Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder typically characterized by irregular, painful periods, above-average androgens and ovarian cysts. Five to ten percent of women of childbearing age have PCOS, but fewer recognize it because symptoms may seem different for everyone, according to Jeanette R. Tomasino MS, RNC, MNN, Director of Clinical Education and Quality at Progyny. PCOS patients sometimes have hair on the face, chest or abdomen, oily skin, high BMIs, or insulin resistance that can lead to type 2 diabetes. And since many women with PCOS ovulate irregularly or not at all, a common symptom is infertility.
Jessi Wallace, a Fertility Authority contributor and Life Abundant blogger, first discovered that she had PCOS when she was trying to get pregnant. After he moved away from birth control, his period was stopped. The first doctor was to confirm that he was not ovulating but did not think that PCOS was to blame because he was not overweight. (The truth is only about half of PCOS patients are.) I was not satisfied with the lack of diagnosis, and more red flags went up when the doctor prescribed Clomid, which induces ovulation in about 80 percent of women with PCOS and 30-40 percent help get pregnant without programming any follicular ultrasound, which is supposed to do. She wanted to understand what was happening in her body and to feel supported in her effort to get pregnant.
“I felt like it was just another number for her,” she recalls. She advises other women with PCOS to “go with their instincts when it comes to their doctors and take control of their care and not be afraid to find a different doctor if they feel they are being fired.”
So, that’s what he did. She sought an opinion from a new doctor, who diagnosed her with PCOS and discussed what it meant for her fertility. This time, she continued with Clomid and received periodic ultrasound. Women often begin exploring other options after six rounds of Clomid without results, but Wallace persevered for seven, and finally worked.
Some women with PCOS are at increased risk of complications such as miscarriage, gestational diabetes and pregnancy due to preeclampsia, says Tomasino, and some who have been on Clomid give birth prematurely because it can lead to multiple gestation. But fortunately, Wallace was able to have a normal pregnancy.
That does not mean it was emotionally easy, though. Before giving birth to her daughter, she was terrified of losing her pregnancy and having to redo the process again. “You’re more of a worrisome wart, you’re already heavily invested at that time, financially, physically, and emotionally,” he says. “When you have to fight to get to that point, you’re more nervous because you do not want to lose it.”
She was also worried that her daughter might suffer from PCOS and all the complications that could lead her, but since she does not seem to run in her family, she figures she will cross that bridge if she gets there.
Wallace’s second attempt at pregnancy has not been so smooth. “It was very hard for my body,” he says. Fertility treatments caused weight gain, hot flashes and constant exhaustion, and fluctuating hormones produced mood swings. In addition to that, her insurance did not cover any of the treatments.
“Add that I deeply desire to be a mother, and now I deeply desire to cultivate my family, it is a horrible feeling,” she says. “When you physically can not seem to do it and want to deeply, you struggle with how you feel as a woman.”
Although Wallace chose not to, some women use in vitro fertilization in this situation.
But whatever method they choose, it is possible for women with PCOS to have children. In fact, Wallace says that struggling to get pregnant with PCOS has made her appreciate motherhood even more. “When you know that you may be the only child you can have, you will not look to the future as if you would have more children,” you see it as “I was lucky and this can be for me,” she says. “I think I’m more patient as a mother than I would have been if I had not gone on that trip.”