Photo courtesy of Hillary Till
Last October, my husband and I began our journey to become first time parents. Naturally, the first step I took was discontinuing my birth control. I had been on birth control for over 10 years and was lucky to never experience negative side effects such as weight gain or irregular cycles. While on birth control, my cycles were right on time. I assumed discontinuing birth control wouldn’t be an issue, and I would be pregnant within a few months. Boy was I wrong!
At 33 years old, I’ve always had a great relationship with my body and knew it pretty well. I enjoy exercising and staying physically active, and I am fortunate enough to have a high metabolism. If I gained weight, it was usually from eating too much Whataburger, lack of exercise or stress. So, when the numbers creeped up on the scale, I'd make a few adjustments by eating healthier and increasing my physical activity to improve my overall health and well-being.
Shortly after discontinuing my birth control, I noticed symptoms that I never had before. I started getting painful acne on my face that felt like tiny blisters. Then I began to gain weight even though I was eating healthy and exercising regularly. Because these signs were occurring around the holiday season, I thought the weight gain was due to eating too many cookies and the acne was from too much chocolate. I brushed it off, and like every other person, I made the New Year’s resolution to hit the gym. But after completing a 40-day hot yoga challenge and eating fairly healthy, nothing changed. In fact, more symptoms emerged. I became extremely irritable after my cycle rather than before.
By March 2021, I was fed up and exhausted. What was wrong with me? Why weren’t we having luck conceiving? And why does my body seem so foreign to me? I started researching my symptoms. To be honest, I’m usually weary of doing this because I think this could only lead to more questions than answers and it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole. I checked out the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) website and almost immediately Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) appeared. The symptoms listed were the exact same symptoms I was experiencing.
I learned that PCOS is a hormonal disorder that causes enlarged ovaries with small cysts on the outer edges. PCOS is not a “one size shoe fits all” diagnosis, so managing symptoms is different for each individual. According to ACOG, the cause of PCOS is unknown but it’s believed to be related to concurrent factors such as insulin resistance, increased androgen production from the ovaries, and an irregular menstrual cycle. Symptoms include weight gain, painful acne, excessive hair growth, and fatigue (this explains why I am not and never will be a morning person). Since PCOS is a hormonal disorder, there is no cure and only symptoms can be managed. PCOS is associated with several health risks such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, endometrial cancer and depression.
After my discovery, I talked to some of our wonderful physicians at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women about their experiences treating patients with PCOS. Based on my research, I decided to work with a dietitian and try a low-carb diet. I also made an appointment with Dr. Lindsay Longerot for a consult at Women’s Specialist of Houston, one of the four private OB/GYN practices at the Pavilion for Women and in the community. My first appointment with Dr. Longerot was outstanding. She listened to my concerns and took excellent notes. I knew right away I was in good hands. Interestingly, I learned birth control actually masks the symptoms of PCOS which is why everything seemed very normal to me.
From my own experience, PCOS can feel extremely isolating especially if you are in the process of trying to conceive. Personally, I have found much comfort in talking about my diagnosis with close friends and families. By opening up about my personal experience and struggles, I’ve learned that so many other women are struggling with PCOS or other infertility issues. When this happens, it’s a great way for us to vent and talk about our experiences with PCOS because every story is unique and personal. There are a ton of great support groups for people with PCOS that can be a great source of information and comfort.
Currently, I manage my symptoms with a low-carb diet and exercise. I also make sure to take time for my mental health by going for long walks with my husband and our dog in the evenings. If you are personally struggling with PCOS, you’re not alone. If you are trying to conceive, you can still achieve a successful pregnancy. While I am still managing my PCOS and still on my journey to one day achieve motherhood, I am thankful to be in such great hands with Dr. Longerot and her team. I hope that by sharing my personal experience, it will encourage others to pay attention to any unusual symptoms and consult their OB/GYN.
September is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Awareness Month. Click here to learn more about the Pavilion for Women and the continuum of care we provide to our patients including those with PCOS.