It took me about 13 months to get pregnant. Compared to many women with PCOS trying to conceive, I feel very fortunate it only took that long. However, if you are in the process of trying to get pregnant, every month or cycle can feel like a lifetime and from my experience, this feeling tends to get worse with time.
I went off birth control right around the time I got married (end of September 2018). I honestly had not thought of my PCOS in a few years and I genuinely hoped I would be the exception to the rule and get pregnant by Christmas that same year. After all, I followed a pretty healthy diet. You know, being a dietitian and all.
But I was sorely mistaken.
My menstrual cycles became quickly irregular, ranging from 33 to 65 days. This made it very difficult to know when to test for ovulation. Christmas 2018 was a tough time for me. Everyone seemed as though they focused on when I was going to get pregnant, but I think a lot of that pressure was what I built in my own mind.
That following January, I decided to make my mental health a priority. I realized I was struggling mentally with the challenge of trying to conceive, so I reached out to a licensed therapist for help. This was NOT an easy decision for me. I have always prided myself on being a strong and confident person. I had never really thought of myself as someone that would need “therapy”. But it turned out to be one of the best decisions I made for myself. I would recommend it to anyone, especially any woman with PCOS due to our population being more prone to anxiety or mood disorders anyways.
At that time, I don’t think I quite realized how much I internalized different stressors (both work and personal). I put a lot of pressure on myself to meet certain personal goals, getting pregnant within a defined time frame being one of them. I learned A LOT about myself. For example, I’m a little more type A in certain areas of my life than I may come off externally. I was setting goals for myself that often set me up for disappointment.
Spring started and while I continued to work on my mental health, I finally decided to reach out to an OBGYN to start discussing my fertility treatment options. My OBGYN at the time recommended Provera to help me have more regular periods in combination with Clomid to help stimulate ovulation. I didn’t love the idea of taking pills to help me get pregnant but at that point, I was willing to give it a go.
I took both Provera and Clomid the first month, but due to scheduling issues I skipped the next couple months. I stopped taking Provera altogether; I just didn’t really see the benefit. Diet-wise, I hadn’t really tried anything different other than increasing my intake of anti-inflammatory foods such as ginger, turmeric, and leafy greens.
July rolled around and a few things were changing in my life. I was turning 30 years old and my job was transitioning into a position I no longer enjoyed. Not to mention, I was still not pregnant. I did some serious self-reflection. I asked myself:
- “Do I really want to do this job anymore?”
- “Does this job really fulfill my inner purpose?”
- “Does this job have the ability to transition into something that is flexible if I get pregnant and start having children?”
After much deliberation and discussion with my husband, I decided to quit my job. It was not an easy decision and I was absolutely terrified! I didn’t quite know what I was going to do but at the end of the day, I was confident in my ability to figure it out.
For the first time in many years I didn’t have a job and wasn’t in school. For a while, I felt pretty off-the-grid, especially since we kicked off my newfound freedom with a boating trip to the Florida Keys with my in-laws. Not too shabby! Although I was terrified of not knowing what I was going to do next with my career, I felt absolutely liberated. Elated might be the better word to explain it. My therapist graduated me stating “you just seem so much happier”. And I couldn’t have agreed more!
For a month or so, I just kind of floated around in my unemployment phase making recipes, blog writing, expanding on ideas I was interested in, or just allowing myself to do things that felt organic to me. As I had more time to look into research related to fertility, it dawned on me that that my long-ago PCOS diagnosis may be affecting my fertility now. Light bulb!
I started reading research every moment I could, following and learning from helpful dietitians in the PCOS realm and tweaking my diet accordingly as I learned more. I started a gluten and dairy-free diet to determine if I had any intolerance issues. Quite frankly, I didn’t feel much different going gluten and dairy-free. I think that was a testament to the health of my routine diet as it was. I also found a dairy and gluten-free diet to be rather unsustainable long-term. I did notice some acne when I started introducing dairy back into my diet, but I determined how many servings of dairy a day kept my acne in check. When it came to gluten, I really didn’t feel any different. I did however become more aware of the effect that simple carbohydrates had on my energy levels, but that was just a reminder of something I already knew.
The main focus of my dietary changes turned into what foods to start including MORE, such as omega 3 fatty acid sources, nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and plant-based proteins. Dietary supplements such as Ovasitol, N-acetylcysteine, a proper prenatal vitamin, probiotic, omega 3-fatty acid, vitamin D, CBD oil, and a B-complex were also started. I based this on my personal dietitian assessment of what my diet and lifestyle needed.
At the same time as I was starting to make dietary changes, I followed up with my primary care physician who (god bless her) had a hunch that I may have some underlying thyroid issues. She diagnosed me with clinical hypothyroidism and started treating me with thyroid medication based on my symptoms and optimal lab values for fertility. After talking with many cysters and hearing their struggles with diagnosis and treatment with both PCOS and thyroid issues, I feel really lucky that my primary care physician was in-tune to treating the ‘whole person’ for fertility.
For the following three months, I continued tweaking my diet to promote better management of my PCOS and for optimal fertility. I started addressing my mindset surrounding the month to month roller coaster of emotions each menstrual cycle can have. I started using positive affirmations and actually believing I was going to not only get pregnant, but meet other career and personal goals. In addition, I used Clomid 2 out of those 3 months.
In addition to these dietary changes and use of Clomid, I started making small changes to reduce both me and my husband’s toxin load. We stopped drinking from plastic water bottles and I started transitioning most of my makeup, skincare, and household products to cleaner products to help reduce our exposure to endocrine disrupters. Low and behold, my cycles became more regular and I got pregnant in November!
I couldn’t believe it! After months of negative pregnancy tests, I had to take at least two more tests before I could believe it was true! After much reflection, this is a testament to addressing the WHOLE BODY when it comes to your health and fertility. In the year (more specifically the 3 months) leading up to my pregnancy, I made some serious life changes when it came to managing my stress better. I developed a healthier mindset and I honed in on specific nutrients and supplements to increase in my diet for optimal fertility. While I believe addressing diet and lifestyle FIRST is the best approach to managing PCOS, I also believe that there is a place for combining functional and conventional medicine. I am proof of that.
What to take from this information?
It’s so easy to obsess over replicating every little thing I did to see if it works for you. I used my nutrition and science background to individualize my nutrition based on my needs. I also worked closely with my primary care physician and OBGYN to combine both conventional and functional medicine. THAT, in my opinion, is the best way to approach PCOS and fertility. This is exactly why I developed my Restore Your Fertility 1:1 coaching program so that I could become a resource (which are often limited for women with PCOS) to cysters so that they can feel empowered to overcome their infertility by using specific diet and lifestyle changes right for THEM. If you’re ready to find out what’s driving your PCOS and start managing your PCOS better so you can get pregnant then apply to my 1:1 coaching program today!