Around the age of 22, I decided I wanted to take a break from taking the contraceptive pill. I had been on Dianette for moderate acne for some years, and I just knew it wasn’t doing me any good (that drug is evil in its purest form…for me, anyway!) and I found that my ‘periods’ (obviously the ones you have whilst on the pill aren’t genuine) did not return. The official term for this is ‘secondary amenorrhea’, which basically means you did have a menstrual cycle, and now you don’t.
I went to the doctors after around 6 months, and was told to give it more time. I waited and waited, and over a year had passed before they decided to do some blood tests to figure out what might be going on. The results showed that I had low levels of what’s called the Leuteinizing hormone. This is the hormone that triggers ovulation, so basically every month when my body tried (or didn’t try) to ovulate, it wasn’t quite happening. The doctor referred me to the hospital for an ultrasound, which confirmed I had multiple cysts on my ovaries, and ‘scars’ from cysts that had come up and gone down again when they had tried to pop out an egg multiple times, and not managed to do so.
During the appointment when they explained this to me, a non-native English speaking doctor explained to me very matter-of-factly (it very may well have been the language barrier causing the perceived bluntness) that I would not get pregnant naturally, without medical intervention. I was only 23 and having a baby was so far from anything I had even in the periphery of my plans at the time, but nevertheless, to hear this was still pretty upsetting. It wasn’t an option? Ever?! What is wrong with me? They said I would need to gain weight before they would consider taking my case any further (I had a BMI of around 14 at the time; the weight fell off me very quickly after coming off the pill), and that really, I would need to be actively trying for a baby for at least 18 months before I would qualify for any kind of fertility treatment.
I was definitely not in ‘the zone’ to be trying for a baby, or putting pressure on myself to gain weight at what was meant to be the most fun and carefree time of my life…finally graduated from University, renting a decent flat and in a stable job, with the freedom to pretty much do whatever I damn well pleased for the first time ever (it was glorious…!) The relationship I was in at the time certainly wasn’t heading in the direction of anything so serious, or long term…so I just accepted it and carried on with my life, although it still played on my mind from time to time.
Fast forward to a couple of years later, and despite my reservations about the pill, I decided it was best that I go back on, and persuaded my doctor to put me on Yasmin instead (I had heard good things; that it was more gentle and good for people with mild acne/PCOS, both of which I had). It did take a lot of persuading, I guess it’s expensive to prescribe…but anyway, I still experienced some adverse symptoms from taking it (bloating, loss of sex drive, migraines, mood swings etc.), but stayed on for another two or so years.
During those two years, my circumstances changed when I met Jack, and so did my state of mind. For the first time, I actually saw myself settling down, getting married, having babies. After we had been together just over a year, the symptoms were getting too much and I decided it was time for another break from the pill, and to hopefully ‘reset’ my body so that in a couple years’ time, it might be ready for us to start thinking about babies.
I found after coming off that yet again, the weight fell off me and my skin flared up in painful and unsightly cystic acne round my jaw, and comedones (skin coloured bumps) over my face almost straight away. I had maybe two (irregular) periods, before they stopped completely, yet again. It was mega depressing being back where I was a few years ago, if not worse, and I started researching holistic ways to balance my hormones and clear my skin. All of the information I seemed to find about PCOS suggested that losing weight would be helpful, but this assumed that I might be struggling with being overweight, which didn’t apply to me.
I tried so many potions/powders & supplements; maca powder, bee pollen, Agnus Castus (chasteberry), chromium, fish oil, vitamin D, vitamin A…and so many more I can’t remember! Nothing *really* worked, not significantly. I was getting seriously depressed with it, because not only did I feel grotesque, my bad skin was a physical reminder that something wasn’t ‘right’ inside me, and that my hormones were still imbalanced after all these years.
I read a fair bit about a link between PCOS and insulin resistance/type 2 diabetes. There was one thing that seemed to make a difference when I tried it, and that was following a low GI/GL diet. No sugar, no refined carbs, no alcohol etc. Whenever I managed to stick to this for more than a couple of weeks, I managed to trigger my body into ovulating, and I would have a period. I would then relax a little… “hurrah, my body is working!” and then become complacent and go back to eating normally again, the periods would stop, and the pattern would continue.
In the end, I went back to the doctor (different surgery this time as I had moved) and was basically told I wasn’t heavy enough to be referred, and that my issues most likely stemmed from being underweight. I 100% knew this wasn’t the reason, and threw a big hissy fit…but I still went away and made an effort to eat as much (mostly healthy) food as possible to gain the weight needed to be referred. Months passed, and I managed to gain maybe half a stone, which still wasn’t quite enough. It was becoming extremely demoralising, so in the end I booked another doctor’s appointment. Just before the appointment I ate a large lunch and on my walk to the surgery, downed a 2 litre and a 1 litre bottle of water (my poor bladder; but you gotta do what you gotta do!)
Feeling suitably sick and stuffed, they weighed me and Hallelujah, I scraped the weight they had asked of me by about half a lb. They finally put me in for a referral, where I eventually had another ultrasound confirming I had PCOS, or more accurately this time, that I *HAD* PCOS, and there were scars there to show it, but my body hadn’t created any new cysts recently due to my cycle being completely dormant.
The plan was made that I would start a drug called Clomid, which is intended to trigger ovulation. It was around March at the time, and we decided between us (myself and Jack) that we would wait ‘til after the Summer for me to start treatment. I was just so relieved that something was in place to get me sorted, but we weren’t in any mad rush to get pregnant and thought it best after all the stress, to just enjoy our Summer. We were engaged and had a holiday planned to Sicily to look at wedding venues, and our weekends were just one party sesh after another (wistfully remembering these long-ago fun times!)
Fast forward to June, and a few people at my work were attempting a 5 day juice fast, for various reasons. In my infinite wisdom, I decided this might be good for my skin, so I joined in (never, ever, EVER again….). I made it to the end of day 3 and caved; I started eating vegetables and fruit again… I needed to chew and feel actual food in my belly! I was actually quite poorly for a week or so afterwards, it wasn’t a good move for me and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it, but that’s just me. My skin didn’t improve, and I was more bloated than ever. HOWEVER, sometime in the two weeks following the fast, I must have ovulated, and after a night of carefree partying…we got pregnant.
The same thing happened after I gave birth to Thea; my periods stopped before they even really started. But this time, it was of no real consequence to me, as I was in no rush to get pregnant or expand our family…my skin was good satisfactory, and I wasn’t exactly complaining about not having periods, so I just ‘let it be’.
Following a trip to Spain where I had severe D+V for 2-3 days, we arrived home and yet again found out I was pregnant. It must have happened just after we got back.
*Before I point out the following, please be aware that I am in NO WAY qualified to give any kind of medical or dietary advice, and this blog is purely anecdotal; my own experience. Please refer to your GP for any medical issues.*
The thing that my two pregnancies have in common, is that I hasn’t been consuming refined sugar, carbs, alcohol in the weeks leading up to ovulating. First time because of the juice fast, second time because of the actual fast from being so unwell. AGAIN – I AM NOT SUGGESTING ANYONE DOES ANY KIND OF FAST, EVER! What I’m getting at is, the doctor who said I wouldn’t get pregnant without treatment was wrong. No information whatsoever relating to diet was offered to me, but it turns out (in my personal experience, and in line with much of the research known about PCOS) that diet plays a huge role in balancing hormones, and that in my circumstance at least, I was lucky enough to be able to manipulate my body into doing what it should, without drugs, and I now have two beautiful babies.
Everyone’s PCOS journey is different, the symptoms vary greatly. What PCOS looks like for me, might be completely different from what it looks like to someone else, and one size does not fit all in terms of treatment. I wanted to share my story and make the point that never doesn’t always necessarily mean never, and if you’re suffering with PCOS, you aren’t alone and there is hope!