Friday, July 15, 2016

I am 1 in 10-Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Today, I am going to do an overview of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. I want to share my experience with it, as well as educate people on this seemingly invisible disorder.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common hormonal disorders in women of child bearing age. 1 in 10 women have PCOS, yet more than 50% are not diagnosed. This is due to there not being a single "test" to diagnose it, but rather a list of criteria that must be met.

If a women has at least two out of the three following criteria, she is diagnosed with PCOS:

1. 12 or more follicles (cysts) are visible on at least one ovary.
2. There are high levels of androgens (male hormones), and/or symptoms suggesting excess androgens (excess body hair growth, acne, weight gain, etc).
3. Menstrual dysfunction, including lack of periods, irregular periods, and/or lack of ovulation.

Some common symptoms that people with PCOS may have are obesity, anxiety, depression, insomnia, male pattern baldness, insulin resistance, dandruff, acne, fatigue, infertility, unwanted facial/body hair, miscarriage, excess sweating, irregular periods, memory loss and aggressive mood swings. As you can see, there are many layers to this syndrome, all of which are difficult for any woman to face.

As for me, I was only talked to about PCOS when I went to my OBYN at age 22 (despite having multiple symptoms for years and discussing them with prior doctors.) Even this OBGYN was very misinformed about it. After being off of birth control pills for months, I had only had my period once. After that period, it had been over 100 days when I finally went to see my OBGYN. She talked about PCOS being a possibility and ordered an ultrasound. She didn't see too many follicles/cysts and wrote off PCOS for me.

My OBGYN prescribed me Clomid, an oral medical to assist in ovulation. I also had to use medication to induce a period as I was not getting them naturally. After a few rounds of Clomid being unsuccessful with making me ovulate or conceive, I went to a fertility specialist. He diagnosed me with PCOS. During an ultrasound, he saw over 100 small follicles on each of my ovaries. He also noted that I exhibited a lot of the symptoms of excess androgens (acne, facial hair, weight gain, ugh). Add in my irregular cycles and I am basically textbook PCOS.

There are definitely some myths related to PCOS that I would like to address:

Myth: You must have ovarian cysts/excess follicles to be diagnosed with PCOS. 
Fact: Actually, you don't have to have any cysts to be diagnosed with PCOS. The ultrasound that I had done with my OBGYN showed no abnormal amount cysts at that time (probably due to the years on birth control quieting my ovaries a bit). Yet I still exhibited 2 out of the 3 criteria required to be diagnosed.

Myth: You cannot get pregnant with PCOS. 
Fact: It is possible to get pregnant with PCOS. And some women can conceive naturally without any medical intervention. Yet others will need medical intervention. For the average women with PCOS, my fertility specialist said it isn't so much if they can get pregnant, but how.

Myth: PCOS can be cured with hormonal birth control. 
Fact: Hormonal birth control can help mask the symptoms, but it does not cure the syndrome. I was on birth control for years, thinking that my cycle had regulated and my acne had improved. Yet once I got off of it, my symptoms returned. It can be a great tool to help manage symptoms until you try to conceive though.

My goal is to try and get some information out there about a disorder that is so rarely talked about, yet is so prevalent among women of child bearing age. As I said earlier, 1 in 10 women in that age range have PCOS, yet it's thought that over 50% are undiagnosed. If you feel like you may have PCOS, please consult with a medical professional. I wish I had known earlier and could have better prepared for what I would face when trying to conceive, as well as understand why my body was doing the things that it was.

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out through comments or email.

Love and Blessings,

Annmarie Faye

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Love, Marriage, Infertility?

Hi, my name is Annmarie. I'm 23 years old, married to an amazing man, and we are having problems with infertility.

Without suffering with infertility, one can never grasp how painful and scary it is to just type the sentence above. As someone who is very open and honest about their life, I was not prepared for the shame, fear, and isolation that comes from finding out that you can't just "go and get pregnant."

When I started dating Brad and things were getting serious, I pictured my life with him. We planned on getting married, waiting a few years for me to graduate college and get some work experience, and then we would have children. This plan seemed reasonable, and while I definitely started to get "baby fever" earlier than I had hoped, we still followed our original game plan. We were doing things the right way. First comes love, then marriage, then the baby carriage, right? And although I was prepared for it to take us a few months, I was not prepared for what was actually in store for us.

Instead of everything going in accordance to my precise planning, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). This is an endocrine disorder that causes my estrogen and progesterone to be out of balance. It's a very complicated disorder, leading to a plethora of symptoms. One of these symptoms is not being able to ovulate regularly, if at all. This makes it almost impossible to get pregnant naturally.

My heart broke when I learned that my dream of being a mother is not going to happen the way that I had always planned. Instead of designing our nursery and shopping for cribs, I started the journey of researching what might increase our odds of conceiving. I tried prayers, holistic approaches, acupuncture, oral medication, mindfulness, and stress reduction. I watched many loved ones announce their own pregnancies. Baby pictures and baby commercials seemed to be everywhere while I tried to implement another intervention to increase our odds.

Studies show that women with infertility have the same levels of anxiety and depression as do women with cancer, heart disease, and a HIV+ status, and I can see why. When you yearn for something so badly, but have very little control on if and when it happens, it can drive you into a dark place. The pain, tears, worry, and anger can easily envelop you. The multitude of Dr's appointments and medications, including their side effects, can make your head spin.

The few things that have given me inklings of hope were my prayers to God, and discovering other couples who are going through this as well. It is estimated that at least 1 in 10 couples face infertility, yet it seems that very few of them ever "come out of the infertility closet." And for awhile, I didn't want to either. I talked to a few close friends, as well as coworkers to explain my increasing absences for appointments, but have otherwise buried it with shame. Yet almost every time I did open up to someone about our fertility struggles, that person would share that they or someone they knew dealt with infertility.

So after many prayers, I am coming forward with our fertility journey for a few reasons.

1) I want to increase the amount of prayer warriors lifting their hearts for us and our journey to grow our family. I'm asking for prayers that we conceive, prayers of wisdom and discernment as to what steps to take medically, and prayers for guidance as to when to change course in our journey to grow our family.

2) I need to free myself from the shame and lies. So many times I've felt that I had to make up why I am going to the Dr. so much, why I have hot flashes and nausea from medications, and why Brad and I don't have any children yet. I am physically and emotionally exhausted and ready to tell people the authentic truth.

3) I want escape the isolation of this journey and hopefully connect with others going through this as well.

I am not sure how much of our journey I will share, or in how much detail. But I do know that I am sick and tired of hiding one of the hardest journeys that Brad and I have ever faced. Yes, we are currently using fertility medication and other interventions in hopes to expand our family. No, this is not at all how I pictured my life would be. But one way or another, Brad and I will be parents. We just will need some help to do so. And there is no reason to feel shame or guilt because of that.

I send all of my love to anyone wrestling with the grief of infertility. You are not alone. And never hesitate to reach out to me.

Love and Blessings,

Annmarie Faye