Life is a miracle. It’s also messy. It starts messy, it ends messy, and there’s a lot of messy stuff in between. What a lot of people don’t know is how messy life often is, before it even begins.
My husband and I decided to start trying to conceive when he accepted his dream job, which meant security, stability, job satisfaction, and (thank the good Lord) health insurance. I had been pushing for it for at least a year before that, but I’m every kind of grateful that he resisted my efforts. About 8 months before our life-changing move from Oregon to Washington, I had picked up a gem of a book called Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler. I don’t remember exactly how I heard about the book, but I had known for some time that I was ready to be off hormonal birth control, yet we weren’t ready to start a family. Reading the book taught me about Natural Family Planning, which is a form of birth control/pregnancy achievement that relies on a combination of fertility signs your body gives you to let you know when you are about to ovulate and when you have done so. Without getting into too much detail, it’s actually quite scientific and if executed properly, can be used to either avoid or achieve pregnancy very successfully, without the use of any extra hormones at all. I bring this up to give some background to our “TTC” (that’s Trying To Conceive, for the uninitiated) journey.
Because I had read this book and used Natural Family Planning as a method of birth control for quite some time, I believed that when we agreed to try to get pregnant, we would be successful very quickly. I of course had heard that it may not happen right away, but we threw caution to the wind (as it were) in July 2012, and I fully expected to be pregnant by December of that same year.
My self-imposed deadline came and went without so much as a hint of success. The first few months were okay- a bit disappointing, but we were busy getting settled into our new lives, new jobs, new home. There was plenty of time to make a baby. But as the seasons changed, friends and relatives began announcing pregnancies, both expected and unexpected, and I discovered that these announcements stung me. I wondered when it would be our turn. 2013 began, and I continued to take my basal body temperature every morning and plot it on a chart. I checked my fertility signs religiously. We did everything right. Still, nothing. I don’t know how many negative pregnancy tests I took (always testing earlier than someone who wasn’t actively charting their fertility signs, because I knew exactly when a test would begin to show a positive- it’s much earlier than one might expect), but suffice it to say it was many. They all hurt. My husband once discovered the instructions to a box of tests in the garbage can, torn completely to shreds in a fit of despair.
The red and painful ending of every cycle felt like a physical punishment for some crime I hadn’t known I’d committed. The cramps felt like a throbbing reminder that I had once again failed, that something was wrong, that my body wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do. The subject of babies became sore and painful. I hid friends on Facebook who were having babies of their own; their oblivious joy was like rubbing a sunburn. I actively avoided the baby aisle at the store. Seeing a pregnant woman in public felt like a physical punch to my gut. I began to wonder if it was God’s will that we spend our lives without a biological child. I struggled daily to be okay with it, if that was what He wanted. But oh, how my heart ached. I tutor children for a living, and my chest would physically hurt at times, to be near to them.
When we reached a year of infertility, I made an appointment with a doctor. All the standard hormone tests came back normal, as did my husband’s. Then an ultrasound revealed the tell-tale “string of pearls” of cysts on my ovaries that accompanies PCOS, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and finally, finally! A reason! An explanation! My body was not just mysteriously dysfunctional- there was a name for it. A purpose. And possibly, a solution.
PCOS is very common, I believe the statistic is that 1 in 9 women have it, though many go undiagnosed. My case is what is considered “skinny” PCOS because it hasn’t brought, for me, the challenge of unexplained weight gain (and difficulty losing weight) that many women with PCOS have to struggle with. (I did, however, get the abundance of unwanted facial hair. Thank God for waxing.) One of the main hallmarks, and the reason that it was affecting my fertility, is that PCOS delays (or altogether stops) ovulation. A woman with a “normal” cycle will ovulate somewhere around day 14 of her cycle- a woman with PCOS often ovulates much later, if at all. This means long, irregular cycles that make timing baby-making very difficult, sometimes downright impossible. I cried out of relief and frustration to know that there was in fact something going wrong with my fertility, that it wasn’t all in my head but that something in my body was somehow messed up.
In August of 2013, the same month I was diagnosed, I decided to start eating a Paleo diet. I had heard that it could be very beneficial for ladies with PCOS, and I was ready to grab the bull by the horns now that I had my blindfold off and could see those horns clearly. Eating Paleo also meant a plunge down a very dark rabbit hole of terrible body image and obsession over what I ate, an unfortunate mental side effect of a way of eating that is actually very healthy for your body. I can’t say for sure that eating Paleo helped me get pregnant, but I do know that I changed my diet rather drastically midway through August after over a year of trying unsuccessfully to conceive, and just a few short months later, in December (a year after my own self-imposed December deadline), I took my very first positive pregnancy test.
(See the rest of this post in Part 2, coming soon!)