How I Healed My PCOS and Got Pregnant Naturally, Part I
Hi, loves! When thinking about what I wanted this blog to be, I imagined a digital space where barriers between us could be broken down and real life (even the messier bits) be put on display. Because, as we all know, health can be a messy subject. While I also plan to share bite-sized pieces of wellness wisdom with you along the way, it occurred to me that there’s no better place to start than with my own story and struggles. My health journey, with all of its twists and turns, has everything to do with why I started this business in the first place, and if it brings about hope in even one reader, I’m accomplishing what I set out to do.
That said, in this new 2-part series, I’ll be outlining my complete history with hormonal imbalances and sharing how I was able to heal myself naturally. These posts are pretty lengthy (you’re getting the FULL story, people!), so feel free to skip on over to my About page if you’d prefer to read the simplified version. In today’s Part I, for the first time ever, I'm opening up about the health obstacles I faced from childhood through my early 20s, when I finally received a diagnosis that paved the way for me to both pursue my passion as a Nutritional Therapy Consultant and take back my health once and for all. Hope you enjoy it!
A Rocky Start
Like many modern women, my hormonal health journey began as a young girl—and perhaps even earlier than that. I was a relatively healthy baby, despite arriving a month early and being exclusively soy formula-fed, but as a child, my diet consisted of mostly processed foods and sugary snacks. Growing up on a Standard American Diet, I was no different than any of my friends—but unlike most of them, my first signs of hormonal imbalance cropped up in middle school (though I wouldn’t realize the root cause until more than a decade later) in the form of early onset puberty, severe acne, and excessive hair growth on my face, toes, and lower belly. Just to give you a visual, 5th grade me donned B-cup boobs (which stuck out disproportionately on my tiny frame), a mustache, and little red zits all over my body that once prompted my best friend’s younger brother to ask why I always had chickenpox. So glamorous, let me tell you.
To help with the acne, which only became more pronounced in the 9th grade, my dermatologist prescribed antibiotics, birth control, and Accutane—but these band-aid solutions did absolutely nothing for my hirsutism, and even caused my overall condition to worsen. By the end of sophomore year, the pimples were back full-force, I suffered from daily chronic headaches and lacked the energy to function optimally, and my weight was beginning to creep up despite zero changes to my diet. I felt puffy, splotchy, and frankly hideous in my own skin, which I understand now to have led to a mild case of depression. (I wish I had some photographical evidence to share of my inflamed face, but I was meticulous about photoshopping my acne out of every image that was taken of me as a teenager. Talk about a complete waste of time!)
Sixteen years old and completely clueless, I didn’t know where to turn for answers—but I knew that I had to do something to make myself feel better. So, the summer before my junior year, I eliminated sweets from my diet and cut my daily calorie intake in half. And it worked! Well, sort of. Within a few months, I had lost fifteen pounds and, as a byproduct of my low-sugar diet, my acne had calmed down. When my period disappeared with the rest of it, I rejoiced! I wasn’t wanting to have kids for at least another ten years, I told myself, so who cared?
From Bad to Worse
But under-eating sure did bring along its own set of health consequences, including digestive disorders and insatiable sugar cravings.
Amidst the chaos of life after high school, those sugar cravings manifested as a gnarly binge eating disorder, which became my shameful secret for coping with the stress of young adulthood. Although I did a pretty decent job of ignoring my health struggles and even maintaining my weight throughout college, I received a pretty startling wake-up call the month before my 21st birthday, when my annual physical blood work came back with a red warning attached: my hemoglobin A1c tested borderline high at 5.8 percent. According to my doc, I was considered pre-diabetic.
Here I was, a skinny 20-something “health nut” who lived on an almost-vegetarian diet, frequented the gym at least 3-5 times a week, and weighed a mere 105 pounds—knocking on diabetes’ door! To top it off, although my period had finally returned, it came and went as it pleased without any regularity whatsoever, something that was starting to dawn on me as problematic.
The first two gynecologists I saw examined me for five minutes before jumping straight into their recommendation for birth control—and both times, after politely declining and requesting an alternative plan of action (been there, done that!), I was met with an exasperated sigh and a patronizing lecture on why the pill was the best option for my hormonal health.
In a third and final attempt to find answers, I made an appointment with an endocrinologist for yet another opinion. This doctor was a little better, actually intent on testing my hormones to figure out what exactly was going on beneath the hood before prescribing anything. Turns out, my androgen, or male sex hormone, levels were slightly higher than normal—a sign of polycystic ovarian syndrome, which would explain the chronic acne and hirsutism, I was told—but because my vaginal ultrasound showed cyst-free ovaries, she ruled it out as a possibility and suggested I try Spironolactone, an androgen-blocking drug. I had no idea at the time what PCOS even was, so I optimistically filled the prescription, thinking that it just might be the answer to my prayers.
Boy, was I wrong. After three months on the medication, my skin resorted back to freshman-in-high-school level cystic acne and my periods were so erratic that I was spotting and bleeding mid-cycle for no apparent reason. At the time, my now-husband and I had just started dating and were planning to spend a weekend together in San Antonio with a couple of his friends. I specifically remember not being able to look him in the eye for too long on account of the embarrassment I felt about my whitehead-covered cheeks. Let’s just say, it kind of destroyed the mood. (Thankfully, Scott was enough of a gentleman to not give a crap about the state of my skin—something I wish I had realized back then!) Surely, I concluded, Spironolactone couldn’t be helping my hormones if my symptoms were only being magnified. With a pit in my stomach, I finished out the remainder of the prescription and never filled it again.
A Legit Diagnosis: PCOS and Hypothyroidism
Once I graduated from college and moved back home to Houston in 2014, I began working with a Creighton Model FertilityCare practitioner to chart my cycles and educate myself on women’s health and hormones. It was through Creighton that I found the NaProTECHNOLOGY doctor that would undo years of confusion and completely change my life for the better. Right away, she explained that the birth control pill only masks hormonal imbalances but does not heal them—and in the majority of cases, even makes them worse. Through extensive lab work, my new OB/GYN uncovered the root cause of my symptoms: unsurprisingly, my hormones were a mess and I met most of the requirements for “lean PCOS,” including high testosterone, low progesterone, and insulin resistance.
Sidebar: Despite its misleading name, polycystic ovarian syndrome has nothing to do with cysts on your ovaries, which is normal and usually nothing to be concerned about. PCOS is a hormonal condition, and can only be diagnosed based on signs of excess androgens.
I was also diagnosed with subclinical hypothyroidism, which explained the lethargy I had experienced on a daily basis since high school. As bleak as the news seemed, I was relieved to finally get some real answers! Receiving a solid diagnosis meant I could start working towards healing my body once and for all, and I wanted to do it as naturally as possible.
Being the journalism major I am, I read and researched everything I could on PCOS and hypothyroidism, promising myself that I’d stop at nothing to bring my body back into balance with food, supplementation, and lifestyle changes. After all, it was partially my poor food and lifestyle choices that had gotten me here in the first place!
It wouldn’t be an easy road, I knew, but I was determined to get better—even if took years of trial-and-error. (Which, spoiler alert: it did.)
Stayed tuned for next week’s Part II to read exactly how I overcame PCOS and got pregnant naturally with the help of my OB/GYN, Alisa Vitti’s online course, and a functional medicine practitioner—as well as my own nutritional therapy education.