When I was 19 years old, my period didn't come for two months. Naturally, my first thought was, oh shit, I'm pregnant, because there was definitely a possibility. I had been with my then-boyfriend for years and we weren't using protection, so the idea of two lines showing up on a stick wasn't that far off. Buying a pregnancy test at a pharmacy can be such an awkward experience, so I pulled my hoodie over my face as if I was on the run from the law, grabbed a bunch of unnecessary items, and I bought the test. All of that, and it came back negative. My OBGYN warned me that it was possible that I could have gotten a false negative so I scheduled an appointment with her and I was hopeful that by the time I had gone, my period would have come. It didn't. Two months turned into three, so I walked into that office prepared for the worst. Because I knew I didn't want a child, I had been rehearsing how I would tell my doctor that I wasn't ready to be a mother. My relationship was beyond dysfunctional, I wasn't mentally prepared for motherhood, and as selfish as it sounds, I didn't want to be a teenage parent.
As my legs dangled on the examination table awaiting what I thought would be the worst conversation, she walked in, and immediately hugged me. It was as if she knew everything I was feeling and she leaned in and delicately asked me, "Do you desire pregnancy?" And I abruptly responded, "No ma'am." As gentle as she was, I still wondered how I found myself standing in front of the same doctor who made sure I was on birth control before I left for college, telling her I might be pregnant as I approached junior year.
The days that I waited to hear back from her felt like years, but one day while I was at work, she called. When I went back in for my follow-up, she wasn't smiling at all - she looked worried. The words that followed after changed my reproductive life forever: "You're not pregnant, you have PCOS". At that point, I felt like pregnancy would have been easier to swallow. Between my tears and overall confusion, what I made out from the conversation was my hormones were off-balance, and that because I had gained a significant amount of weight, there was a possibility that I could be infertile. Leaving the office, she also prescribed that I take a medication called Metformin to bring my period down and stay on birth control to regulate my cycle. Afterwards, I immediately went home, called my mom, and did tons of research on PCOS.
What You Need to Know About Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
According to Healthline.com, PCOS is defined as a condition that affects a woman's hormone levels. Women with PCOS produce higher-than-normal amounts of male hormones. This hormone imbalance causes them to skip menstrual periods and makes it harder for them to get pregnant. PCOS also causes hair growth on the face and body and baldness. And it can contribute to long-term health problems like diabetes and heart disease. Birth control pills and diabetes drugs can help fix the hormone imbalance and improve symptoms.
Who PCOS Affects
PCOS is a problem with hormones that affects women during their childbearing years (ages 15 to 44). Between 2.2 and 26.7 percent of women in this age group have PCOS and studies show that up to 70% of women who have PCOS haven't been diagnosed.
Symptoms of PCOS
- Irregular or skipped periods
- Cysts in the ovaries
- High levels of male hormones
- Infertility/difficulty getting pregnant (because of irregular ovulation or failure to ovulate because if your period isn't coming, you aren't ovulating)
- Excessive hair growth – usually on the face, chest, back or butt.
- Weight gain
- Patches of dark skin
- Thinning hair and hair loss from the head
- Oily skin or acne
How PCOS Affects Black women
- Increased rates of hirsutism (excess hair growth in typical male patterns, but on a female)
- Higher risk of cardiovascular disease or metabolic syndrome
- Lower likelihood of getting pregnant (Black women do not have as much success with in vitro fertilization as white women, and they're also more likely to be obese—a risk factor for infertility)
All of the information I found on Beyonce's internet, and I still felt lost because, outside of the irregular period, I had none of the symptoms that I saw online. I'd gone from mentally preparing to have an abortion, to searching for support groups for a hormonal disorder that could prevent me from having children. With a combination of prayer and self-reflection, I decided I'd do whatever it took to take my body back. As kind as my doctor had been, she wasn't helpful outside of the scope of Western Medicine and I needed more than pills, I needed real healing.
Over the course of three years, I did these things to reverse my PCOS symptoms:
- I worked out two to five days a week
- I went all organic (I started with little things, like buying the foods I consumed the most in the organic variety)
- I stopped drinking sodas/juice and eliminated high carb fruits/vegetables from my diet (I now only drink water, coffee, and green juice with no fruits added daily)
- I focused on losing stomach fat because excess weight around my midsection means added pressure on my ovaries
- I reminded myself that on days when I didn't want to work out, I was doing this for the children I wanted to give life to someday (I know it sounds like a lot but the thought of infertility is scary so I practiced affirmations daily)
- I got off Metformin and relied on my body to do the work
Months before my 23rd birthday, I made a follow-up appointment with my doctor. She was thrilled to tell me that my androgen levels (testosterone levels) had gone down and that I was making great progress. I walked out of that office feeling like I was finally on the path to fertility again, but I was still on the pill. What most doctors don't tell you about your period on birth control, is that it's not a real period. Because birth control alters the levels and hormones in your body, menstruation is triggered by a drop in the hormones estrogen and progesterone, both of which are artificially produced by the pill. This means that menstruating on the pill isn't a real period; it's "withdrawal bleeding" produced by a lack of artificial hormones aka, a "fake" period. So I couldn't be happy with those levels dropping if I was still taking birth control pills.
Once I was single I became celibate, so I didn't need the pill anymore, but I stayed on out of fear. Days before I finished my last pack, I decided to trust myself, pray even harder, and thirty days after I got off the pill, my period came on time and it's been regular ever since. My cycle has changed so much since being off the pill for the better, and I can feel so much now that I didn't before. Ovulation is something I'm excited to experience. I no longer have menstrual cramps because I feed my body what it needs, and I stay active. This journey hasn't been easy but I made a decision to undo the damage, and research (on everything from herbs to fight PCOS, plant-based feminine products, what your menstrual blood color means, and how to keep your hormone levels even through your diet.)
That doctor's appointment was eight years ago, and I'm now 60 lbs down. I have a new fertility doctor who, after a series of tests, officially confirmed that I was misdiagnosed. And I'm exploring such a beautiful relationship with my body and womb wellness overall.
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