Welcome to the 2014 Voices of PCOS blog series at The Infertility Voice, in honor of PCOS Awareness Month!
The Life and Times of a PCOS Poster Girl
By Whitney Burchfield
Editor’s Note: Please be aware this post discusses pregnancy and parenting.
When I was 15, I got rushed to the ER by a terrified mother who was convinced that my doubled-over abdominal pains were a result of appendicitis. After basically losing my V-Card to the ultrasound wand I was told I had an ovarian cyst the size of a grapefruit and had probably had another one rupture. I was given a prescription for birth control pills and sent on my merry way.
I have lost count of the number of cysts I have had, and that have painfully ruptured, since. No one ever mentioned PCOS.
I have been overweight since puberty and no matter how much I work out or diet, the weight seems to like life on my butt and hips. I have to wax my mustache religiously every two weeks. No one ever suggested I might have PCOS.
I have always had crazy irregular cycles. One time I went three months between periods, another time I bled for three straight weeks. Still no mention of PCOS.
Finally, at age 23, after having an inkling that my psycho cycles may be affecting the hubs’ and I’s efforts to spawn, I sought out a new OB-GYN. When I explained my concerns, she simply raised one eyebrow and said:
“You realize you are the poster-child for PCOS, right?”
This is how I met Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, which has much in common with your crazy aunt who loves to show you her colonoscopy pictures. It is awkward, uncomfortable, and often makes me want to stab my eyeballs out, but it’s there all the same. It affects most things I do, from the way I build my family to the way I plan my meals. Much like Great Aunt Ethel’s colon pics, I just have to smile, nod, and make it through the best I can.
One of the hardest parts of living with PCOS is dealing with the physical effects and the way others perceive them. I feel like others are constantly judging me either because I fall somewhere between what Gabriel Iglesias would call husky and fluffy, or because if there is ever a crippling shortage of facial wax, I could get a new career as a Zach Galifinakis stunt double.
People don’t like fat, and they don’t like facial hair when it is above a set of DD boobs. It is easy for people to assume that because I’m fat and fuzzy, I park on my couch all day and eat donuts like Homer Simpson, which I don’t… usually. It goes without saying that this can wreak havoc on your self-esteem.
It is easy to get discouraged when you work out and eat healthy get little-to-no results for your trouble. The other day at work, one of my co-workers thought I had a piece of fuzz stuck to my face and thought she would be nice and pull it off for me. Well, when she pulled I let out a yelp because the hair was FREAKING ATTACHED! And did I mention the hair was about two inches long… and black as the ace of spades? Yeah, she wanted to crawl in a hole and die for waxing me in public and I wanted to crawl in a hole and die for sprouting hairs like last week’s moldy leftovers.
Usually the easiest way to deal with such humiliations is laughter, but that can be hard to remember when the sting of the recently removed hair is still on your face.
Then there was getting pregnant.
We put in a year of “not trying, not preventing” with no result, followed by six months of actually tracking cycles and peeing on OPK sticks. It only took me a couple of months to realize that something was, ahem, different about my plumbing’s routine. After a couple of cycles, one of which lasted a never-ending sixty days, I realized that I wasn’t reading the OPK stick wrong, I never ovulated.
We had recently moved, so I set out to find a new doctor and, voila! PCOS. Being told I had PCOS didn’t make things feel any better but at least I knew that this wasn’t a random weirdness unique to just me.
After my diagnosis, I was put on Metformin but we took a baby-making break to focus on each other and our marriage. Well, all of that focusing on each other had some surprising consequences, and I ended up pregnant. Unfortunately, I lost that pregnancy at seven weeks.
My rational brain knew that miscarriages are common and usually the result of some chromosomal brainfart that I could not have changed or prevented in any way. But, I still blamed myself. I was broken. First my body couldn’t make a baby, and then it couldn’t carry one. I cannot begin to describe how low I felt at this point.
I will say that one positive thing that came from the miscarriage was it lit a fire under my ass. I wanted to be a mom – ASAP! I told my doctor that it was time to get the show on the road. She wrote me a prescription for Clomid and sent the hubs off to make sweet love to a specimen cup. My Clomid cycle went swimmingly. However, the day I was supposed to get the magical trigger shot to turn my gorgeous follicle into a squishy magical-smelling baby, I was informed that my husband’s baby batter was “a total hot mess”.
My notoriously perky doctor told me that we were taking the fast-train to IVF land and didn’t even give me my trigger shot because she thought it would be a waste of time since the other half of the equation was so dismal. Since we don’t have an extra $10,000 laying around for IVF or adoption, I began looking into adopting fifty cats since I thought that was where my life was heading.
What was really sad was that I found the information that my husband was also reproductively challenged strangely comforting. I wasn’t the only reason we weren’t getting pregnant, and it was a relief to not be shouldering all of the blame.
Luckily, my doctor’s IVF predictions turned out to be off base. My awesome Clomid cycle ended up being just what we needed, even with bum swimmers. I got pregnant a couple of days after I was told we were among the fertility-doomed. PCOS even put its mark on my pregnancy, because the insulin-resistance that comes with the condition puts you at a high risk for gestational diabetes, which I of course ended up with. I had to test my blood four times a day, take insulin shots, and couldn’t have all the cupcakes I wanted.
But you know what? It was totally worth it when I gave birth to the healthy baby boy that I was never supposed to have. He is almost two now and is super smart and the happiest little boy I’ve ever met. He makes PCOS and all of the struggles worth it because if everything wouldn’t have happened exactly the way it did, I wouldn’t have THIS little boy. And I am supposed to have THIS little boy.
I am pregnant with my second child (this time with no fertility treatments, maybe karma owed us one?), and I am supposed to be having THIS baby now. My life right now feels like it was always supposed to work out this way, because life and the people in it are too good of a fit to be by coincidence.
Motherhood has put a lot in perspective for me, even PCOS. Yeah I’m still overweight, I still feel like people judge me for it, and I still think if I really tried I could grow a mustache like the Lorax. But that’s just my life.
Maybe everything does happen for a reason, even those random sprouting cheek hairs.
Whitney Burchfield doesn’t blog because she’s convinced no one cares what she has to say. She is a full-time mommy and full-time nurse and her goal for her family is to be more like Ozzy and Sharon than Ozzie and Harriet. Three fun facts: She can pick up anything with her toes, She starts counting down to Halloween in April, and she has a serious crush on Peter Dinklage from Game of Thrones.