This pregnancy came as a bit of a surprise to be honest. Not that we weren’t trying or planning to bring a “Baby Binns” into the world; but more so that we didn’t anticipate it would happen this quickly. Why? Well, my health status hasn’t been as optimal as you’d expect from the gal who writes a health blog.
At the time, I thought I was one of the healthiest people in my social circle, and so did my social circle. The reality is, I appeared “healthy” on the outside, but something was surely wrong on the inside. The telling signs:
I was stressed out (bouts of crying, anxiety, mood swings, night sweats, etc)
I was not ovulating (no period for 18+ months)
And so my story begins.
[CAVEAT: For some of you, this post will be TMI (too much info re: "girl stuff"), so this is your chance to walk away!]
At 17 years old, I went on the birth control pill to help regulate my slightly unpredictable periods. At the age of 30, I parted ways with that little pink pill (after 13 years of letting a medication control my hormones). It was unbeknownst to me how poorly my ovaries were functioning until I went off birth control. For those 13 years everything was working just fine (got a period every month for 5 days). Or so I thought…
In July 2009, I went off the pill and saw no period for the first month, then the next, and the next. At first I was elated…no need to deal with feminine products, no discomfort, no bath suit woes. Awesome, right? Before I knew it, I was encroaching on 6 months sans period and decided to seek medical and naturopathic guidance.
It was about this time, almost three years ago (my goodness, has it been that long!?) that I was diagnosed with PCOS – Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. PCOS is an endocrine disorder characterized by ovarian cysts (fluid filled sacs on the ovaries – see image to the right), irregular menstrual cycles, insulin resistance, and other hormonal imbalance symptoms. The odd thing was that I didn’t fit all the PCOS characteristics:
Inability to lose weight (or overweight)
Cyctic ovaries ultrasound (example - not mine)
Excessive hair growth
Male patterned baldness
High blood pressure
Yet, the absence of a period and the presence of cysts led to my PCOS diagnosis. This may not sound so bad except that with PCOS comes infertility (I repeat, infertility!), early miscarriages, increased chances of uterine cancer, and a slew of other health problems. But that was a fate I would not accept.
Once I was diagnosed, I underwent multiple ultrasounds and blood tests. Although it wasn’t 100% certain that it was PCOS, my doctor and endocrinologist highly encouraged me to take the easy and medically accepted route. To go back on birth control and/or take Metformin (a diabetes drug that has shown success with PCOS patients who typically have insulin issues). My reluctance in taking this drug was (a) it’s a Band-Aid solution - I wanted to get to the root of my issue, not cover it up (c) there are likely side effects that I preferred to avoid. After all, the pill had been masking my health issues for all these years.
At the same time, I worked with my naturopath to pursue natural approaches to addressing my PCOS, amenorrhea (absence of a period) and stress; I adopted the elimination diet(no dairy, gluten, sugar, alcohol), started taking a slew of supplements, toned down my high intensity workouts, and did some acupuncture. I spent boatloads of time and money trying to solve this naturally, but there was STILL no period. I was discouraged and freaked out. What was wrong with me!?
Once I reached 18 months without a menstrual cycle, I had to make a tough decision. The doctors (including my naturopath) warned that the absence of a period for an extended time could put me at risk for uterine cancer (with no period, the uterine lining thickens but is not regularly shed). There was an immediate solution, but not a solution I liked – the pill.
For the sake of my health and my uterus, I reluctantly took my first birth control pill after 18 months without it. I did so every day until I saw what I’d been missing for a year and a half. A period. [Insert sigh of relief here]. I proceeded with the pill for the 6 months to ‘get things moving again’. Then it was time to call it quits and continue my natural pursuit to health.
Fast forward 3 years (18 months with no cycle + 6 months on the pill + 12 months with no pill):
I’ve implemented various lifestyle and dietary changes since my PCOS diagnosis which surely helped resurrect my menstrual cycle. My first ”real” period (without the pill) came in September 2011 and it was pure bliss (never thought one would say that about their period, but trust me…going without a natural cycle for years will do that). This was followed by four other periods until my pregnancy. Not great, but one hell of an improvement from ZERO!
So, without medical intervention (only a brief encounter with the pill) I defeated the odds. Today I am PCOS-free with a partially renewed menstrual cycle…excluding the past 4.5 months . The PERFECT ending to my long and complicated health journey.
Credit is owed to the people who enlightened me on natural approaches to solving my hormonal challenges, even when all arrows pointed to the worst case scenario (infertility).
In my next post, you’ll get find out what I was doing wrong and what got me where I am today: happier, healthier and almost 5 months preggers!!
CrossFitter in the morning. Marketer by day. Nutritionist by night. Foodie all day long. Danielle gives you a glimpse into her paleo and primal lifestyle with recipes (gluten and dairy free), restaurant reviews (searching for the healthiest spots in Toronto), fitness and nutrition tips. Hope you're hungry!