I have put off writing about this because it’s very personal and has been a very difficult journey for me. (Just a note: I want to warn you that parts of this post are very descriptive and may make some uncomfortable.) As I mentioned in the post, Life in Full Swing, in November, I was finally diagnosed with PCOS, or Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome. While it was a relief to finally understand what was wrong with my body, it was a lot to take in.
Let’s start with a little history. I began having an irregular menstrual cycle only a couple years after my first period. By the time I was in my junior year of college, my periods only occurred every 3 months. There were shooting pains in my abdomen, mainly around my belly button, nearly every day. I often had pelvic and rectal pressure and I would spot occasionally, making me seek help at the college health center, only to be relentlessly questioned about my sexual history. For some reason, they could not understand that I had indeed never been sexually active at the age of 19. All of this caused me great anxiety, and I’m not talking normal anxiety. It edged on full blown panic. Just before Thanksgiving break I awoke to a bed full of blood. It had appeared my period finally came with a vengeance. I called my mom and had her make an appointment for me with my doctor over Thanksgiving. After hearing of my symptoms, she suspected endometriosis and put me on an oral contraceptive pill.
The pill was a God-send. It regulated my cycle and took the pain away. I could even tell if I was late taking a pill even by an hour because the pain would return. I continued taking the pill after we were married because honestly, I was afraid of the pain returning. Let me stop here for a moment and talk about the morality of the pill. Yes, I know as a Catholic I am not supposed to take the pill for contraception. I know that this is an extremely controversial topic, but I am not here to debate the use of oral contraception. For me, at that time, it was a medical necessity. In my mind, I fully believed that if God intended for me to add a baby to our family, he would find a way to do so. After all, it’s God we’re talking about. (Little did I know that He would do this in a completely different way than I had expected!) Over the years I was repeatedly given the pill to control my cycle and my symptoms. I continued to suffer from anxiety and sometimes depression. Only those closest to me know my complete journey through these years. All I’m going to say is they were difficult and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
Scott and I agreed that fertility treatments was not the route we wanted to pursue. Instead, adoption appeared to be where our hearts were leading us. Through therapy, I made peace with our options for growing our family. And through our adoption journey, it became apparent this was the path God had chosen for us. We have been blessed 100 times over.
As the kids have grown, Scott and I began talking about me taking a break from the pill. I felt I was at a point where I was ready to deal with what might happen. I was also beginning to notice my irritability and anger would sometimes come out of nowhere. During a conversation with a close friend in January of 2015, she was telling me about her short stint on oral contraception. She said she felt anxious, angry, and irritable. She is not naturally any of those things! My mind was made up, at my annual check-up in March, I was going to talk to my doctor about going off the pill. She agreed and so I did.
Things went fairly smoothly the first month and was exactly a 28 day cycle. What? My body is going to work now?The second month the pain came back and my cycle was longer. In my mind I thought, well here we go again, but I felt so much better emotionally. I knew that I would never go back. Over the next 3 months I noticed I began putting on quite a bit of weight. Also, while my anxiety was better, I had more days where depression raised it’s nasty head. By a month later I had put on 15 pounds and I knew that I hadn’t changed what I was eating. By November I was up 20 pounds, had 2 UTIs and felt another one coming on, had horrible pelvic and abdominal pain and pressure, my depression was bad, and I just knew there was something not right. I suspected hormones. I began messaging my doctor about suspecting endometriosis and she wanted to do an ultrasound. I also asked about PCOS and she decided she was going to send me to test my hormone levels and do a complete blood work up first. Finally, a doctor was going to give me answers!
The results came back, and I did indeed have PCOS. Sadly, my doctor wanted to put me right back on the pill. I asked her to give me 3 months of dietary and lifestyle changes before prescribing me the pill again. She agreed. I immediately started reading and researching. For those of you not familiar with PCOS, here is a fact sheet. Here are some things I found out that were particularly important to me:
- PCOS is an endocrine disorder, not a menstrual disorder. Therefore, it will not go away with menopause or a hysterectomy.
- As an endocrine disorder, it is linked closely with type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.
- My anxiety and depression are also linked to PCOS.
- Women with PCOS have an incredibly difficult time losing and controlling their weight.
- PCOS can cause heart problems and a fatty liver.
One of my favorite blogs full of great information and research updates is PCOS Diet Support. Through information in this blog and other research, here are the diet changes I decided to implement:
- gluten free diet (Not a problem as I had already figured out I had a severe gluten intolerance 3 years ago. Interestingly, the majority of women with PCOS have gluten sensitivity.)
- dairy free diet (This was harder. It is recommended to remove dairy due to the growth hormone naturally occurring in all animal milk. This is why milk is so important for growing babies. It is not good for those that no longer need to grow.) I try my best while eating out, but lead a dairy free life at home.
- soy free diet (This is almost impossible when you add it to the other restrictions! However, soy is a phytoestrogen, meaning it can turn into estrogen in the body. I have plenty of that already….people with PCOS need the progesterone.)
- fish oil supplement (I was already doing this. This helps with the inflammation in the body caused by the excess hormones of PCOS.)
- Multivitamin that included B vitamins including folic acid (Folic acid is good for the reproductive system and the rest of the B vitamins have shown beneficial to anxiety and depression as well.There are further benefits I can’t remember right now.)
- Vitamin D (Beneficial to depression as well as sleep. I don’t remember the other reasons off the top of my head.)
- Inositol (This is also part of the B vitamin family. It is good for liver detox. It has been used in studies to treat mental disorders and has recently shown to be beneficial with PCOS as well. )
I implemented these changes and by my March appointment, I had maintained my weight even over the holidays! My mood had improved. The pains were nearly gone for most of each cycle. So, my doctor gave me the go ahead to continue with my diet and supplements and we would check my blood again next year. I was so relieved.
My latest step on this journey is to now begin losing weight. In order to do so, I needed to begin eating a low glycemic index diet. This was not something I was looking forward to. Carbs and sugars seemed like all I had left after taking away gluten, dairy, and soy. I was not looking forward to a life of salads. My friend urged me to join weight watchers with her. Little did I know, weight watchers has recently overhauled their points system and bases it largely on sugar (lots of points) and high protein (few points). I agreed and have managed so far to lose 6 pounds in the 3 weeks I have been on the plan. I have a long ways to go, but at least there’s a move in the right direction.
You may be thinking to yourself now, does this mean there is possibly a baby in the future? Well, we shall see. One step at a time. I am not cured. PCOS is something that can improve, but it will always be with you. I am more interested in feeling good right now, but only God knows what the future holds. We already have two wonderful children, and they bring me more joy than I could ever have imagined.