As women, it is our birthright to be able to carry a child. We’re born with all of the parts to create, nurture and give life, if we choose to. Yet, mostly through no fault of our own, some have been denied this right before even knowing it. In a world where IVF and other fertility treatments are on the rise, so many of us are fighting for that right.
I recently shared with you that I have PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome). It’s a metabolic disorder that affects your hormones, insulin levels and subsequently in some cases, your fertility. For many women, it’s a relatively quiet condition, whispering its existence in seemingly harmless ways, which depending on the observer, can be dismissed as ‘normal’ or ‘nothing to worry about’. This includes; facial and body hair, irregular, absent or painful periods, acne and weight gain. Of course, there are more serious symptoms that may be lying beneath; depression, infertility and insulin resistance that can lead to diabetes.
I suspect that I’d been living with PCOS for more than sixteen years before I was finally diagnosed with it six years ago. I knew since the age of twenty that something wasn’t quite right with my body, after noticing excess facial and body hair growing at age sixteen. It was a tell-tale sign of a hormonal imbalance, which was shrugged off as ‘normal’ and ‘nothing to worry about’ by many healthcare professionals. It took ten years and five different doctors to diagnose me with a condition that affects a significant number of women of childbearing age. I’m 33 years old now and blessed to be able to say that I’m a mother of a beautiful, healthy, adventurous and hilarious two-year-old boy.
Don’t get pregnant
Many of us spend our late teens and 20s doing all we can to not get pregnant. We’re bombarded with all types of messages, from family, media and society at large to do everything in our power to not get knocked up. The responsibility is always placed on us, the women, and understandably so. As much as it takes two to tango, unfortunately (and especially on this continent), many women are left to raise the babies themselves, with little or no help from said tango partner. In South Africa, more than 50% of children are growing up without a father.
Where are the babies?
All of a sudden, the late 20s hit and the questions start flooding in: ‘when are you getting married?’ , ‘you should be looking for a husband now’. Then, barely after the honeymoon is over, ‘when are you having children?’
This is where it gets tricky for me. We’ve been taught our whole lives to avoid pregnancy but when are we taught how to get pregnant? How to be more fertile? It’s wrongly assumed that it just happens until we try and then possibly get told the disheartening news that it may take a while to get there, if at all. I’m one of a few women who was diagnosed with my condition before I tried conceiving. And that only happened because my symptoms’ whispers became screams that didn’t stop until I found answers. I have many women in my life who only found out about their fibroids or endometriosis or weak cervix when they were already married and ready to have a child. Finding out at that age, generally ranging from 28 – 35, doesn’t leave us with much time to give our bodies the relevant treatment, or recovery after a surgery before realistically trying to conceive.
Now there’s a rush to conceive. Whereas, if there were more open conversations about preparing the body for pregnancy, checks, and balances when something is off, it might save a couple from going through the heartache of not being able to start a family.
When I first found out about my PCOS, I was distraught. I felt like my body had betrayed me. Especially because there was still no concrete explanation as to why women like me suffered from it. Kevin and I weren’t yet married, but we had been together for a long time and knew that’s where we were heading. I’m grateful that I’d already found my guy. It was one less thing to focus my time and energy on. Not every woman is this fortunate, and I don’t feel that society has shared enough awareness or placed enough support systems for women in these scenarios. Imagine the devastation of being told and repeatedly affirmed by family, media, even strangers enquiring about your womb’s functionality, that your only value as a woman is to bear children. Yet, your body isn’t on the same page.
I was on my doctor’s treatment plan for about a year and a half before I conceived Kai. It involved taking The Pill to balance my hormones, before coming off it to try and conceive. If my doctor hadn’t prepared my body through the hormonal management, a low GI diet and exercise, which all helped to shrink my multiple cysts before trying to conceive, I doubt that I would’ve fallen pregnant as soon as I did. Having said that, I don’t know how we’ll fare trying for our second baby.
Prevention is better than cure. Unfortunately, with some fertility conditions such as PCOS, there is no clear cause, nor an absolute cure. It’s about managing the symptoms and reducing those that affect your likelihood of conceiving. I think it would make sense to get a diagnosis, then treat the condition before trying to conceive. I believe that this is a better approach and will give a couple a head start into the baby making journey. As opposed to the alternative, which is finding out when the couple has already started trying, and possibly wasting valuable and precious time.
If you feel that something isn’t quite right – your periods are extremely painful, you have excess body or facial hair, you have unexplainable weight gain, or any other odd things happening in your body, please see a doctor. And if his or her answer doesn’t make sense to you, see someone else until you find answers.
Fight for your right to conceive.
Please let me know if you’d like to hear more about my PCOS journey, I’m happy to share. If you suspect you might have PCOS or any other fertility issues or have been diagnosed, please consult a medical professional.
I originally wrote this article for Baby Yum Yum.