back of my mind.

Fast forward about 11 years.  When I was about to get married, I started researching PCOS, and found lots of scary stories from women who couldn't get pregnant or needed considerable interventions to have children.  (This is probably why most doctors (my hubby included) scorn WebMD and "Dr Google"!)  I became terrified that conceiving would be very difficult for us, but as we had decided to wait a year or two before trying, I again tried not to think about PCOS.

In the past few months, we've stopped using birth control to try to have a child, and my cycles have become more erratic. The last one was a full 6 weeks long.  I am becoming more and more afraid that conceiving naturally is unlikely and interventions are in our future.

PCOS is an endocrine disorder that is thought to affect 5-10% of women of reproductive age.  In layman's terms, your hormones are out of whack, which can cause anovulation (not ovulating) or irregular ovulation, acne, hirsutism AKA "excessive hairiness" (thankfully I don't have that!!), and even insulin resistance which can lead to obesity or diabetes.  I'm kind of angry that no one told me most of this when I was first diagnosed, especially the insulin resistance because it can lead to life-altering diseases.  I've found this to be a common thread in many PCOS women:  Doctors gave them the Pill to "fix things", and only later did they realize that the pills don't actually solve the problem, but only mask the symptoms.

The truth is, we don't really know how many women with PCOS are able to conceive without interventions.  Using Google or searching message boards will skew the results, since people who conceive on their own are less likely to blog or post about their pregnancy journey.  I am likely getting way ahead of myself in freaking out, but I also don't want to be taken unaware.

In the short term, I'm focusing on what I can do NOW to make my body as healthy as possible.  A good diet and regular exercise have been shown to regulate cycles, something I have definitely experienced in the past.  Because of the link between PCOS and insulin-resistance, avoiding sugar and complex carbohydrates can also have a positive link between regulating the hormone issues and increasing overall health.  (Seriously, I have the biggest sweet tooth in town; why did no doctor EVER tell me that sugar is especially bad for those with PCOS??  *Sigh*)  There are women who claim to have "cured" their hormonal imbalances just through diet and exercise.  I don't necessarily believe I can do that, but am definitely open to any change that could have a positive effect on my reproductive health.

If you have PCOS, I'd love to hear your experiences.  Has diet and exercise impacted your symptoms?  Have you had to use Clomid or Metformin to have children?


  1. Metformin is a very common route for PCOS moms. I, myself, have PCOS and have 2 kids (but I'm also a rarity since my PCOS symptoms went away when I lost 140+ pounds through weight loss surgery a few years ago).

    I highly, highly, highly recommend starting to chart. Many women with PCOS don't ovulate (where you have a period, but it wasn't caused by ovulation). But many women with PCOS do ovulate. The only way to know for sure is to have ultrasounds everyday through your cycle, but that is highly impractical. The next best thing is to chart your basal temperature everyday and that should give you a really big clue as to whether you're ovulating.

    If you're ovulating, that's a huge thing to know. Because if you're not ovulating, Clomid is often the fix. But if you are ovulating, then you don't necessarily need Clomid and it might be something different preventing you from getting pregnant.

    I started charting about 6-8 months before we got married, even though we wanted to prevent children for a year. It made such a difference! Actually being able to predict when you're ovulating makes it much easier to get pregnant and it takes the guesswork out of the occasion. We were able to get pregnant with our first son the first month we were trying because I knew when ovulation would occur. (Pregnancy is never a guarantee, but you know what I mean).

    Our second son took a little longer - 8 months or so of trying, but I blame that mostly on post-partum hormones as it took a while for my cycle to regulate again.

    My cycles have never been regular. 62 days. 35 days. I once had an 80 day cycle. It stinks, but charting takes the guess work out of all that. You know if you've ovulated or not or if you're still waiting for that to occur.

    Check out the book "Taking Charge of Your Fertility". A must read!

    1. Thanks for the tips! I actually have that book and I do chart. It is a life saver, especially with the crazy cycles. At least I know when I haven't ovulated yet, so I don't go weeks wondering whether I'm pregnant or just having a long cycle. Based on this cycle, I think I do ovulate, so as I understand, Clomid may not work anyway. But hopefully it won't take long enough to need medical help anyway. :-)

  2. Oh - and feel free to contact me privately if you have more questions on our journey. You're right -- this isn't an often blogged about thing and I'm no exception to that!

  3. As I re-read my comments, I realize why people don't post more about this stuff - it's hard to get into the written word without sounding like a jerk.

    1) I love charting.
    2) It won't make you get pregnant.
    3) Your body is going to do what it is going to do.
    4) Charting helps you know what your body is doing. Education is a good thing.

    /over and out.

    1. You didn't sound like a jerk at all. I appreciate your contributions. I posted on a Facebook group (all women) about whether anyone had PCOS and had they needed Clomid/Metformin, and pretty much everyone had gone that route. It's comforting to think it could happen naturally for us.

      I think every woman should at least learn about charting, even if she doesn't want to do it. When I read TCOYF, I was floored by how much I didn't know about my own body and cycles!

  4. Thanks for opening up about this. Fertility troubles are no stranger to many women yet it's still so taboo-very brave of you. Stopping over from medical Mondays I'm excited to read more from you.

    1. Thanks for your reply! It does frustrate me that people rarely talk about these issues. Recently, I was mentioning my issues to a friend, and she told me they had tried over a year to conceive their son. I felt so sad that I wasn't able to support her through the process because I didn't know.

  5. Thanks for linking up this post with Medical Mondays. I'm a little late getting to the comments:-) Looks like you've gotten some really good advice.

  6. Mmm. My heart goes out to you. I've little to offer except that stress tends to mess everything up. As hard as it might be, stressing less over the stress that this presents might do a bit of good, if even for your own peace of mind! Blessings :)

    1. P.S. I know the whole stress thing from experience :/