PCOS and infertility – my journey and perspective
9 July 2020
I want to start by saying that compared to many people who are not fortunate to be blessed with children, I am writing this from the privileged position of being 36 weeks pregnant with my second child. I feel incredibly grateful that my infertility journey was short lived. It has, however, provided me with insights and thoughts that I would like to share with the hope of educating and supporting women who are going travelling on their own difficult path to motherhood.
From the time my periods started at age 13, I suspected things were not quite right. They did not settle into a regular pattern and I was often caught out when it did arrive, leading to some horrendously embarrassing moments. As I went through my teenage years my periods continued to be irregular, painful and heavy and so I went onto the pill at age 16 which helped massively.
I stayed on the pill for the best part of a decade before my husband and I decided I would come off it around a year after we got married. Because of the nagging fear that I wouldn’t be able to get pregnant, I always insisted on trying for a family in my twenties and was fortunate to be in a stable relationship with a loving partner who was on board with that plan! We tried to be relaxed and ‘just see what happens’ but I think this is much easier said than done. Within a few months I was trying to track my cycle and was taking ovulation tests during my ‘fertile window’ to no avail. My periods were still irregular (often 50 days apart) and I did not get one positive ovulation test.
One thing that isn’t often spoken about is the impact that ‘trying for a baby’ has on your sex life. There is really nothing sexy about tracking your ovulation and the lack of spontaneity can make it feel like a ‘chore’ for both parties. It was far from the romanticised vision I had of conceiving a child.
After almost a year of this, I visited my GP who referred me to a specialist. After some blood tests and an internal scan, I was diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) which was extremely upsetting but I felt some relief to at least have a diagnosis. My husband also underwent his own fertility tests and was told his sperm count was high but that they were essentially swimming in circles (trust me there have been a few jokes make about his drunk/dizzy sperm). This came as a complete shock to us both and we were heartbroken about the whole situation. The consultant even told my husband he was unlikely to ever father a child. It seemed like the odds were against us. It was decided that they would try and sort my infertility out by prescribing me Metformin (which regulates blood sugar) and Clomid (a drug which stimulates ovulation). Clomid has some unpleasant side effects – headaches, mood swings and hot flushes and I had to go to the hospital for regular scans to check whether I was responding to it. Fortunately, I did and after two rounds of Clomid I conceived. The joy of seeing that positive pregnancy test was overwhelming.
Then began the agonising couple of months before you can relax and feel confident that the pregnancy is viable. This fear is often amplified if you have battled to get pregnant in the first place. I was paranoid about miscarriage and remember not even wanting to participate in my yoga practice for fear of something going wrong. To try and soothe my nerves we went for an early private scan at around 6 weeks and were shocked to find out we were pregnant with twins (something which is more likely if you undergo fertility treatment to conceive). We went for another scan a few weeks later and unfortunately there was only one heartbeat. It was a very strange and emotional time to be told you have experienced a miscarriage but that you are also still pregnant with one healthy baby… the experience of losing a twin before 12 weeks has given me some insight into pregnancy loss and my heart breaks for those who have experienced a ‘complete’ miscarriage and multiple pregnancy losses. The rest of my pregnancy progressed healthily, and I gave birth to my daughter Eliza in October 2018 – my first miracle baby.
After I gave birth to my daughter, I went back on the pill for a few months, but I didn’t like the way it made me feel. My husband and I agreed I should come off it and we would ‘take our chances’ (thinking that we were unlikely to conceive naturally but that if we did that would be fine too). My cycles remained irregular and we did not fall pregnant. I was feeling hormonally imbalanced and asked my doctor if I could go back onto metformin as I had read that it could help regulate my cycles and minimise PCOS symptoms (I suffered from mood swings, bloating, water retention). He agreed and I began taking it alone without the Clomid.
In the autumn of 2019, something changed… I commented to my husband that my last couple of periods were only 30+ days apart and how unusual that was for me. At the same time, I had also received reiki (energy healing) and was exploring alternative therapies. I put my change in fertility down to a combination of these two things. I was astounded to come onto my period hours after receiving my first reiki treatment and being told I had a blockage in my female energy. We found out we were expecting our second child in November 2019. This baby wasn’t ‘planned’ but we were delighted (and slightly terrified). It felt amazing to conceive naturally and I still cannot quite believe it happened so easily.
Infertility is one of the most heart-breaking experiences I have been through and for us it only lasted around 18 months, I know many people battle for years and decades to try and conceive. For women who have always longed to become mothers, the idea of not being able to fulfil that dream is agonising. You feel worthless and as though you have ‘failed’ in some way (I am writing this from a female perspective but can empathise with men experiencing their own fertility issues). You cannot help but feel horrendously jealous and resentful for people around you who seem to conceive so easily. You try and paint on a smile and say, ‘congratulations’ when inside you feel like screaming ‘why me!?’. You then feel guilty about not being happy for that person… and you are really, you are just consumed by a desperate desire for your own child.
For those who are reading this and experiencing infertility please be assured there is so much that can be done to help, both within western medicine and via alternative therapies, don’t give up hope. For those who have friends and family going through this, please do not tell people to ‘just relax’ and it will ‘happen eventually’ as this really will not help. Listen, check in and ask how they are feeling. They don’t expect you to have the answers, they just need you to support them as best you can on this difficult journey.