I had no idea I had PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) and I didn’t have my diagnosis until I was 32 and trying for a baby. I had regular monthly cycles and no scan had ever picked up any cysts on my ovaries. I always had quite bad skin and acne as a teenager though and investigations before we began our fertility treatment also indicated I had high cholesterol levels. It has become quite clear that PCOS is now related to a problem with insulin. High levels of insulin have an effect on the ovary, preventing ovulation and cause a rise in androgen (testosterone levels) which was the case with me.
Whilst having acupuncture (to help me conceive naturally) I was asked to take my temperature every morning and after a few months of this it became very clear on my chart that I was not ovulating. This very simple method picked up my PCOS way before any medical intervention did. You can see from my chart below there was no substantial dip in my temperature followed by a rise which usually indicates you have released an egg. Your temperature rises in response to the presence of the heat-inducing hormone progesterone which is only released after ovulation.
I do think that temperature charting is a great (cheap) way to keep track and identify before ovulation occurs but it can also make you quite obsessive trying to create a cycle looking for a perfect follicular and luteal phase. It was actually a relief for me once I started fertility treatment to throw away the thermometer and temperature charts.
The biggest issue with PCOS is irregular or no periods and if you are not regularly releasing eggs it makes it much harder to get pregnant. Another fact I wasn’t aware of was that although I was having regular monthly cycles that does not confirm I was actually releasing an egg and most of the time my monthly bleed could have been hormone related rather than due to ovulation.
I was put on the ever popular fertility drug Clomid (clomiphene) which causes the pituitary gland to release hormones needed to stimulate ovulation. Unfortunately for me clomid did not induce ovulation and I was offered a different drug called Letrozole (Femara) which is actually a hormone therapy drug used to treat breast cancer in women who have been through the menopause. I responded much better to Letrozole and each cycle I did ovulate. Unfortunately after 3 cycles on letrozole and despite producing eggs each time I failed to conceive. Another 3 unsuccessful IUI (Intrauterine inseminantion) cycles proceeded and then we decided it was time to move on.
As we were about to embark on IVF and after so many failed cycles of treatment I did start to look at other aspects of my fertility I could improve such as diet and further holistic therapies. I wanted to gain some control after so much disappointment and my diet was something I could focus on. I didn’t eat that well before, I never had to worry about my weight so I have always got away with eating high sugar and high fat. With my high cholesterol and PCOS diagnosis I made a real effort to eat more nutritious food. Straight away I eliminated caffeine, I never drank coffee but tea was replaced with decaffeinated and I stopped eating chocolate and sweets. I was also quite partial to fizzy drinks daily so they were replaced with water.
I also tried kinesiology (they study the mechanics of body movments) and it was identified that my body was overloaded with wheat flour. I started a good probiotic and decided to go gluten-free in the build up to my IVF. I was advised if I was to eat bread or wheat flour it was to be organic. A big part of my diet became organic and by eliminating all the sugar and junk I noticed a big change in my health within a week or two. My hair looked healthy and my skin was clear but I was also loosing weight. I had to be careful to maintain some good fats as I couldn’t afford to lose too much as that would have been detrimental to my treatment too.
Protein became my best friend, eating lean meats and eggs. Quinoa was a firm favourite as was avocado. I really tried to eat foods that would help my egg production and more importantly help me produce healthy ones. I ate lots of fertility greens, broccoli and kale but was also advised from acupuncture to stay away from cold foods and to try to eat warm or room temperature dishes to help keep my uterus warm. I will write a separate post on the holistic therapies I tried – Acupuncture, Kinesiology and Reiki, all which I found beneficial if only to help me stay relaxed throughout all the stress and emotion of IVF.
As I mentioned earlier it is very easy to become quite obsessive about creating the perfect cycle when you have PCOS and with any fertility treatment it is about finding the balance of what helps you stay healthy and positive but also within your own financial constraints. It can be very expensive to have weekly acupuncture or other holistic therapies and I sacrificed certain things so I could continue. Who knows if my IVF would still have been successful without all of the above but one thing I am certain of is that I was in control and confident that my body was prepared and that mentally, was worth every penny I spent.