Loyal readers of The Twin Source know that Melanie is part of our fantastic Consumer Research Team and that she is chock full of amazing parenting tips. Even though she does not have twins, Melanie felt compelled to share the story of her pregnancy journey with The Twin Source community because many of you may be able to relate to it. Complications in trying to conceive her firstborn led to a medical diagnosis of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome for Melanie. Many women with PCOS turn to fertility treatments to aid in pregnancy, which can lead to having twins. Melanie wanted to share her story to provide a personal perspective on PCOS along with some sage advice.
It started with a single moment: I had an angry outburst over my pants not buttoning up that led to crying hysterically and finished with a deep belly laugh. It was my breaking point and the reason I decided to make an appointment with an experienced specialist in reproductive endocrinology.
After meeting with the specialist and undergoing several rounds of blood work, bimonthly ultrasounds, and a hysterosalpingogram, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and partially blocked fallopian tubes. Relief set in: I was finally able to understand what was going on in my body and why I was suffering from so many strange symptoms, although there is still a lot of mystery surrounding PCOS. But wait, what the heck is PCOS anyway?
What Is PCOS?
I am part of a growing statistic. I am part of the 5% to 10% of childbearing women who have been diagnosed with PCOS.
The formal definition, according to the American Pregnancy Association, is "a condition that affects a woman's menstrual cycle, fertility, hormones, insulin production, circulatory system, and appearance. Women have both male and female hormones, but women who have PCOS have higher levels of male hormones and experience irregular or absent menstrual cycles and small fluid-filled cysts on their ovaries."
What this means is physical symptoms such as irregular menstrual cycles, fluctuating weight gain, bloating, and severe pelvic pain from the cysts on my ovaries—which is especially bad when I have a full bladder. Oh, and did I mention the mood swings? Let's just say PCOS takes PMS to a whole new level (or at least that's what I blamed it on).
A pair of pants can fit one day and not the next, depending on the bloating and weight gain. Overnight, my weight can go up or down 5 pounds or one to two dress sizes.
My cycles are irregular and can range anywhere from 28 to 56 days, which can present a problem when trying to conceive. Irregular cycles make it extremely difficult to track ovulation, and fluctuating hormone levels cause inaccurate readings on several at-home ovulation predictor kits—not to mention prolonged periods of PMS and other discomforts.
Getting pregnant can be extremely challenging when you have PCOS. I found the combination of acupuncture, medical assistance from a reproductive endocrinologist, and improved diet and exercise to be the perfect recipe. It's time-consuming and can be stressful, but in the end it worked for me and I was able to conceive naturally.
- Acupuncture and cycle regulation. Acupuncture and herbal medicines have been extremely helpful in regulating my cycles and minimizing the discomfort of my PCOS symptoms. Frequent and consistent acupuncture treatments are very important. When selecting an acupuncturist, consider someone who specializes in fertility for best results. Your acupuncturist may consider supplementing your treatments with herbal medicines, such as custom Chinese tea, vitex pills, maca root powder, or green powder. (For a tasty way to consume fertility-boosting foods and supplements, see the Fertility Smoothie recipe.)
- Medical assistance. Weekly visits to the reproductive endocrinologist were essential in monitoring my cycles to pinpoint ovulation for timed intercourse. Weekly exams consisted of ultrasounds to check cysts, follicles, and uterine lining. Blood work was used to determine hormone levels. Because PCOS causes irregular hormones, it's very difficult to track ovulation using the ovulation predictor kits. I found the blood work and weekly exams to be much more reliable, but obviously way more time-consuming. It's very important to select a reputable reproductive endocrinologist who is board-certified and who has experience treating patients with PCOS. Select a location that is convenient for you and an office that provides flexible hours. For example, early morning hours or weekend hours are a plus for working women. Flexibility and reliability are important, especially if you are going weekly.
- Diet and exercise. Proper diet and exercise are also essential. Balancing your carb intake is very important for managing your insulin levels. Overproduction of insulin can have a direct impact on androgen (male hormone) production. I love all things bread, so it was not easy for me to cut back on carbs. But once I did—wow!—what a huge difference it made in how I felt and how much energy I had. In addition to watching your carbs, devote at least 30 minutes a day to exercise, which increases production of the hormones testosterone and estrogen. Thirty minutes a day of exercise is doable—park far away from your office or the store, take a walk at lunch, or walk with your family after dinner. Make the time and do it. In my experience, the months where I consistently exercised and monitored my diet, my cycles were more normal than the months I "fell off the wagon."
There Is Hope!
PCOS is frustrating and complicated, and it adds a level of complexity to getting pregnant. Making changes to your diet and exercise habits, and obtaining proper care from Eastern and Western specialists, may help you as it helped me.
After 16 months of trying to conceive, my husband and I were blessed with the news that I was pregnant! It was one of the happiest moments of my life. Miracles do happen!
Melanie is an honest-to-goodness California mommy. Residing in Malibu, she is ever-conscious of maintaining a healthy lifestyle for herself and her family.
Photography by Stephanie Kleinman.
NOTE: The information contained on The Twin Source is not intended for medical diagnosis. Any medical information found on this site should be discussed with your health care professional. Always consult your doctor for any medical advice.