How I Healed My PCOS and Got Pregnant Naturally, Part II

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Welcome back to my 2-part series on my journey with PCOS. If you haven’t read Part I, feel free to make your way over here to start from the beginning!

In today’s Part II, I’ll be getting to the good stuff: how exactly I was able to overcome my PCOS and get pregnant naturally. I will warn you, though, this was no small task—I spent the better part of FOUR years making sense of my diagnosis, coming to terms with the uncertainty of the situation, and trial-and-erroring my way to optimal health. While I will do my best to thoroughly cover the most important parts of my journey, for the sake of your time (and sanity), I’m going to keep this post as concise as possible by breaking it down, chronologically, into the exact steps I took that were most essential to my healing.

Let’s get going, shall we?

I Became a Cycle Syncing Expert

My NaPro OB/GYN (God bless her!) prescribed the smallest dose of Synthroid for my sluggish thyroid and a natural progesterone supplement to support my lower levels during my luteal phase—both of which seemed like a much better alternative to birth control or Spironolactone—but I told her right off the bat that I was determined to turn my health around with diet and lifestyle, a goal she fully supported since I wasn’t yet in a hurry to have kids.

Taken from  WomanCode , this table shows the best foods to eat during each phase of your cycle.

Taken from WomanCode, this table shows the best foods to eat during each phase of your cycle.

Like any concerned millennial, the first thing I did upon returning home after receiving my diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome was consult Dr. Google for a complete deep dive of the condition. At some point in my months-long search, I stumbled upon the website of Alisa Vitti, functional nutritionist and hormone whisperer. I read about her life-changing experience with PCOS as a young woman, and how—even during a time when there wasn’t much known about the condition—she was able to reverse her diagnosis with a centuries-old method called “cycle syncing.” Intrigued, I ordered her best-selling book, WomanCode, and signed up for her MonthlyFLO course, a self-paced program for balancing hormones and resetting the endocrine system with food therapy and lifestyle changes. 

This initial step lasted for about a year, and was a crucial part of my recovery because it set the stage for everything else: Vitti’s course opened my eyes to the medicinal properties of real food and the healing powers of therapeutic movement, especially when used in accordance with our monthly cycles. I’d love to write a separate post on cycle syncing (and I probably will at some point) but the basic idea is simple: there are four phases of a woman’s cycle—menstrual, follicular, ovulatory, and luteal—in which your hormones are doing completely different things, and therefore require different nutrients, movement styles, and lifestyle practices to support the optimal function of each phase. 

Let’s take the follicular phase, for example, which takes place during the first half of your cycle as estrogen levels are rising: You’re more likely to have plenty of energy during this phase, making it the ideal time for effortful tasks like intense workouts, social gatherings, goal setting, and stressful projects. In contrast, progesterone (the “relaxing hormone”) rises in the luteal phase, a two-week period at the end of our cycle that responds better to slower workouts, self-reflection, and soothing activities. Pretty interesting, eh?

If you have never tracked your cycle, I highly recommend working one-on-one with a Creighton model practitioner to learn how to read your body’s signs. The insight you’ll gain into your health is invaluable! (However, if you just don’t have the time, I’m a huge fan of the Ava bracelet for keeping up with your monthly cycle.)

Perhaps more importantly, Vitti’s program also provided access to an online community of women with similar health struggles that I could easily relate to and seek comfort from. This sense of sisterhood was absolutely invaluable when I was just starting out on my road to recovery, and probably why I was able to successfully complete the course and incorporate the following changes into my lifestyle.

I Healed My Relationship With Food and Balanced My Blood Sugar

One of the very first lessons in the FLO Living course details how blood sugar affects everything—from hormones to energy to weight. I knew going in that insulin resistance was a major contributor to most cases of PCOS, and that if I was ever going to fix my hormones, this was nonnegotiable. As healthy as I tried to eat on a daily basis, I was still addicted to sugar in its many forms, made obvious by my three failed Whole30 attempts and the utter lack of control I felt around sweets. Better than striving to eat a “perfect” diet, I concluded, was working towards healing my relationship with food and banishing my restrict-and-binge habits for good. Then and only then would I be able to get off the blood sugar roller coaster I’d been riding for years.

Counterproductive as it may seem, I stopped dieting completely and started eating according to my hunger cues. I honored my cravings, even the ones for dessert, and made it a habit to savor each and every bite of food that I put in my mouth. For the first time since high school, I felt unburdened by what or how much I was eating, a freedom that made it a thousand times easier to fully enjoy certain foods without guilt and pass up those same foods when I didn’t have an appetite for them.

To read more about my experience with intuitive eating, and how it helped me to find food freedom once and for all, hop on over to my first blog post—and if you are interested in learning exactly how I stopped binge eating, don’t forget to download my free 6-step guide!

While embracing this way of eating was definitely a step in the right direction (no more crazy sugar comas or crashes!), my fascination and curiosity with blood sugar led me to purchase my own glucose monitor so that I could test and track my numbers at home. With this information, I was able to get a handle on the specific foods that were causing blood sugar spikes and dips for me at that time, and do my best to balance them out with proper macronutrient ratios. My findings suggested that my body was pretty sensitive to most carbs, especially when eaten in isolation from fats and proteins—but, rather than go low-carb (which would most likely send me into another binge spiral), I made sure to incorporate lots of high-fiber veggies, quality proteins, and healthy fats into every meal and snack. If I was craving a slice or two of toast for breakfast, I’d top it with peanut butter or avocado. Dinners usually involved a starchy veggie of some sort, which I roasted in butter and ate alongside a filet of meat. Balancing my macros helped me to keep my blood sugar stable while continuing to enjoy the foods I loved.

I Swapped Out My Personal Care Products for Cleaner Alternatives

Around the same time that the “clean beauty” movement was taking off, I became interested not only in the ingredients I was putting IN my body, but also those that I was putting on it. According to the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment, the slew of cheap drugstore products I was using on the reg consisted of harmful endocrine-disrupting chemicals that were most likely wreaking havoc on my hormones. The main culprits? Parabens, phthalates, synthetic fragrances, and sodium lauryl sulfate—ALL of which I could spot on one or more of the ingredient labels in my bathroom cabinets. Not even my hand soap was innocent!

I’ll admit, the thought of swapping out every single one of my bath and beauty products was incredibly overwhelming. What would I buy instead? And where would I get the money? I took a deep breath, focused on progress (not perfection), and decided it wouldn’t kill me to finish out my current inventory first, replacing each product with its nontoxic equivalent as I ran out. Rather than stressing myself out about all the “work” I had to do in this area, I chose to see the product purge as an opportunity to connect with my girly side and experiment with different brands! There was a ton of natural products now on the market, and I was actually looking forward to splurging on a few new frivolous items in the name of my health.

The physical consequences, however, were not frivolous: As soon as I had phased out all of the harsh chemicals in my daily regimen, my sensitive skin finally looked and felt as if it could breathe. The acne wasn’t 100% gone, but my face no longer felt stripped of its natural oils or rough to the touch. It was a lot less red and splotchy, too, which meant I didn’t mind foregoing makeup and opting for a more natural look most days of the week. Plus, I could rest easy knowing that I was giving my poor liver a break from filtering out all of the excess chemicals and xenohormones previously circulating through my blood—just another step forward in restoring balance in my body and reaching my health goals.

My arsenal of natural beauty products has evolved over the years, in large part due to growing companies like Follain and Beautycounter that provide excellent quality skin, hair, and body care products—made with cleaner, safer ingredients—that not only feel luxurious, but WORK as intended. If you’re interested in making the switch from conventional to clean beauty, I recommend starting there.

I Adopted an Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Incorporated the Right Supplements into My Routine

By 2017, Scott and I were adjusting to some major life transitions such as relocating from Houston to Dallas, becoming homeowners, and changing career paths (all in the span of 6 months). While he was hanging up his engineering hat to work in IT, I was contemplating going back to school to study nutrition. We were also living the ultimate child-free existence: traveling almost every other weekend and generally enjoying being married, young, and free to do as we pleased.

yogurt-parfait

But one thing was certain: We knew we wanted kids in our (near) future, and although I had seen some definite improvements in my health up to this point, I had a feeling there was still quite a-ways to go—a suspicion that was confirmed via an at-home hormone test I purchased from a reputable wellness company based in Austin. According to the results, my TSH (thyroid hormone) was in the normal range (even without having been on Synthroid for several years), as was my testosterone (yay!), but my progesterone and estrogen levels were low. Really low. Too low to tell for sure if I was even ovulating.

It was time to return to the drawing board and go back to the basics, starting with—you guessed it—diet.

I now had much better control of my blood sugar (my A1c was down to 4.9%), but there were still some overall improvements that could be made. I focused on increasing my consumption of veggies (especially greens), wild-caught fish like salmon and sardines, and quality fats like olive oil, ghee, and coconut. Meanwhile, I also made the decision to cut back on grains, dairy, sugar, and industrial seed oils. I was pretty desperate to see some results, and I felt confident that I could handle the restrictions without resorting back to a harmful diet mentality or fear of food.

For a long stretch of time, I was eating mostly Paleo, with the exception of sprouted legumes, the occasional glass of wine, and a square or two of dark chocolate (85% or higher) for dessert. While this type of diet isn’t for everyone—as it was a little bit on the low-carb side (around 75-100g a day)—I saw a significant difference in my energy levels and digestion as soon as my body adjusted. And it actually wasn’t so bad, thanks to trusty resources like Thrive Market, an online marketplace for discounted healthy eats and things, such as Whole30-approved snacks, condiments, and pantry staples.

Keep in mind: it was only AFTER I healed my relationship with food and freed myself from the mental effects of diet culture that I was able to adopt a more structured way of eating in the form of an anti-inflammatory diet. Just like I tell my clients, the emotional work has to be done before any foods can be eliminated, in order to prevent a backward slide into disordered eating.

Not long after making these specific dietary changes did I begin seeing a functional medicine doctor here in Frisco, who I had faith would be the final push I needed to restore healthy hormone function and get pregnant without major medical interventions, which was proving harder than expected. Up until this point, Scott and I hadn’t been trying to conceive, exactly, but we weren’t not trying either—and frustratingly, according to my Ava bracelet, I still didn’t appear to be ovulating. My Dallas-based OB/GYN suggested I take Clomid to kick my hormones into gear, but I desperately wanted to give my body one last chance to ovulate on its own.

My naturopath and I got down to business right away: First on the list of to-dos was a TON of blood work, a stool test, urine test, and other labs to get a full picture of what we were dealing with. Aside from the obvious hormonal challenges, I tested high for mercury and tin (two toxic heavy metals), my cortisol and DHEA-S were through the roof (signifying hyperadrenalism, another risk factor for PCOS), and I was deficient in several different vitamins and minerals (especially vitamin D). Not to mention, I was showing low-level sensitivities to a wide variety of foods and I had an overgrowth of candida in my gut. Whew!

The plan was laid out for me: We would jump in with a 21-day elimination diet to pinpoint and confirm the specific foods irritating my immune system, detox the heavy metals with chelation therapy, and incorporate a number of good quality supplements into my routine. Addressing the candida would come later, once my immune system was strengthened and my vitamin and mineral balance was restored. My supplement regimen included two kinds of multivitamins, vitamin K2/D3, omega-3 fish oil, B-complex, magnesium, and a strong probiotic from a high quality source.

supplements

A note on supplements: As an NTP, I believe that supplementation can be extremely helpful in bringing our body’s foundations back into balance (on top of a healthy diet and lifestyle, of course). That said, supplements are just like any other medication and need to be treated with the same amount of caution and respect. I love that my FM doctor only prescribed what she knew from my history and labs would benefit me most—a mindset that we share when it comes to recommending certain supplements to our clients. While she could have thrown some adrenal support, hormone boosters, blood sugar balancers, and a thousand different things into the mix to force my body to cooperate, she understood that by addressing my body’s basic functions with a simple regimen of essential vitamins and nutrients, everything else would eventually fall into place.

Within a couple months, the mercury and tin in my blood were undetectable, I was no longer deficient in anything (my vitamin D levels increased from 29 to 70 ng/mL!), and I had a solid list of foods to limit for the time being.

Progress was being made, slowly but surely, and things were looking up. But my doc made one thing very clear: Based on everything she saw in my lab work, the PCOS and hypothyroidism were stemming mainly from stress—meaning, I would never be able to truly heal if I couldn’t lower my cortisol and learn to r-e-l-a-x. Which brings me to the fifth and final step, the step that I suspect might have made the biggest difference in my ability to conceive naturally.

But before we get to that, another PSA: A lot of you have asked me about the benefits of seeing a functional medicine doctor or naturopath, and I will be the first to sing their praise. The ones I’ve known personally are absolutely brilliant, and with everything mine did to help me, I could never regret seeking her out. That said, FM doctors are really expensive (for good reason—my first appointment lasted THREE hours!), and require large amounts of patience and persistence from their clients to get to the bottom of their health issues. (I spent a whole year working with my doc before I got pregnant, and that was actually less time than we expected to need.) Nine times out of ten, a naturopath will put their patients on an anti-inflammatory diet immediately, which is why I often recommend seeing a holistic nutritionist beforehand, to get this piece of the puzzle out of the way while only paying a small fraction of the cost.

I Managed My Stress and Anxiety—For Real

Not too long ago, whenever I read articles or listened to podcasts about PCOS, I always skimmed over the part about stress management, assuming I already had that down. After all, stress didn’t seem to be a big part of my life. I made my own schedule as a freelance writer, practiced yoga three times a week, and was happy as a clam for the most part. Even going back to school seemed more like a fun hobby than actual work, and I didn’t have a child, a pet, or so much as a plant depending on me to survive. Life was as easy as it was ever going to be.

So where was this hyperadrenalism coming from? Why was my body acting as if it was constantly in a state of suspense?

This is what I didn’t get: Stress can be mental, emotional, or physical—and it doesn’t always resemble what we typically think of as stress (a traffic jam, a traumatic event, a demanding job, a difficult relationship, etc.). Through introspection and prayer, it became clear to me that my stress was coming from a place of chronic mental anxiety, most likely originating from a subconscious desperation to be accepted by those closest to me. Translation: I couldn’t fathom the thought of being perceived in a less-than-positive light by the people I loved. I was walking through life with a real fear of letting myself down, disappointing family and friends, and simply not being good enough. Perfectionism at its worst.

I’m sure any good psychologist could sit down with me for an hour and wrap up the conversation knowing exactly at what point in my childhood this strange inclination towards low self-esteem clawed its way into my psyche. But alas, that’s neither here nor there. The point is, though I didn’t realize it, I was low-grade on edge ALL of the time, and my body was paying the price.

I needed to relearn how to shut off the parts of my brain that were making me constantly second guess myself—the parts that were going ‘round and ‘round without rest—and grab onto some sense of calm instead. I needed to accept with my whole heart that I am the woman God created me to be, that my worth is not measured by others’ perception of me, and that perfection is an unrealistic (and destructive) expectation.

breathe

To assist with the quieting of the mind part, I was referred by my doc to a neurofeedback specialist. If you’re not familiar (like I wasn’t), neurofeedback is a therapeutic tool that assesses a client's brainwave activity via a computer-based program and uses sound or visual signals to retrain those brain signals. Honestly, I still can’t wrap my head around how exactly it works—something to do with teaching the brain to slow down—but I basically sat in a dimly lit office twice a week for several months and “played” video games with nothing but wires hooked to my head. It’s hard to explain, but it seemed to do the trick. I left those appointments always feeling somewhat sleepy, but also as if I was walking on clouds without a care in the world—a state of mind that soon started to follow me everywhere. Additionally, I incorporated at least half an hour of breathing exercises and affirmational meditations into my daily routine. (Can you tell we really wanted to get pregnant? The things we do for our kids!)

Meanwhile, my FM doc and I were finishing up the process of treating my candida overgrowth with herbal antimicrobials, and I was feeling pretty great—both mentally and physically. Which makes sense, because sometime during January of this year, I noticed that the Ava graph of my monthly cycle looked a little different than usual, with a subtle rise in temp around Day 18 and a corresponding drop on the first day of my period. A sign of ovulation! The stress management and emotional healing was paying off… And in actually seeing the proof on the page, a flood of relief and hope washed over me. My body did remember what to do, I realized, it just needed the right environment to do it.

And that must have been the truth—because a month later, I was pregnant.

Health: A Never Ending Journey of Ups and Downs

Okay, if you made it through all of that, you’re officially my hero. Despite doing my best to deliver this blog post in a neat little package, my story was not an overnight success. Things were lonely and confusing there for a while, and even though I’m sort of “on the other side,” I can’t claim to be 100% healed. During this pregnancy, my thyroid took a nose-dive, my progesterone levels have consistently been on the lower end of the spectrum, and I’ve tested positive for candida yet again. But you know what? It’s going to be okay. Pregnancy is rough on the whole system, for sure, but I’m confident that my body knows what to do to bring a healthy child into this world. 

(Just to be on the safe side, I’m taking Levothyroxine and supplementing with progesterone—and there’s no shame in that. When Baby B arrives, I’ll continue in the healing process knowing everything I know now, so that maybe next time around, the medication won’t be necessary. Goals!)

The one thing I’ve learned in all of this is that our health journeys are not linear. There will always be setbacks, and bad days, that make it feel like you’re forever doomed with this particular symptom or that particular issue—but don’t take those periodic feelings of hopelessness to mean that you’re not growing or improving. Progress happens slowly, over time, in the dull, uneventful moments of everyday life, and sometimes when you least expect it. For me, it took finally letting go of my fears and worries to truly reach a place where I could see noticeable, life-altering improvement—and it was only after I mentally gave up all control that I found myself staring at a positive pregnancy test. 

This might not be everyone’s story, and to those reading that are struggling to conceive, my heart goes out to each and every one of you. I know there’s nothing I could say that would take away the pain or lighten the burden of your suffering, but I wish you the strength and courage to reach out to the people around you for support, and to tell your own story when you’re ready. You never know how it might help someone else.