Personal Essay: PCOS, Fertility, and the Future
I'm just going to put this out there because I'm struggling a lot with it right now... I want another a baby, really bad. I have the most beautiful, smart, amazing little boy in the whole world, but for the past 8 months or so, I've felt the pull to expand our family. The problem? PCOS.
For those of you who may not know what that is, PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and it is it the most frustrating condition, in my opinion, concerning women's heath. It affects approximately 10% of women in America and it's one of the leading causes of infertility.
Some common symptoms of PCOS include:
- acne / rosacea
- insulin resistance leading to diabetes
- irregular menstruation
- painful periods
- painful cysts
- male pattern thinning hair
I was diagnosed with PCOS at the age of 15, with symptoms so severe my doctor straight up told me "you may never have children." I was experiencing hirsutism (excess hair growth on face, toes, abdomen, and legs), cystic acne on my face, back, and chest, hair thinning, fatigue, and insomnia. I got my first period when I was 14, but then went a whole year before ever having another one. When I did menstruate, it was so painful I had to stay home from school.
I was embarrassed, struggled with self esteem issues, and didn't know how to cope with the changes my body was experiencing. My doctor put me on a low dose birth-control pill, which seemed to heal all of my symptoms overnight, but the fertility issue was always on the back of my mind.
I used to joke with family members that I was going to grow up and create my own personal army of 5 children. By the time I was a senior in college, the jokes stopped and my ability to conceive became a central focus of my thoughts. A few months before graduation, my then boyfriend even broke up with me because my chances of having children were slim.
It was the right thing to happen in that moment, but I have to admit I didn't handle the situation very well. I was devastated and instead of dealing with my emotions I told myself "well, I don't want children anyways. I don't even want to get married" - as if you somehow need to have children in order to marry someone.
For several years I harbored my belief that marriage, children, and a quiet settled life were not meant for me... until I met my husband, David. Bless his heart, he weathered a long distance relationship followed by two years of my indecisiveness before I finally agreed to be his wife. The truth was I was terrified of commitment, of letting someone see my perceived faults, and of allowing someone to love me completely - infertility and all.
Without going into too much detail, I went off birth control in the hopes that maybe we would be able to conceive after we got married. However, instead of pregnancy I experienced drastic weight loss (13 lbs in a few short months), a ruptured ovarian cyst which put me in the emergency room, painful acne on my face, back, and scalp (yes, you can actually have acne on your scalp), extreme fatigue, and a sad miscarriage where I bled for 3 weeks straight.
For a whole year we weathered these symptoms. My doctor told me about all of the fertility treatments available, but it was expensive and I was tired, so we decided to wait another year and then reevaluate.
Then I got pregnant.
Life can be funny that way. One moment you've accepted a certain fate only to wake up the next day with a brand new reality. Finding out I was pregnant was one of those moments. Even now, when I watch my son playing and see how happy and healthy he is, I feel beyond blessed. He is truly a miracle.
Which is why I'm struggling so much right now. I want desperately to believe we can be blessed again. I'm of course happy and grateful for the life we have now, but the idea of growing our family is also taunting me. My PCOS symptoms are back with a vengeance (except for the rosacea, they all but disappeared while I was pregnant and breast feeding), but I'm choosing to be optimistic. Though painful, my cycles are happening regularly and I'm trying my best to watch my diet to help manage my condition.
It's painful to know that my fertility is compromised by PCOS, but it reminds me of what I'm grateful for now: my son, my husband, the life we are all building together, how much it all means. I don't know what the future will bring, but I'm excited about the possibility of what tomorrow holds in store.