What is PCOS you ask? Well, it is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. That explains a lot huh? April 21-27 is National Infertility Awareness Week, and PCOS is a form of infertility. The scary thing is that it is estimated that 1 out of 10 women have PCOS, it is the most common infertility issue, and most women are completely unaware. I didn’t know until we started trying to get pregnant, and that is when many women discover they have it.
Here is a little bit of info on PCOS, since I’m sure you have no clue what it is. What exactly is PCOS is very vague. They really don’t know much about it considering how prevalent it is. They do know it is a hormone imbalance that goes hand in hand with an insulin(another hormone) resistance. You produce too much androgen, which is a male hormone that normally causes hair growth and muscle mass. Women need androgen to produce estrogen, but PCOS sufferers produce more androgen than they need. The majority of women with PCOS have an insulin resistance. They are not sure if the insulin resistance causes the extra production of androgen or if the high levels of androgen cause the insulin resistance.
So what happens with PCOS? You have tiny follicles in the ovary that each month will produce an egg. With PCOS, the hormone imbalances cause the follicles to grow and grow and never rupture. In normal ovulation, the follicle ruptures and releases the egg for fertilization, but with PCOS the follicle never releases the egg and it becomes a cyst. So now you’re saying well lots of women have cysts in their ovaries, right? There are several different types of ovarian cysts and not all of them cause infertility.
That is the basics of what PCOS is, so here is my story. I am a very independent person and decided to have a career before trying to get pregnant. Once my husband and I decided we were ready to have children, I finally went off birth control. I had never had issues prior to being on the pill, so I thought it may take a while but I’m fine. I mean my mother or sibling had no problems having children. My doctor had me start taking prenatal vitamins to help prepare my body for getting pregnant. I had regular menstruation and thought I just had to wait it out like most people. You either get pregnant right away or after a few months of being off the pill, once all the medicine is out of your body. Then comes the emotional rollercoaster called “infertility”.
I missed a period, and you can’t help but think you are pregnant. So I go and get a pregnancy test, and then comes the let down of it being negative. Well, I’ll wait a week because they say if it’s too early that you will get a false negative. Another week went by and another negative pregnancy test. Ok, well not too bad, I mean a normal woman usually doesn’t ovulate all 12 months. Then a few more weeks go by, and I knew something wasn’t right. After 8 weeks I went to the doctor. The first thing they did was give me progesterone to take since I had never had any issues. They give you the hormone progesterone to “kick start” your ovulation again. So I take my pills and have a very light menstruation. So the hormones helped. Well, not so quick. Another month goes by, and another negative pregnancy test after no period.
I then start to see a doctor who helps with infertility issues. To skip over all the months of boring visits, I had about 16 different blood tests and an ultrasound. Fast forward to my results visit with the doctor. I knew there was something wrong with me, but it always sucks to hear the truth. The doctor informs me I have something called PCOS. He went over the details of what it was and what was going on with me(what I explained to you earlier). He also tells me I don’t fit the typical woman who has PCOS. Most women have some very prevalent physical symptoms. The majority of women are obese or close to obese and have facial hair. The other symptoms include fatigue, acne, and thinning hair on the crown of your head. Well that explains the horrible skin I’ve always had, but that is the only symptom of PCOS I had. So here is where running comes in. The doctor tells me I need to do 30 minutes a day of cardio every day. I will never forget what he said next, “That is not a suggestion, that is your treatment.” At this time I was working 11.5+ hour days and going to school, so when was I going to fit this in with having a life?
I have NEVER been and still do not consider myself athletic, so I decided I needed to start running and cycling. I got a good pair of running shoes and bought a TREK bike. I started riding trails on my mountain bike and prefered that over the running, but I couldn’t do that every day. I tried to do the exercise, but it didn’t happen every day. The other thing he did was put me on a medication named Metformin. This is a diabetes medication to control my insulin resistance. I had to go back after 2 weeks to have my liver function checked. Apparently, Metformin causes liver damage in some people and since I already didn’t have my gallbladder they wanted to make sure I was ok. Luckily that test came out fine. So I continued with the Metformin, and finally came to the realization that pregnancy was not going to come easily or quickly for us.
We went on a trip to Jamaica for our anniversary and it was a much needed relaxation from work and all of this infertility rollercoaster. I had a 2 month follow-up after starting the medication 2 weeks after getting back from Jamaica. They ask if I had taken a pregnancy test and I had the day before going to Jamaica to know I wasn’t pregnant since I still had not started menstruation. Or so I thought. I go to my appointment and they up my medication and have me start tracking my ovulation with a testing kit. I went to the store and bought the cheapest fertility test kit, since I figured if it was meant to be it would. In the kit was a free pregnancy test. One of those cheap paper stick ones. At this point in our journey I did not want a pregnancy test in the house. Any one who has ever tried to get pregnant and gone through that disappointment would understand. It’s kind of like pregnancy anxiety. I take the test and wait the 5 minutes and of course it was negative, but for some reason I didn’t throw it out. I went and got pizza for dinner and 30 minutes later went to throw away the test, and to my surprise:Two lines!!!! Jamaica now holds a special place in our hearts. I know a few people who have struggled with infertility and everyone became pregnant once the stopped stressing and accepted it may not happen.
So that is my story with PCOS. I am actually one of the lucky ones who did not have to go through years of treatment, but my life with PCOS is far from over. I have a higher risk of heart disease, uterine cancer, & diabetes just to name a few. So now I am on a journey to be healthy and enjoy running. Because I now have a beautiful little daughter that I need to stay healthy for & cardio is the only way to do it!
One last note for anyone reading this: Unless you have gone through infertility issues, you will not understand the emotional rollercoaster it is with the let downs every time and feeling that you are the problem. I was not open with everyone while this was going on because I did not want sympathy or have people question me about doctor’s appointments and how it was going. It is a hard enough journey without others asking that have no clue. My husband was a rock and I had 1 friend I talked to about it as she also went through infertility issues for years. When you know someone who gets pregnant that was not trying, you can’t help but feel jealous and resentful even though you want to be happy for them. If I can leave you with one thing it is this: If you know a couple who have been married or together for a long time with no children, DO NOT ask them when they will have kids. You do not know what they are struggling with and trust me, they hate being asked and will probably lie to you because they don’t want to talk about it.