Today’s blog post is a long time coming. Grab yourself a cup of coffee or glass of wine, because today’s post is a novel. This is difficult for me to share, but it’s something I have been going through the past year and has unfortunately impacted my ability to be present on the blog and social media at times. So, I figured it was time to share what has been going on because I finally feel at peace with the situation.
For the past year, I have been experiencing lots of changes with my body after going off of the birth control pill. It’s been a year long journey, but I was eventually diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and realized that all the changes I experienced the past year were due to this syndrome.
Before I jump into the details of PCOS and my journey, I want to bring to light a fact about infertility in general. Did you know about 1 in 8 couples have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining pregnancy (Fast Facts – RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association”)? I didn’t know either, until we became part of the statistic. It’s crazy to me how common infertility is in our world, yet it’s not something we don’t openly talk about. And I get it. It’s been six months since I was officially diagnosed with PCOS, and I’m just now feeling comfortable talking about it. But one thing I’ve realized is that there are SO many other women who have gone through similar struggles. Once I started opening up about my PCOS diagnosis to friends, I started getting support from different people in my life who also had fertility struggles. So my hope is that sharing my story today and this piece of my life helps anyone else out there with fertility struggles feel less alone.
What is PCOS?
Before I get into the journey of being diagnosed with PCOS, let me give you a brief rundown on what PCOS is. I’m not doctor, but I’ve done a lot of research being my own advocate (which is a HUGE part of the story I’m about to tell) to better learn what it is.
PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and is actually one of the leading causes of infertility in women (“Polycystic Ovary Syndrome”). Some of the general symptoms include irregular periods, excessive androgen product, and polycystic ovaries (“Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)”). However, something I have learned as being a patient with PCOS, is that every woman with PCOS presents a bit differently. I personally don’t have all of the symptoms of PCOS, but I do have quite a few. The biggest problem being that I have irregular periods, therefore we don’t even know if I ovulate, aka it is very difficult to conceive.
I actually learned about this syndrome from a podcast about PCOS by Dr. Natalie Crawford, click HERE to listen to it. There’s a lot of information out there on the internet about PCOS, and most of it is really confusing. But I believe that this podcast by a REI physician is the best resource out there for explaining it. When I explain PCOS to my family and close friends, I like to use Dr. Crawford’s really simple explanation in the podcast: women with PCOS sort of have a “stubborn” ovary. The ovary can’t make enough estrogen, but it’s a hormone factory and has to make something! So it starts making testosterone instead. This excess androgen is what causes many of the symptoms (Crawford).
My Journey to Getting Diagnosed with PCOS
My journey to figuring out that I have PCOS started back in February 2019. Brandon and I weren’t seriously talking about starting a family just yet, but I had made the decision I no longer wanted to be taking the birth control pill so I could let my body get into a natural cycle for when we were ready to start a family. I felt like this was something so many of my friends had done, that I really didn’t even think twice that it could be the beginning of a difficult journey for my body both physically and mentally.
From March to August 2019, my body went through a crazy amount of transitions and this was easily one of the most difficult seasons of my life. The biggest issue for me (mentally and physically) was that I started gaining weight and was super inflamed. I pride myself on living a healthy lifestyle and body image. I believe in healthy food that nourishes your body and focusing on becoming healthy and strong, not skinny. However, once I started gaining a ton of weight – like 10 pounds in a few weeks, it started impacting me mentally. I tried really hard not to get upset about this, knowing I was eating extremely healthy and had a great exercise routine, but it still really bothered me. Clothes were starting to fit tighter, I felt and look bloated, and it seemed like nothing I did would help. I started to think I just had to be “okay” with my body and this was my new normal, although I knew something was off. I now know this weight gain was due to the PCOS and my hormones fluctuating.
In addition to the weight gain, I experienced acne and minor hair loss (both symptoms of PCOS), that were difficult for me to manage since I wasn’t sure what was going on. Additionally, my cycle was extremely irregular. My cycles varied between 48 days, 91 days, 35 days, etc. I mean literally no consistency. Everything I read said that there is not a lot of research about transition off of the birth control pill, and sometimes it takes a year to normalize. So, I thought I just had to wait it out… How could we even try for kids if I wasn’t on any sort of regular cycle? It messed with my head in so many ways. I must have read every article out there even remotely related to my situation. I now know I was so irregular because I have PCOS and the birth control pills were providing me the hormones I needed to have “normal” hormonal levels.
With all of the above symptoms, I ended up going to my family physician (who I love, everyone needs a family physician they trust) in May 2019 to get some general blood work completed. She was stumped too, as my blood work came back normal. I had my annual OBGYN appointment in August, so my doctor suggested I continue to see if I normalize and definitely have the conversation with my OBGYN if not.
Eventually August came around, and I was finally looking forward to getting some answers by chatting with my OBGYN about what the heck was going on! Unfortunately, I had a terrible experience at this appointment. This doctor is known in the community for having poor bedside manner, but I knew that already, I had seen him for four years. And I was cool with it, really. He’s incredibly smart and I do believe he is a good doctor at the end of the day. But geez… I have never been so upset after leaving an appointment before. Without going into too many details, I was essentially told, “You are the poster child for being abnormal, so just come back in February if you’re not pregnant.” I was also told that, “being infertile isn’t a medical condition, it’s just socially awkward,” – yikes! Kind of insensitive, right?
After my appointment with my OBGYN, I did a lot of reflection and just didn’t feel comfortable with how that appointment went. After all, if we were about to go on a fertility journey, I needed to be working with a doctor I could trust. I asked Brandon to do a little digging about which OBGYN I should make an appointment with (perks of having a med student as a husband), and he suggested I meet with another OBGYN in the area. I wouldn’t be able to see my new doctor until September, and it would be three days after Brandon left for his two months of away rotations. Great timing, right?
So I went to the appointment alone, though I had desperately wanted Brandon there. He was in Houston on his third day of a new medical rotation, so I had to put my big girl pants on and do this alone. However, my new doctor was incredibly compassionate and empathetic. Within just 10 minutes of chatting she was pretty confident I had PCOS. Though I wasn’t overweight, she explained not every woman with PCOS is overweight (my first OBGYN said I was ‘too skinny’ and that’s why I was ‘abnormal’) and she wanted to confirm the diagnosis with blood work. My blood work came back a week later confirming the diagnosis. Though Brandon was gone, my parents were visiting me when the test results came back and they were a huge support when I got the news. I can’t put into words how compassionate my parents are, ugh I just love them!
Since this appointment in September, there’s been a lot of waiting with Brandon out of town on away rotations and on the interview trail. But since then, I’ve had a few tests done, we’ve been able to meet with the doctor as a couple to discuss treatment, and we have started our fertility treatment journey. We aren’t being super aggressive with treatment at this time, however for the next few months, we will be relying on hormone therapies and maybe even some procedures in hopes of making a baby! It’s not how I envisioned starting a family would be, but we believe God has a plan and His timing is perfect.
How this Diagnosis Brought Good to My Life
I truly believe God brings good out of every situation. This past year, I have grown closer to God than I have ever been before. I learned that when nothing makes sense, God brings peace to my heart. Though I have hated the journey to becoming diagnosed with PCOS, I believe this journey led me to a closer relationship with God, and I am forever grateful for that.
Additionally, after I was diagnosed with PCOS, I essentially became my own health coach and advocate. I didn’t want to be a prisoner to the PCOS symptoms and just accept them as my new normal. I’ve always had a passion in health and nutrition, and I had a feeling I could potentially manage some of the PCOS symptoms with nutrition and lifestyle choices. Before making any changes, I spoke with my doctor about lifestyle modifications to manage PCOS (and have continued open communication with her throughout the process. Always consult your physician before making any lifestyle changes). I then took initiative to research different diet theories, listened to countless podcasts from board certified physicians on fertility and PCOS, started researching different types of exercise to help with insulin resistance, and challenged myself to view health holistically. I then started a process of experimentation using what I had learned. I slowly started incorporating more whole food plant-based meals into my diet and switched my exercise routine to include more resistance weight training. I’ve continued to modify my nutrition, fitness regime, and self care routines the past few months to help establish healthy habits to manage the PCOS symptoms. Though not everything from the PCOS has returned to normal, many of the symptoms are no longer an issue or have become less intense.
Through this process of coaching myself to lead a holistic healthier lifestyle, I have realized this is my true passion. I have been offering health tips and tricks to my friends and family for years, I just never realized it could potentially be a path for me to peruse. I get true joy out of helping others in their journey to self-discovery of leading a healthier life. After praying intently for over a year, I have decided to put this calling into action. Next week I’ll be sharing exactly what I have planned so I can use this passion God put in my heart to serve others!
What Finally Gave me the Push I Needed to Share
I’ve thought about sharing this year long struggle so many times. But each time I’ve chickened out. I sort of thought the feeling of needing to share my story would go away, and that there were several other women on the internet in the infertility space who had much more valuable advice and stories to share than what I’ve been going through. Because in reality, I’ve barely scratched the surface on this fertility journey. But the feeling to share my story just hasn’t gone away. I’m nervous what people may think of me when they start googling “PCOS” (because girl, the symptoms are NOT fun or sexy), the insensitive comments that may come from me sharing this, or what my students may think if they happen to read this (it’s hard being authentic and vulnerable on my blog while some of my high school students follow it since this a public platform… it’s been what has held me back from sharing real moments several times unfortunately). But, I’ve been having a lot of private conversations with friends in person and in direct messages on Instagram that have made me realize that infertility is a very real struggle with a very real stigma around it. There are more women than you think struggling with infertility in some way, and everyone’s story looks different. Some people really struggle sharing personal things, like my husband for example. He would be completely fine if he never had to discuss emotions or feelings ever again lol. But God made me to be the opposite of this. I’m really transparent – about my journey with anxiety, about my body issues in my teenage years, and now I think it’s time that I be transparent about our infertility journey. If God can use my story to bring hope to another girl out there in the same boat, it totally outweighs all my fears from sharing.
Today is 1/31/20 (I don’t plan on posting this for a few weeks… I want to really think through this before I press “publish” and have my heart out there on the internet), and yesterday was sort of the push I needed to decide to finally sit down and write this thing. In the devotional I’m currently reading, 100 Days to Brave by Annie Downs, yesterday I read a devotional titled “Believe God Cares About Your Dreams.” Annie reflects on how she was living a life she had never planned, not being married or having children yet in her mid-thirties, but she still believed that God knew what He was doing. She then wrote, “I thought it would be way cooler to write about this later in my life” (Downs 53). Annie was referring to that she had envisioned that she would share about this struggle AFTER she had the husband, kids, and mom life she had asked God for. She goes on, “I think there is something really powerful about being smack in the middle of the unwanted season and being able to look you right in the eyeball (which I would if I could) and say, ‘God has not forgotten you. Your life and your dreams are important to God'” (Downs 54).
I had been thinking about if it was time to share my story, but I had decided I would talk about PCOS after I was pregnant. AFTER God had answered my prayer. But if this wasn’t a direct message from God, I don’t know what is! So despite that I’m still in this season of not knowing if our fertility treatments are going to work, the timeline of when we will be able to start a family, or what exactly that all is going to look like – I’m choosing to share what struggle I’m in the midst of and my journey so far.
Thank You for Reading this Long Post and for Your Support
If you’re still reading this – you’re a true friend! This may be my longest blog post ever! I hope that by sharing my journey the past year, someone else in a similar situation feels less alone. I know I’ve felt alone in this, but as I’ve been opening up more often to friends and sometimes even strangers (it’s weird how fertility will work its way into conversations) it’s brought me closer to people and has helped me process the PCOS diagnosis.
I plan on updating the blog with updates on our fertility treatment journey, however I don’t plan on doing them in real time. I want to make sure I am present in this process with my husband and keep some aspects of this process private until we are ready to share. Thank you for respecting that decision as we embark on this journey to start our family.
And one last huge thank you to our family and friends who have been alongside us on this journey. It has made this difficult season easier having so much love and support surrounding us.
Thanks for reading this novel! Please send baby dust prayers for us!
Did you like the products linked in today’s blog post? Please support Jackie Anne Blog by shopping through the provided affiliated links. At no cost to you, I will receive a small percentage from any products you purchase through these provided affiliate links. I use this small profit to keep this blog running and maintained. Thank you so much for your support so I can continue to serve you!
I am not a physician or Registered Dietician. Some blog posts discuss healthy eating and exercise, and the purpose is to share my personal journey and experience with diet and fitness. As always, consult a physician before making any changes in diet or exercise. The author and blog disclaim liability for any damage, mishap, or injury that may occur from engaging in any activities or ideas from this site.
Crawford, Dr. Natalie. “As a Woman.” As a Woman, 1 June 2019, https://www.nataliecrawfordmd.com/thepodcast/episode-020-pcos.
Downs, Annie F. 100 Days to Brave: Devotions for Unlocking Your Most Courageous Self. Zondervan, 2017.
“Fast Facts – RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association.” RESOLVE, resolve.org/infertility-101/what-is-infertility/fast-facts/.
“Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 29 Aug. 2017, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pcos/symptoms-causes/syc-20353439.
“Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.” Womenshealth.gov, 1 Apr. 2019, http://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/polycystic-ovary-syndrome.