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  • Writer's pictureTamar Broadbent

Getting Pregnant with Polycystic Ovaries (PCOS)… and possible Endometriosis

When I was 17, I learned that I have polycystic ovaries. It was actually my waxer who suggested it - she said my leg hair was quite coarse for someone so blonde. (Yum!) I went to the doctors and asked them to test me and, lo and behold, my ovaries were indeed on the polycystic side. The GP said that having PCOS would make it very hard to get pregnant. I was a teenager, and was more concerned with getting into university. Or Wetherspoons. So even though it frightened me, I tried not to think too hard about it.


The treatment for PCOS is basically just going on the pill. It halts all the unfavourable symptoms, which include spots, coarse body hair and smelling bad (yum, yum and yummier!) It was easy for me to be on the pill for the next fifteen years - it’s obviously useful in more ways than one. And fortunately I didn’t get the strong emotional side effects that some do - aka depression. I was quite sad for some of that time, but I think it was more about living in an abandoned warehouse and surviving off of pecan plaits and popcorn.


I went back to the doctor a decade later, and that GP said having PCOS did not mean at all that you can’t get pregnant. If anything, she said, it might make it easier, as the NHS will be quick to help you. Once again, I wasn’t looking to have children at the time, dating, as I was, a man who I vaguely remember being a very sincere backpacker.


But I sort of didn’t believe her… because I’d developed this false core belief that I probably couldn’t get pregnant, which had seeded in my subconscious after that first appointment. I tried to keep an open mind, but I remained suspicious.


So I wasn’t at all surprised by how long it did eventually take for me to get pregnant.


I stopped taking the pill when I was 31, and for roughly a year and a half, I had a period once every four months. I could talk a lot about what this feels like - confusing and embarrassing, and like my body wasn’t working properly... How it stung when loved ones with good intentions would say, ‘you’re so lucky you haven’t had to suffer through a period for ages!’ But there isn’t the word count to delve deeply here.    


PCOS throws your cycle out of whack, which is one of the reasons it’s so hard to conceive. It’s not necessarily that you can’t have children (although in some cases it is, everyone is different, and I’m not a doctor, so I don’t know loads) but I believe it generally makes it harder because you have absolutely no idea when you are ovulating. And maybe you only ovulate four times in a year. And it doesn’t work on those times. Or you miss one because you bought the entire weekend ticket for an alternative music festival which actually you wish you’d only gone to for the one day. Anything could happen!


Even when you have PCOS, you still have to wait a year with my local health service until you can be referred for help. Foolishly, I told the truth when they asked how long I’d been trying to conceive for. (If I could do it again, I would probably lie.) After the year of trying and waiting to be referred, you go on the waiting list for the tests, and everything takes quite a long time. Which is not the NHS’s fault, as we know, but it does suck. The first round of tests confirmed that I had PCOS (which I already knew). And then I went on a longer waiting list for the HyCoSy – where they check if there’s anything else going on.


This is not a pleasant test.


I’d been waiting so long for it that I really wanted to ‘get it right’ - find out everything going on, so we could finally start making a plan of action. I was now 33. But instead, I really aced the test by fainting in the middle of it, so it couldn’t be completed. I went home, feeling like a failure, and sprawled on the sofa watching the Searching for Sugar Man documentary, which made me cry more because life is generally quite unfair. Especially to him. But he handled it with such grace and humility. (You should watch it!)


Anyway, though the nurse couldn’t complete the test, the observation she did get to do made the doctor think I might have endometriosis - so I was then referred for a laparoscopy. The doctor said this should happen in about six weeks’ time, but because of the strikes, it got cancelled, and then cancelled again, and by the time the date came through, that was another six months after the HyCoSy.


I do not mean to sound ungrateful or complain-y here. I know people go through years of this stuff and more under different circumstances. And I know these obstacles and waiting times are not anyone’s fault. And the doctors want all of the information so they can give you the right help. But it’s worth knowing that these things simply do not happen quickly. And it can feel endless and frustrating. And in the meantime you’re taking all these pregnancy vitamins whilst still feeling like you’re stumbling around in the dark. And you can’t stop thinking about tiny wellies.


A couple of months before the laparoscopy, I had my first period since the HyCoSe. And it was the worst I’ve ever had in my life. I threw up throughout the night and the only thing that would stop the pain was Solpadeine Plus (which I am reluctant to take because I’m so terrified of getting addicted to opioids). But I think this is what my periods might have been like if I hadn’t been on the pill for fifteen years. If you have endometriosis, each time you have a ‘real’ period (aka, not on the pill) it gets worse. And worse. And, I believe, less likely that you can conceive. So maybe I was unwittingly keeping it bay all these years. By dating sincere backpackers.  


But this is all me guessing, as I never did get to do the laparoscopy. I got pregnant a few weeks before the test was due. Suddenly, amazingly, without any medication. (But with sex, obvs).


Why then? Maybe the HyCoSe kicked my system into gear. Or maybe that bad period made everything good. Maybe it’s because I stopped drinking alcohol that month and ran 25km a week. Or maybe the moon was in line with Venus and Mars and Jupiter and also the Milky Way and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.


Whatever the case, my false core belief shattered. PCOS did not mean for me that I couldn’t get pregnant. I was able to get pregnant. But that first doctor was right – it was hard.


I still don’t know if I have endometriosis – that’s for a later date – but I think it’s likely. It can run in families. And my sister has it. And my mother has it – she was diagnosed at the age of 65, and the doctor was shocked she’d had three children. She just thought for her whole life that she had bad periods. Or, which breaks my heart, that she must have a lower pain threshold than others.


I spent most of my life not understanding my reproductive health because I was too scared to look directly at it. My learned internal misogyny told me period-related stuff is gross and the hairy/smelly/spotty aspect of it is embarrassing to bring up at brunches. But isn’t the idea it’s improper and weird to talk about period health and other conditions part of the reason why these areas of female healthcare are neglected and ignored or under-researched and why people only seem to have vaguely known about endometriosis since Lena Dunham posted about it on Instagram in the 2000s?

1 in 10 women have PCOS. Many are undiagnosed. (Here's a picture of me where I think I look nice, because I talked about being hairy and smelly and stuff)

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