Confessions of the Infertile: Part 2

HOLLY STEVENSON is back for Part 2 in the series of her confessions about life with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.

Boots boyfriend children Holly Stevenson infertile infertility pill polycystic ovary syndrome

READ: Part 1 of Holly’s story here.

I have taken the big step of throwing the Pill away for good, because  it will make me ‘me’ again. I know that, despite not naturally having periods and having more testosterone in my body than the average female, I am no less of a woman.

A few months ago, I was returning from an appointment with my GP. I was mulling over everything she had told me when my boyfriend phoned me up to see how the appointment had gone. I was standing in the middle of Boot’s, when the words: “because I have PCOS, the doctor said if we want to have children in the future it will almost certainly require medical intervention,” came out of my mouth. Woah. ‘We’? ‘Children?’ ‘Medical intervention’?

A pause that was a bit too long followed before he answered: “right…” But in that pause, it suddenly dawned on me that I wasn’t the only one affected by my decision. In his head, at 20 years old, I had married us, given us a house and a dog, and given us fertility problems. Lesser men would have laced up their running shoes faster than Usain Bolt.

Despite having tests when I was 16, I was only properly diagnosed with the condition last December, when my Cambridge GP looked at my notes and said: “I’m 99% certain you have PCOS. I can’t believe no one has picked up on it before.” I only felt immense relief. What was wrong with me finally had a name.

An ultrasound scan of polycystic ovaries.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is caused when the ovaries produce excessive amounts of hormones; mainly testosterone and luteinizing hormone (LH). Without going into gory details, this prevents you from ovulating. No ovulation; no conception. Left alone, I am infertile.

There are hormone supplements that can be taken which will stimulate ovulation when you want to start a family, but there is no guarantee the treatments will work. It seems like a condition designed to make you feel as unattractive as possible: PCOS’ other symptoms are: acne, hirsutism, and obesity. Although I developed acne aged five and my friends in the playground used to ask me if I had chicken pox, it was controlled by medication, and the only symptom I’ve had. For now, while I look and feel healthy, my future is more uncertain. Doctors can only alleviate the symptoms, not the cause.

Whereas before I thought babies were noisy slobbery things, now I have been told I’m naturally infertile I have started gazing into pushchairs and watching toddlers play in the park in a way that might make my boyfriend reconsider putting on his Reeboks. Despite the doctor’s breezy optimism, I do sometimes wonder whether my decision to be a mother has already been made for me.

Although I’ve had to develop a very pragmatic approach to my body, as I’ve explained my menstrual cycle in intimate detail to male doctors and gone through several internal examinations, I was nervous about telling my boyfriend. Would it scare him off? Would he understand?

In the end, I felt that if I could lie with my legs splayed open in front of strangers with only a sheet to cover my dignity, then why couldn’t I tell the person I loved most about what was going on? And I’m very glad I did. My boyfriend has often spoken to me about his initial fear when I told him about PCOS, but it has made our relationship stronger; it means we can tell each other anything. In fact, wonderfully, my new found honesty has only been a good thing. When I have confessed to male friends about my condition (and it usually takes a few gin and tonics); I never got revulsion; only interest, sympathy, and possibly a bit of admiration. I get the feeling that guys do want to know about women’s bodies, but have always been afraid to ask.

And so, there are two pieces of advice I’d have for anyone in the same situation. Firstly, don’t let your doctor fob you off: aged 16, I felt that to my doctor I was simply a girl who must not become a teen pregnancy statistic and the underlying causes for my irregular cycle weren’t discovered for four years. Secondly, open up. Gynaecological problems and tests are scary and intrusive but it means you know more about your body than 90% of women; and being honest with people (especially guys) meant I found out I wasn’t alone.