It had been a year of trying to get pregnant when I went to the doctor to make sure nothing was wrong with my fertility. When I got the call and subsequent diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), I felt a multitude of emotions at once — shock, relief, fear, confusion … I hadn’t expected to hear anything was actually wrong. I also didn’t have any symptoms of PCOS other than failing to get pregnant. Yet there I was, listening to my options for conception.
PCOS is a hormone abnormality that can affect fertility due to ovulation irregularity. It’s relatively common, affecting 1 in 10 women in their childbearing years. What I’ve learned since my diagnosis has been enlightening and helpful in my process to conceive a child despite the fear of what PCOS can mean for my ability to get pregnant.
Sometimes You Don’t Have Any Symptoms
The main symptoms of PCOS that tend to lead to diagnosis include painful menstrual cramps and irregular periods — I had neither of these symptoms. This is why I had the incorrect assumption that my issues with conception wouldn’t be related to a PCOS diagnosis. However, painful menstrual cramps can also manifest as chronic pelvic pain caused by many different things. These symptoms can also mean endometriosis or uterine fibroids. Some women don’t have symptoms of PCOS, while others may have the symptoms, but their diagnoses may be something different. The only way to find out if you have PCOS is to get tested.
The symptoms I did exhibit were smaller, and I had no idea they could be tied to PCOS. Things like weight gain, excess hair growth, acne, and insomnia are also common symptoms of PCOS but can be attributed to many other factors. For this reason, they are easily overlooked. It’s important to note that PCOS is something you may have despite an absence of traditional symptoms.
There Are Many Treatment Options
One of the many emotions I felt while hearing a diagnosis of PCOS was relief. Finally, I knew part of what was wrong. Now I had something actionable to do in order to help my issues with fertility. Upon researching PCOS, I mostly felt optimistic that I would find a treatment option that would help my only prominent symptom of PCOS: trouble getting pregnant. However, there are many treatment options for other symptoms as well. Though PCOS doesn’t have a cure, symptom management is available.
Weight management is a major component of PCOS treatment. Not only can PCOS cause weight gain — it is also exacerbated by it, making this a difficult symptom to manage. There are also medications to regulate your menstrual cycle and painful cramping. There are also medications to help regulate ovulation. Pregnancy issues are common in terms of health issues for women, but that doesn’t mean everyone with PCOS will have health issues. Though any diagnosis is difficult to hear, it was encouraging to hear how many treatment options were available.
Emotional Treatment Is Just as Important
A PCOS diagnosis is not just about medical treatment; it’s about emotional treatment as well. Honestly, it’s been the most difficult part. While I felt good about my treatment options, I still felt overwhelmed and discouraged by the journey I was on. Why is it so easy for others but so difficult for me? I was worried about treatment cost and the fact that my insurance doesn’t cover fertility treatment at all. I knew short-term disability may help once I’m pregnant, but what about how my finances will fair in the process to get pregnant? I still don’t know that answer. These feelings can be one of the difficult aspects of a PCOS diagnosis.
It’s important to prioritize self-care as well as medical treatment while dealing with PCOS. This diagnosis can be painful, both emotionally and physically. It can lead to depression and anxiety. What I learned was that I needed to find ways to treat the emotional side of PCOS as well. Things like practicing yoga to reduce stress, being open with my spouse, and journaling have been helpful for me. I know that I need to be mindful of my health through exercise and mindful eating. I need to be mindful of my happiness and work on reducing my stress and the physical symptoms of stress. Expectations are important, and it’s important to be aware that this journey may not get easier just yet.
Everyone’s Journey Is Different
My journey to motherhood wasn’t going to be the same as anyone else’s, even before the PCOS diagnosis — nobody’s is. My diagnosis is just another aspect to my journey. The truth of the matter is that if treatment doesn’t work for me, I will find a way to have a child in my life in some other way. That might be with IVF, through adoption, fostering, or by being the best aunt I can be to the children of my friends or relatives. My journey to have a child may be harder than others, but it’s also easier than others as well.
Motherhood is full of different experiences, both uplifting and heartbreaking. Some found themselves there by accident, while others claw their way there. Either way, each mom is in a community of women who are on a journey to make the best life they can for their kids. Each person on this journey can learn from another’s experiences.
Though I’ve only taken a few steps on my journey after being diagnosed with PCOS, I’ve already learned so much about what that may mean for me long term. I’ve learned that not all symptoms show up the same for everyone; that there are many treatment options to help; that emotional treatment is just as important; and that everyone’s journey to motherhood is different. I’m both scared and hopeful, but I feel good in knowing which direction I’m going.
Chelsy Ranard is a writer/blogger who graduated with her journalism degree from the University of Montana in 2012. She is passionate about addiction recovery advocacy, loves to write about self-care, and works to help others through her writing. Read more of her writing on Twitter.
Image courtesy of Ethan Robertson.