I’m a pretty open book when it comes to my life, I’ve reeled in quite a bit during the last year, but this topic hits a little closer to home. I’ve mentioned this once on social media, but I’ve only really talked about it with my close friends and family. If you’ve been reading, even briefly, the news on women’s health, this conversation is important now more than ever. So, here we go!
Since I was a teenager, I’ve always had acne and irregular cycles. I thought it was because I was (still am) overweight, how I handled stress from school, and the hormones that were changing during puberty never settled. There was never a moment during my youth where I didn’t have acne; seriously, a new one showed up every single day. I constantly gained weight, and my periods? I was lucky if I could count on one hand how many I’d get in a given year.
Fast-forward to sophomore year of college, I got my appendix removed. My surgeon, while performing surgery, noticed my ovaries were quite larger than normal. He didn’t know what it meant or if there was anything necessarily wrong, he just knew something wasn’t right. Since it was out of his field of practice, he suggested to my mom we get the pictures he took examined further by my primary or a gynecologist.
Thinking to myself, “What does he know? He’s a man!”
Needless to say, I was reluctant to talk about my large ovaries. I mean, everything else on my body is large, why should I be surprised of largeness on the inside?!
During my follow-up post surgery, my primary said nothing looked wrong based on the pictures. There didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary. When I looked at the images, they did look larger. It wouldn’t surprise me if that was the beginning of developing PCOS.
Fast-forward to April 2018. As a surprise, like normal, I get my period. I go through my cycle, all is good in the world. Not even a week later while I’m getting ready for work, this pain like no other comes over me. I’m warm, I feel like knifes are twisting inside my uterus. The pain was a solid 12. Come to realize after the pain had past, I was shedding large chunks of my uterine lining. To compare, the pain felt like I was pushing out an egg each time this lining came through.
All this time while I wasn’t getting a period, the lining my uterus was forming didn’t detach and come through with my period, as it normally does in order for a new cycle to begin. The thin uterine lining that forms, produced by hormones, is its way of preparing for a baby. In my case, each time a new cycle started, even when I wasn’t physically getting my period, the lining kept building up until one day it decided it needed to vacate the facility.
For about two months, I bled profusely. I missed countless days of work because the pain became too much. I felt my body contracting just to get the lining out of my system; this was more painful than the agony I felt before I got my appendix removed. I wouldn’t wish what I went through on my worst enemy.
It wasn’t until I went to a gynecologist and described what I was going through, I finally got an answer.
I had a couple exams, ultrasounds and blood work done, some bearable than others, to figure out my mess of a uterus. About two weeks later when I met with my doctor again, she said all the symptoms and tests correlate with PCOS.
My heart dropped and my mind went racing.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS, is a genetic hormone imbalance disorder caused by cysts that are formed on the ovaries. Common symptoms are: excessive facial and body hair, severe acne, irregular menstrual cycles, weight gain and infertility, its leading factor.
PCOS affects about 1 in 10 women worldwide starting as early as 14 years old. PCOS is not a disease that can be easily diagnosed and doesn’t discriminate; women will go through their whole life not knowing they have PCOS. Women with PCOS have ovaries 1.5-3 times larger than normal ovaries. Women with PCOS are more apt to experience diabetes and heart-related diseases as well as heart attacks. And to top it all off, there is no cure for PCOS.
The entire day after that appointment, I cried, I screamed, I kept blaming myself thinking there was something I could stop this from happening.
I couldn’t prevent my PCOS.
So for the rest of the day, I read other women’s stories. I learned how they cope, how they live with PCOS, medications they take and most importantly, their process of having children.
Surprisingly, that’s the part that got me the most. When my doctor told me I have PCOS, she said that if I tried to have a baby now, I wouldn’t get pregnant.
At this moment in time, I’m infertile… Thinking about it doesn’t get any easier.
Let me just say this, women who have PCOS can and do get pregnant, sometimes without any fertility treatment. I’m one of those cases where I need to do everything I can to make sure I am in the best physical shape in order to bare a child.
What’s the next step from here?
Well, I took all of my frustration and fear and decided to do something. I can’t have this disorder take control over me or make me believe that I’m not capable of having children myself. To make this happen, I have to change my lifestyle.
There are plenty of women who get pregnant successfully and have no complications during pregnancy or childbirth who are my size. I thought I’d be one of those women myself (because screw societal expectations on what body type is most “suitable” to grow babies, AMIRIGHT?!?!) Unfortunately, my body physically can’t do what I always thought it was capable of doing.
I know that being a mom is someone I want to be. Losing weight is the only way I can better my body, not only for my overall health in order to live with PCOS, but in order to carry a child. The more weight I lose, the greater chance I’ll have to become less infertile.
In the dead of night, I signed up for Weight-Watchers and I haven’t looked back since June when I registered. At first it was hard because all the things I was eating were too many points which made me realize how many calories I was actually putting into my body. I had to compromise significantly. After a few weeks it became much easier incorporating fruits and veggies while also eating food I love in moderation. I’ve lost 30 pounds just by watching my diet. I haven’t conquered my fear of going back to the gym yet, but we’re still working on it.
I started on birth control in June and have seen significant differences in my acne, hair growth and cycles; I’ve never been more thankful to be on medication. If it wasn’t for getting on birth control, I would still be in a lot of effing pain, losing more blood from my body than a healthy amount during a period and I wouldn’t have my PCOS under control if it wasn’t for the pills giving me the hormones my body can’t naturally make. Now, if I could just convince the government the positive health benefits from birth control… Sorry, side thought.
We need to talk about women’s health way more than we do now. With our current administration threatening safe abortions, access and coverage of birth control, not knowing the basics of childbirth, not knowing how periods work and lack of proper sex education in America, it’s so important we lead the discussion. Women have PCOS, endometriosis, other disorders that prevent them from getting pregnant. We have to talk and not be uncomfortable doing so. Our dialogue has to change and not feel like we’re alone going through all this BS that happens. Maybe I shared too much, but it’s the only way to start the conversation. It’s a step to start some serious change in our views on women’s health.
I have PCOS. I’ve blamed myself almost every single day thinking there was something I could have done to stop this. I think maybe there was a way I could have known sooner when I was younger. Maybe if I took my health more seriously or noticed different patterns in my mood, or took those photos more seriously. Maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t be in this predicament.
But then I remember that there’s nothing I could have done to stop this. I’m healthy, I’m taking all the right steps to improve my health and well-being for the future. And that’s all I can do.