My story with PCOS started the day I received the worst phone call. You know the type of call you see in a movie or show when the doctor calls the protagonist to tell them they have an illness or to give bad news? That’s the type of phone call that started my journey with PCOS. Sounds a little over dramatic, I know. But ever since the call, it’s been a battle against this ‘syndrome’ in this little world of mine.
I was 25 years old and it was the end of July when my cell phone rang. My doctor was giving me a follow-up call to find out why I had irregular menstrual cycles and why I hadn’t gotten pregnant yet. She told me I had PCOS and gave a brief explanation of it. I had no idea what this was and had never heard of this ‘syndrome.’ I started googling information and immediately became overwhelmed. Everything I was reading was so horrible! I started to cry and I started to ask God “why?” Why did I have to be the 1 in 10 women who has this disease?
Let me give you a short version of what PCOS is. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is an endocrine (hormonal) disorder affecting women. Anywhere from 5-10% of women are thought to have it. Some symptoms include acne, obesity, amenorrhea(lack of periods) hair loss, hirsutism (excessive hair in some areas), trouble with fertility, mood swings, ovarian cysts, trouble losing weight, high estrogen and other hormone problems. Some health problems include diabetes, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular disease. There is also a higher risk of breast and endometrial cancer. There are many more symptoms that I didn’t mention here but they vary from women to women. In my case, I struggle with everything I mentioned except hair loss and excessive hair in unwanted areas. I also don’t have any health problems that it leads to, except insulin resistance which is why I struggle with weight loss.
THE EMOTIONS THAT CAME WITH PCOS
Imagine what I felt when I read all that! I was heart-broken! I was also mad! Actually I was angry! So many times since I was a teenager I had gone to doctor appointments to find out why I had irregular cycles. I got the same answer every time. According to doctors I was stressed. Believing them, I would leave trying to come up with ideas on how to become less stressed. The whole time I could have taken care of my body and reverse symptoms if only I had been diagnosed correctly. I always had a gut feeling something worse was going on, but in my ignorance I didn’t dig deeper until I started trying to have children.
Once reality hit me, I was mad that I had to change my diet. I’m a huge food lover and I thought it was so unfair that I had to cut down on eating things that others got to enjoy so easily without complications. I was envious that other people could eat any carb and sugar filled food that they pleased and I couldn’t. I was mad that they could lose weight so easily when I would spend much time in the gym and watch what I ate and not see results. I’ve always been one of those girls who works out more than most people I know, yet I would never lose weight! I finally understood why this was happening and it made me mad.
I was also filled with fear. Fear that I wouldn’t have kids. Fear that my husband would get tired of waiting to have his own children and leave me (which he always made it clear he wouldn’t and would always stick to my side through this struggle). I had fear of having diabetes, cancers and heart disease. I was scared that I wouldn’t have strong enough will to change my diet and be healthy.
That’s a lot of negative emotions! But let me tell you, thankfully during this time I had the support I needed from my husband, friends, family, and church leaders. I had a strong relationship with God and I was able to cry about my diagnoses with Him. God was my strength in this whole process since I was 25. Thankfully I was able to avoid falling into depression which is high among women with PCOS. There were random days that I felt extremely sad about my situation but I somehow found the way out. I forgave every doctor who gave me a “stressed out” diagnosis. I had to understand that even if they didn’t do their best job, they tried. I stopped comparing my life with others because that was leading to jealousy and envy. I turned my emotions around and decided to be optimistic about this diagnosis. I knew that with this diagnoses I was headed for a journey of learning many things.
THE BATTLE WITH PCOS
Let me go back to when I found out I had PCOS. That first day I cried everything I could. I allowed myself to feel and then I became pro-active and developed a mentality of “kicking PCOS’ butt.” I decided right away that I was not going to let PCOS control my life or define me. I was going to become a warrior against PCOS and win this battle that has been very tiring! The same day of the phone call I cut carbs and sugar out of my diet cold turkey. Every time I was about to eat something, I was so full of fear that I could almost see the word cancer written all over the food I was about to eat and I would put it down. I started working out the next day. I would hike a hill near my house every single day and would do two-hour workouts. I became obsessive to the point that it was hurting me emotionally. All I thought about was PCOS.
I can say that during this time I did lose weight. I wasn’t at my goal, but I was at a weight that I felt good about myself. I also felt stronger and healthier. Emotionally though, I was stressed out. I had started everything too fast. I had left foods I loved way too quick. Even with this new diet, I still didn’t have regular menstrual cycles even though I was put on Metformin to regulate insulin (too much exercise stops menstruation). I was not happy to be trying so hard to still be irregular. I never gave up. I kept taking care of myself and emotionally I let myself depend on God to guide me through this journey.
Time passed and I became less strict with my diet. Unfortunately, some weight slowly started creeping back. I chose to stop taking Metformin because I have always believed that eating healthy is the way to go. I didn’t want to rely on drugs (metformin or birth control) to take care of my body. Now, this isn’t telling anyone to stop taking it. I believe it’s important to do so if you believe you should, but in my case I wanted to see what my body was capable of by taking care of my diet instead.
The last two years, I haven’t taken metformin nor have I started fertility treatment. I plan to do so if I don’t get pregnant by the age of 30. For now I’ve stuck to controlling PCOS the natural way. What I have done, is change the way I eat. I have learned to eat fewer carbohydrates and more protein. I have struggled occasionally and get upset that my body doesn’t function like a regular body. I’m not going to lie and say it’s been an easy journey and that I don’t have days of sadness. I do! And sometimes that sadness hits hard. At the beginning of my journey, I would even tell my husband that he should divorce me and find a woman who could give him kids! I no longer do that because I was very wrong in doing so. On the contrary, my husband and I have become a stronger couple because of this challenge we face.
Despite those random days I have had, I can say I mostly feel proud of myself for taking care of my body to the best of my ability. I know that I may not see outside changes, but I know that I’m feeding myself healthy foods and it makes me glad. I don’t do it all the time. I sometimes fail. As soon as I can, I try to get back on track. Though I haven’t lost the weight I want to, I’ve stayed stable. The moment I see 5 pounds above my limit on the scale I push it up a notch in the kitchen and at the gym. I always keep educating myself on how to do my best job in all this because I want to overcome PCOS symptoms as best I can.
I have tried my best to not allow PCOS define me or control my body. I can’t say there is a day I don’t think about it, because I do. Every day I’m filled with choices about what is best for my health. I no longer obsess because I do allow myself to splurge on foods I love here and there, but everyday I choose how healthy I want to be. I want to feed my body nutritious foods that will regulate insulin and prepare my body for when I get pregnant. I want to have better moods and sleep better. By making healthy choices each day, I am kicking PCOS’ butt. It doesn’t control me! It doesn’t define me. I know that making these healthy choices in the long run will benefit me. And though it may be hard now, with time I know making healthy choices will become easier. I ate however I wanted for 25 years, it will take time to learn to eat healthy. So far I have 3 years on this journey of eating healthy, mixed with some ups and downs on the success of it.
A MOMENT OF HEARBREAK
Though I’ve maintained an optimistic journey with PCOS, I had the hardest time with it this year. In January I joined my church in doing a Daniel Fast. This diet was a no meat, no processed food, no sugar and only whole wheat foods, veggies, fruits and legumes were to be eaten. During the fast, I lost some weight and I felt some changes in my body. I had also dedicated the fast to God so that He could teach me to eat healthy and so it could lead to pregnancy. After it was over, I kept eating as clean as I could. In fact, I believed eating so clean regulated my hormones because I got my menstrual cycle twice in a row. I even got pregnant for the first time! This was the most exciting and scary time of my life.
Sadly the pregnancy didn’t last long. I was never sure how far along I was, but it was the most heart breaking event I have ever experienced. I went into a depression and I struggled with my faith. I felt lonely and I had very little patience for people. My husband had moved to California for his job and I was finishing my contract as a teacher, so I went through a lot of the emotions alone in my home. I stopped caring about my class that last month of teaching. I just wanted to leave and join my husband already. I was devastated and had no energy but to think about the child I had lost.
This is when I started to think about PCOS again. Some feelings of anger came back because I knew this disease was part of the reason I lost my child. Why couldn’t my hormones just be normal and keep the baby alive? I started to have fear of even having another pregnancy because with PCOS it is known that multiple miscarriages occur. At that time I didn’t know if I could go through that pain again. I was mad that PCOS had controlled me and that I didn’t control it like I had first put my mind to. I felt defeated and I had no energy to fight, so I fell into a depression even deeper.
As soon as the school year ended, I moved with my husband to California. We decided that I wasn’t going to work this year in hopes that I can ‘relax’ and be stress free. Teaching is a high stress career and I knew I needed to take a year off to see if our dreams could be fulfilled. We decided to depend on God to help us manage our finances with only one of us working. I also never took time to grieve my baby. I was back to work the day after the miscarriage and never took a day off because I was too dedicated to my students despite the fact I wasn’t doing my best job as a teacher those last days.
When I got to California I thought things were going to be easier. They weren’t. I was still in depression not only because of the baby, but now because of the life change. I no longer had a career, my family was far, I lost communication with friends, I missed my job, and I didn’t have the house we had just purchased a year ago. I became obsessed with getting pregnant again. I kept buying pregnancy tests any time I felt a weird symptom. I was randomly remembering what my baby could have looked like. I was picking arguments with my husband for no reason. I didn’t want to work out. All I wanted to do was lay in bed and not do anything!
CHANGING MY PERSPECTIVE
It wasn’t until one day I was sobbing like I hadn’t done since the miscarriage. I was crying out to God telling him no one cared for me or what I had gone through. That no one understood this miscarriage or syndrome. That my friends or family no longer reached out to me or asked how I was doing. I was playing victim with God and with myself. At that exact moment I heard a text alert from my phone. When I was done crying I read it. It was one of my best friends asking how I was doing and that she loved me and missed me. I couldn’t believe how quick God was to prove to me that I wasn’t alone. Not only was my friend there for me, but so was He.
Since that day, I started a new journey and have chosen to be optimistic. The depression I was in for about 3 months started to slowly go away. I went back to a church and heard the perfect sermon that talked about transforming our lives. I also heard God’s voice inspiring me to start this blog.
I have been inspired once more to overcome symptoms of PCOS and to fight against it like I always have before the miscarriage. This time though, I am doing it slowly unlike the first time. I have slowly cut back on foods that affect my body and I am not obsessing with my work outs. I’m am considering to start a gluten-free or Paleo diet to help with PCOS symptoms. Since I just moved, I’m still in search of a church that feels like home to us. My hope is to strengthen my relationship with God once again and be on the right track with my emotions so that I can keep strong in this battle with PCOS.
This whole journey has definitely not been easy one, but it has taught me many life lessons. It has developed my character into one that depends on God. The amount of faith required is unbelievable! Never have I had to have so much faith in God like now. I have become more empathetic towards other people who are in a struggle themselves. I have also become resilient, always getting back up after a fall. The pain of loss and the long journey to getting pregnant has allowed my husband and I to share a stronger bond and to become stronger together. There have been times of frustration and stress, but we have overcome all the emotional feelings- especially when everyone around us gets pregnant.
One of the things that we are thankful for through this journey is that we have enjoyed this marriage so much! Though we can’t wait to enjoy our lives with children, we have had so much fun traveling, dating, going out to dance, spending lots of time with friends, waking up late on the weekends, and spending a lot of alone time for over 8 years. We have remained friends without a focus on kids (which we can’t wait to have). So I tell you, woman with PCOS and struggling to have kids to enjoy your marriage to the maximum. Don’t let the stress of infertility affect your relationship with your husband.
FOR YOU: WOMEN WITH PCOS
This is a hard battle! I know! If you are a woman with PCOS reading this, know that you are not alone. Read as much as you can about PCOS and do what you can to take care of yourself. You are a warrior and you will conquer. You have the power and knowledge to overcome symptoms. There is no stopping you! PCOS does not control you or define you! You have it, but you are above it. Though there is no way to get rid of it, you can control the symptoms. If you want to lose weight or get pregnant remember, If something doesn’t work try something different. Get checked and see what you can do to control symptoms. Get in contact with other women who have PCOS. Encourage each other!
Talk about it! From the beginning, I knew I didn’t want to fall into depression. I made sure I talked about it with someone. Though they didn’t understand, they listened. Lift up your mood in whatever way you know. For me it’s exercise and spending time with friends and family. Talk to your husband about it. Thought it may not seem like it, they also hurt. A man’s instinct is to “fix” things and since they can’t fix this disease they might feel useless. It’s also hard for them to understand. Take the time to explain to them how they can help.
My husband has been the best and most supportive man I could have asked for. When he knows I’m struggling with weight loss, he will ask if I want to go walk. When he knows I’m being tempted by food, he will hide it from me or eat it (yes, he will do that 🙂 ). When I have cried about our baby, he hugs me and lets me go through the moment. He’s not a man of many words, but he will hug me tight and tell me everything will be okay. Tell your husband how they can help you. Sometimes men do best when you explain exactly what you need from them. They will understand and they will try what they can, but be very direct about your needs.
Though I cannot say I’m happy to have PCOS, I’m thankful that God is using this disease to mold me into the person He wants me to be. I may not understand at this moment why I have PCOS. Perhaps He wants me to help other women deal with this disease. Perhaps I’m learning patience that comes from waiting to have a baby. Or maybe He wants me to have faith beyond what I can imagine. I don’t know. But I choose to trust Him in this journey. Because of PCOS I have learned to take care of my body and to treat it as God’s temple as much as I can, even when I don’t see results. I know there is a lot more I will learn as time passes. Giving up is not an option! I will turn this hardship into a process of learning.
FOR FRIENDS WHO HAVE KNOW SOMEONE WITH PCOS
If you are reading this because you know someone with PCOS, bless your heart for loving that person enough to inform yourself what PCOS is and the struggles these women deal with. I encourage you to know what not to say to a friend struggling with PCOS or infertility. Lift them up with motivational words and love them despite their mood swings or depressive moments. They are fighting a battle that is hard beyond what some may imagine. Give a listening ear and you have done your part.
To my fellow PCOS women, DO NOT GIVE UP! You are the winner of this battle!