Polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS is a hormonal disorder which affects women of reproductive age. Women with PCOS may have infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods or excess male hormone (androgen) levels. The ovaries may develop numerous small collections of fluid (follicles) and fail to regularly release eggs. There is no exact cause for PCOS. Some symptoms of PCOS are weight gain, fatigue, unwanted har growth, infertility and pelvic pain. Some common complications of PCOS are infertility, gestational diabetes and high blood pressure when pregnant, miscarriage or premature birth, a severe liver inflammation caused by fat accumulation in the liver, sleep apnea, depression, anxiety and eating disorders, abnormal uterine bleeding and endometrial cancer.
Alex was diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) at 22 years old. After her diagnosis she left her doctor's office feeling confused and worried that her diagnosis would prevent her from being able to carry a baby to full-term, a fear that was compounded with the fact that she also has Lupus. Unfortunately, the specialist did not provide much information to Alex, so she turned to Google, which is full of worst-case scenarios and every symptom or concern under the sun. Now, 23 weeks pregnant with twin girls, Alex reflects on her PCOS diagnosis and its effect on her fertility, pregnancy, and overall health.
After taking birth control since 16, Alex stopped taking it when she turned 22 as she was feeling as if her hormones were effecting her more, possibly due to her Lupus medication. At that point, though her periods continued, her cycle kept longer, from 28 days to 35 days, then a missed month completely. After ruling out pregnancy, Alex went 80 days before having her period, which lasted four weeks. Knowing this was not her typical routine, she went to the doctor, who referred her to a gynecologist. In the wait to see the specialist, her period was continuously irregular, confusing Alex.
Finally, the gynecologist diagnosed Alex’s PCOS with an ultrasound, revealing about 15-20 cysts in one ovary and a handful in the other. Though to the gynecologist this was a simple confirmation of diagnosis, Alex had no idea what PCOS even was! The gynecologist assured Alex that she “should be fine getting pregnant” as long as she just had sex every day. Alex left the appointment more confused and feeling as if her doctor had been insensitive, not really explaining PCOS or how it might effect Alex’s health. In the car, she googled PCOS and immediately broke down into tears, fearing she would never carry a baby full-term. Her fiancé was extremely supportive and told Alex that they would cross that bridge at the right time, as they were getting married in only a few months.
That night, Alex ordered books about PCOS and specific diets that are meant to help alleviate some of the symptoms, such as weight gain, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol . After Alex was diagnosed and began opening up to friends and family, Alex realized that PCOS was much more common than she knew.
Much to Alex and her husband’s surprise, she did not experience complications with her fertility. As they began to prepare for having their first child, Alex visited a naturopath who helped her create a diet plan and supplement regimen to allow for regular cycles and ovulation. After three months, Alex became pregnant the same month the couple decided to actively start trying for a baby. Though she was concerned, Alex carried her daughter full term. For their second child, Alex again followed the naturopath’s plan and became pregnant quickly.
Alex’s twin pregnancy has been more difficult than her previous two singleton pregnancies. In the beginning, prior to finding out she was expecting twins, Alex lost her appetite and felt nauseous all day, even having a high aversion to sugar, which she loves. Her nausea was so intense that it would often leave her bedridden for days. In addition, Alex was having light cramping which she thought was from her uterus stretching, something that seemed surprising given she had two children already, then she realized, it was probably twins! And her hunch was correct, a few days later, the ultrasound confirmed that Alex was carrying two babies. This pregnancy has been exhausting and Alex’s energy levels have been low, but luckily, there haven’t been any concerns around gestational diabetes and Alex is not required to take any medications for her PCOS as she is already taking medication for her Lupus.
Alex wants other women with PCOS to try not to panic upon the diagnosis; it is impossible to tell what may happen. She recommends reading as much as you can, and suggests following a diet of low glycemic index foods. Alex suggests seeking advice from multiple sources and surrounding yourself with as much knowledge as possible to help feel in control. Take it one day at a time, and look to supportive family and friends to help you through the more challenging days.
For more information and support on PCOS visit the PCOS Awareness Association.
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Alyssa Keel has worked as a social worker in both Canada and the U.S. for several years. Living in Toronto, Alyssa is a single mum to a rambunctious five-year-old boy and amazing three-year-old identical twin girls, one of whom has Cerebral Palsy. During her high risk mono mono twin pregnancy, Alyssa began blogging, an extension of her love of writing. Alyssa loves taking photos and impromptu dance parties with her kids. Follow Alyssa and her family’s adventures at adventureswithmultiples.com