at a glance
How I Got Pregnant With PCOS
Table of Contents
My four-year-old daughter, Fiona, has really lofty aspirations. When I ask her what she wants to “be” when she grows up, she always answers quite emphatically, “I want to be a mom.” It makes me really proud of her and also reminds me of myself when I was little. My mother was a “stay at home mom”. She was fun, spiritual, generous and kind. Who wouldn’t want to be her when they grew up? I say lofty because I think this is the best job in the world and yet, having lived an infertility journey myself, it feels like a very exclusive job, only some get hired for.
At PCOS Diagnosis
When I sat in the gynecologist’s office at 18, in that paper, crinkly “robe” they put you in to do ultrasounds and breast exams, I was really nervous. They were checking me for something called “PCOS”. Those letters might as well of spelled cancer, I had no idea what to expect. In came the doctor, “after analyzing your ultrasound and lab results, I was right, you do have PCOS.” His bedside manner shocked me even at 18. “What’s PCOS?” I asked. Then he dealt the blow, “It’s the number 1 reason in America women can’t have babies.” My jaw must have hit the floor.
Now, let me interject, from my 36 year old self now – that isn’t what PCOS is. That is a statistic about it. PCOS is the acronym for PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome. It’s frankly a terrible name because you don’t even need cysts on your ovaries to get a diagnosis.
Anyways, back to this appointment: It changed my life forever. Now, I was 18, not in a serious relationship, in fact, I had just gotten off birth control so I wouldn’t be tempted to have sex with my then boyfriend. I was like my daughter Fiona though, I knew I wanted to be a mom someday. So I asked the doctor what I could do. He said, “Go back on birth control, here’s metformin, it’s a drug for diabetes but will help you, and you need to lose the weight you just gained.” I had gained some weight, 60 pounds in 3 months. How to lose it though? I was clueless, I gained the weight while at the end of a very rigorous training for a half marathon. I was running like 25-30 miles per week, and though I wasn’t eating great, I certainly wasn’t eating terrible. Nothing to justify weight gain while burning that many calories.
I felt lost. I then asked, “if this will stop me from conceiving, what do I do when I’m ready for kids?”
“Come back when you are ready for that.” Essentially telling me, birth control would manage my PCOS now, and when I was older they had other drugs to make me ovulate.
Saying I left the doctor’s office discouraged is maybe the greatest understatement of my life. This is the part if they were making a movie of me, I would most closely resemble Bridgette Jones, cue the sorrowful music, rain began falling on me despite me having no umbrella, I went and bought a chocolate cake, and watched movies for days on my couch.
How My Diagnosis Shaped My Own PCOS Story and Fertility Journey
This appointment is also the part of the movie where I dug deep, thought about my future, and said “not me.” I was 18 years old, in a 2-year bible study program, and I decided once I finished that I would go to school to become a dietitian and fix my PCOS, rewrite a different future.
I knew food had to have the power to help my body, if I could just figure out what it would take to both fuel and heal my body. Over the next 7 years I did the required schooling and interning to become a Registered Dietitian. I also did the required work to get to know my body, lose weight, improve acne, and work on getting a cycle on my own.
Then I met my husband. I remember dating (him and others) and telling potential mates that I might struggle to get pregnant. Not only had a doctor told me so, but my mother and sister both struggled to conceive. I figured, even if I healed my PCOS, it could still be an uphill road for me. Thankfully, I met a man that was unfazed by the challenge and loved me completely.
When it was time to grow a family, I wanted to approach it without pressure. We started trying, I tracked nothing. Frankly, I knew nothing. My cycles were somewhat irregular, but still coming, I had no reason to believe I was struggling to ovulate.
We went a year and nothing. In I went to another OB/GYN and told her I had PCOS, long cycles, and a year of “trying” with no result. I said, “I’m not sure if I’m ovulating.” She agreed to start with trying to answer that question. She told me to buy a few hundred OPK sticks (that’s an ovulation predictor kit) and start peeing on them daily. I remember asking, when in my cycle should I start, and she said, day 14. Now, I know why she said that, most people think that menstrual cycles are all about 28-32 days, and the earliest day you would ovulate is day 14. Well, I regularly had 60-75 day cycles. I knew this by now, because every cycle I wondered if I was pregnant. So starting on day 14 was just plain silly. If I was ovulating it was the last two weeks of those longer cycles.
She told me to come back in 6 months if I wasn’t pregnant. I had already waited a year, and now she sent me on a fools errand. I had enough. By now I was trained to read research articles, knew enough about food to begin tinkering with my own diet and hormones, and I enlisted the help of every alternative health doctor I could find that knew anything about fertility. I found acupuncture and naturopathic doctors to have a much deeper understanding of the body and women’s cycles but, even still I couldn’t find anyone that really could see the full picture.
Thus the experiment began. My husband used to walk into our living room and laugh. He’d say, “how’s that dissertation going, Dr Johnson.” It really looked like I was writing a paper on PCOS and Fertility. I had hundreds upon hundreds of research articles, highlighted, ear marked, stickies everywhere. Any article on diet, hormones, PCOS, cycle tracking, supplements or medications related to PCOS treatment got printed and read, and read again.
I began reading a book called “Take Charge of Your Fertility”, which was my first introduction to body literacy around my cycle. How it could tell me if I was ovulating, could alert me to potential health issues like under-eating, thyroid conditions, low progesterone and more.
Within a few months my cycle wasn’t 60 days long, it was 45 days long, then 40 days long, then 36 days long. And FINALLY, I saw signs of ovulation. Even though I had felt like I was “managing my PCOS” well for a few years, I wasn’t managing all of my hormones. I had solved my weight issues and acne. But the canary in the coal mine was still my cycle. As it improved I learned other things, my vitamin D was low, I didn’t make enough progesterone.
Then after 3 long years we were pregnant. I couldn’t believe it. I knocked on every OB/GYN door around town and asked them to send me any PCOS patient that was struggling with symptoms or wanted to conceive. Slowly my nutrition private practice turned from seeing everyone (diabetes, kidney disease, celiac disease, food allergies, and more) to only seeing PCOS. The results spoke for themselves, women returned for annual physicals and to their physician’s surprise, hadn’t used metformin or birth control to lose weight, see symptom resolution, and the best part: get pregnant.
How My Experience Shaped Me As a Practitioner
This is when I really remember the pivot point for me. Similar to that first visit in the crinkly paper, where the music changes, and the girl really transforms into something else. I realized my “why” was so much bigger than me becoming a mom. My legacy would be to try and change that statistic. PCOS would not be the number one reason in America that women can’t get pregnant. Not if I had anything to do with it. I began tracking success stories in my practice and weaving together the common interventions that helped regulate cycles, stimulate ovulation and not just lead to pregnancy, but to live babies. The three pillars seemed to be: manage insulin and promote a nutrient rich diet, regulate circadian rhythms so women could sleep better, and improve stress levels.
You see, I’m not really even concerned with getting women pregnant, I want to help them become moms. I also want to help them be healthy mom’s, around and present for school plays, graduations, wedding planning, time as a grandmother.
When I look at a client I look past their “right now” and see the vision of the future I want for them, and I know God wants for them too. I visualize them pregnant, nursing a sweet newborn, chasing a toddler at the park, crying at the first preschool drop off, all the way to them holding a brand-new grand baby.
The moments of waiting, the trying, the sex, the negative pregnancy tests, the procedures, the bills, the pills. It was all worth it. I look at my daughter Fiona and hear her say those lofty words “I want to be a mom when I grow up”, and I think about every other little girl who had that same dream, who still has that dream, who is holding on to it with every shred of hope and energy they still have. This is who I show up for every day.
PCOS is the type of diagnosis I treat every day in my practice. I often see other things presenting alongside it. PCOS is my passion though. PCOS doesn’t spell infertility. It’s not a foregone conclusion. Often times it doesn’t even take medication to manage or treat. It takes curiosity, it takes a willingness to implement change, it takes shifting focus from “My body is failing me” to “My body was fearfully and wonderfully made”. It takes approaching food not just as something to taste good, but as true sustenance for us. Something that God provides and can heal us from the inside out. When we can shift our focus to supporting our bodies, loving our bodies, loving what God created us to be, fueling ourselves – real healing work can happen within our cells.
I use many things in my practice with clients, nutrition, supplements, stress relief strategies, sleep hygiene, a whole lot of prayer, and speaking life into someone. I have treated women who had no prior workups, to women who have not had successful IVF stories. I have seen success in women who tried to conceive for many, many years. I even treat women who are also currently seeking advanced reproductive technologies assistance to conceive. The thing that is compelling to me is that nutrition affects it all. You see the goal isn’t pregnancy, it’s a healthy pregnancy, a thriving mother, and a whole baby. Nutrition is the foundation that supports it all.
My Legacy Is Bigger Than Having My Own Children
God did not make a mistake when he talked about the “fruit of the spirit”. He didn’t call it the “exercise” of the spirit. For us to bear fruit, we must be living the truth, fertility is no different. Nutrition, what you feed upon, fuels your future – whether you are just starting your journey or are years into it, nutrition can help.
I watched many of my peers have children, I watched my sister struggle with fertility, and others. I watched how their hearts turned bitter at times, sorrowful at times, questioning at times. Frankly, those are all things I struggled with. I refused to stay there though. I wanted to be like these women of the Bible, true believers who saw God’s mighty hand – Sarai who even laughed and God still performed, Elizabeth whose son paved the way for our redeemer, Hannah whose prayer and out pouring were heard, Mary, whose womb housed a supernatural conception. If God could so move for them, why would it be any different for me?
Fuel, the food we eat with our lips, and the words we allow our heart to consume are very important. I pray every hungry heart that reads this sees the hope for their future, the privilege of things you can do to change your story, and the power of working in alignment with your Heavenly Father. I know I am here today, touching the lives I do, because He has called me here. I see the generations my life will touch through Him.
Fiona is my first born, she was my why, and still is. I want her and every little girl like her to live their dream of being mothers.
Caitlin Johnson is a Registered Dietitian with advanced training in functional medicine and women’s herbalism. She is the heart behind her company PCOS Fertility Nutrition, creator of The PCOS App a comprehensive online tool for PCOS and cohost of Food Freedom and Fertility Podcast. She is someone who struggled with infertility and now is a mother to three beautiful children. She is a born-again believer- prays for each of her clients and has helped many thousands of couples become parents.