Our infertility journey with PCOS

The irony isn’t lost on me that you spend a huge portion of your life trying not to fall pregnant and then when you want it to happen it doesn’t; turns out falling pregnant isn’t as easy as what it’s made out to be. That small window of opportunity (24 – 48 hours every 28 days) is so easily missed, add PCOS on top of this and that window is suddenly more like a tiny crack in the wall.

You won’t be able to conceive naturally”. I will NEVER forget hearing those words over the phone from the GP. I have never for a second doubted that I want to have children, hearing those words felt like my world has collapsed around me.

 

I knew that having PCOS would make conceiving slightly more challenging than normal but never in a million years did I think that this was how my journey to being a mum would begin or worse yet, end.

For the last three years, I have had my PCOS under control. Through changing my diet, understanding my PCOS root cause, exercising for enjoyment not punishment, managing my stress levels and prioritising sleep, I have managed to regulate my cycle to roughly 31 days. My skin was acne-free, my energy levels were great and insomnia was not something I had struggled with for a long time.

Until a few months prior to this conversation with the GP.

As a business owner my schedule was ridiculous, for three months I was insanely busy and constantly felt like I was running around like a headless chicken seldom pausing for breath. Suddenly my hair was falling out, my energy levels were at rock bottom, my periods were only lasting 2 days, my weight was dropping even though I was constantly eating and craving all the carbohydrates.

In hindsight, it’s so easy to see what was going on, but at the time I kept telling myself that I just needed to get through to the end of the year and once we broke for Christmas things would calm down and come January my load would be more manageable. It was just 3-4 months of go, go, go, and then I’d be through the thick of it.

What I chose to overlook was the fact that as someone with PCOS I am more prone to the effects of stress. I also know that for me stress is a huge contributor to my PCOS symptoms flaring. My body was so busy trying to survive and just get through every day without breaking down that there was no chance in hell it would allow me to conceive – my body was not in a state to grow and nourish myself let alone another human. This was confirmed by blood tests which indicated that I was not ovulating, which meant we were referred to the fertility clinic at guys hospital.

So, I slowed down. I made some changes to my schedule that gave me the chance to pause and breathe. I had to learn to say no and create boundaries between business and my personal life because this line had become so blurred. Basically, I chilled the F*@k out and prioritised managing my PCOS, regulating my cycles, and trying to get my body ready to grow a human.

December was a month of rest and recuperation, followed by a 3-week holiday in February. These came with the promise of ‘I bet it happens on holiday because you’ll be nice and relaxed’. It didn’t and the disappointment simply seems to escalate.

On the day we came back from our holiday we had our first appointment at Guy’s fertility centre – it was a little glimmer of hope that they would be able to find out what was going wrong and fix it. The fertility team was incredible, and I will be forever grateful for how kind, compassionate, and caring they were. I was immediately whipped off to a room to have an internal scan and some blood tests. Both of which confirmed that I was ovulating and nothing abnormal was picked up. On one hand, this was great – maybe all that rest and sunshine did do the trick and I was on the road to recovery, but I also had Negative Nancy on the other shoulder thinking what if there’s something else wrong that they just haven’t picked up on yet.

We left the clinic with an appointment booked for my partner to have a sperm test (it takes two to tango after all) and for myself to have follicular monitoring once my next period had started.

And then lockdown happened, I received the email I’d been dreading to say that due to COVID-19 all non-essential (fertility) appointments were cancelled. Our journey was now on hold and there was nothing we could do about it. I felt more helpless than ever.

Just before we went into lockdown my fiancé managed to send off his semen sample, after weeks of waiting for the results we finally got them back with confirmation that all was normal – a relief, but it didn’t give us any answers. Then a week later we found out that the results he was given were not his (angry doesn’t begin to describe how we felt) –  his actual results were slightly abnormal. Although his sperm count was high, his swimmers had little sense of direction and weren’t quite the right shape (in more medical terms their progressive motility and morphology were slightly below normal).

Although we now had a possible reason for our infertility it didn’t feel like a huge relief, instead it felt like another obstacle that we had to contend with, and our dreams of parenthood felt more impossible than ever before.

What’s more, there was no advice given. We were just told that if we could (dependent on the COVID situation) my fiancé should have another test done in 2-3 months. Helpful!

We did our own research and my fiancé decided to give up alcohol for a while and started taking some multi-vitamins which claimed to help.

In some weird way, I’d resigned myself to the fact that it would take at least three months for his lifestyle changes to take effect and that I would just need to dig deep and find some patience and not lose all hope the next time my period arrived.

And then two months later my period was one day late, I knew it, my fiancé knew it but neither of us dared say anything in case we got one another’s hopes up. In my mind, it was too soon to test but I could not resist the urge, I popped into Superdrug and bought a pack of three tests, that way if the first one was negative and my period still hadn’t arrived a week later I could test again.

I snuck into the bathroom with my tests (the last thing I wanted was my fiancé to know I was doing a test because I didn’t want him to experience that same drop of all hope when the test was negative).

That first minute of waiting for the results felt like a lifetime, instead of being filled with the thrill of the possibility of seeing two lines I was filled with dread. I’ve been here so many times before; the sight of that single line confirming another month of a failed attempt followed by spending the rest of the day beating myself up for allowing myself to feel the slightest bit of hope that this time we might have got it right.

And then there were two lines, I did not know whether to laugh or cry, so I think I went for something in the middle and immediately did a second test. Just in case.

I couldn’t believe it, after almost a year of trying to conceive we had finally made a baby, naturally too.

I know how lucky we are, I know some women have struggled for years and they continue to struggle. But I wanted to share our story to give you some hope, that even when you are told it will never happen that is not necessarily true, even when it feels like everything is working against you it can still happen. I want this to be a reminder that if you have PCOS this does not mean you will never fall pregnant; it simply means you may have to work a little harder. I want this to remind you that male infertility is a thing too, it’s more common than you think and it’s okay.

I want every woman who has struggled to conceive to know that this is not your fault, you are not any less of a woman because of this. I am so grateful that we did not have to go down the road of drugs and IVF, but if this is where your journey has led you then know that this is ok too and I have everything crossed for your rainbow baby to happen soon.

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