Living with PCOS

29 / 08 / 2016

By Louise Richards

It is quite a scary acronym – PCOS. And one I had heard nothing about until I was diagnosed three months ago. Turns out it is an extremely common hormone problem, affecting 1 in 5 women in Australia, and is one of the leading causes of infertility in women.

So what is PCOS? PCOS, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, is a condition in which a woman’s levels of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone are out of balance. This leads to the growth of ovarian cysts. It can be associated with problems such as irregular menstrual cycles, excessive hair growth, acne, obesity, reduced fertility and increased risk of diabetes.

I came to discover I had PCOS after years of avoiding getting my symptoms checked out. Since I got my period at the late age of 18, my cycles have been irregular. I could go 3 or even 9 months without having my period. When they would come they would be very painful and heavy.

It wasn’t until I was living overseas last year that I was finally prompted to get checked out. Being sexually active with my boyfriend and being a foreigner where I wasn’t afforded the same medical benefits as in Australia, I became extremely paranoid of getting pregnant. In my 9-month stint, I only received my period once. Although my boyfriend and I used condoms, with each month that went past where I didn’t receive my period I would freak out and find myself taking pregnancy tests. This constant living in fear was taking over my life and I needed to take control of it.

When I returned to Melbourne a few months ago I decided to see a doctor to finally find out what was wrong with me. My doctor linked my symptoms to a condition unknown to me, “PCOS”. He noted the rare occurrence in a person like me as I wasn’t diabetic, overweight and didn’t exhibit excessive body hair, which are commonly associated symptoms. But my irregular periods called for a glucose blood test to check for diabetes and an ultrasound to determine if I had cysts. Having never gone through any medical procedures, the thought of having to go through all of these tests freaked me out and I believed that I had every fatal disease imaginable.

After my tests returned a week later, I went to see the doctor to receive my diagnosis. It was confirmed. I had PCOS. He then told me the next steps. First was contraception to balance my hormones. Although the pill is the regular choice, I recently discovered that I had a family history of blood clots. This means I can’t take anything containing estrogen so the pill is off the cards. I instead decided on an IUD after rave reviews from a friend. And so far, so good!

The next point of discussion was one that has affected the people I have told more than it did me – the unlikelihood of having children. Having children has never been something I have wanted. I have a lot of goals in my life and selfishly, they don’t involve kids. This desire made me feel somewhat ashamed when I told people that I didn’t care that I couldn’t have kids. But at the same time I knew that the decision to have kids or not is a decision that I make on my own. And I’m thankful enough to live in a time that if one day I do decide I want children, there’s a plethora of options available that can enable me to do so.

The biggest lesson I learnt from my experience is the importance of talking. Talking with my doctor made me overcome my fear in tackling my condition. Talking with my mum was a source of comfort. She had experienced similar symptoms when she was younger and it helped me gain a better understanding of what I was going through. Talking with my friends helped break the “broken goods” stigma that surrounds conditions of infertility and helped those who have experienced similar symptoms go and get themselves checked out. Most of all, talking made me realise I wasn’t alone. That while there’s not a one size fits all approach to coping with this, there’s always someone there to listen and support.

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