Being diagnosed with PCOS is mentally, emotionally, and physically difficult. Not everyone’s diagnosis is the same, and not everyone is armed with the same treatment or knowledge to handle it. PCOS is not curable, but it is manageable, and Julia’s story is an inspirational one of resilience and strength through managing her diagnosis all while trying to start a family with her husband.
“Growing up, I always knew that I wanted to be a mother. I am the oldest of three girls and loved taking care of my younger sisters. I also loved everything about being a girl — from dressing up, playing with dolls, learning how to do my hair and makeup, you name it. However, there was one rite of passage to womanhood that never came around for me when it did for all of my friends — my first menstrual cycle. While all of my friends started to get their bodily changes and hit puberty during middle school years, it felt like I was left in the dust. It actually wasn’t until the summer after my freshman year of high school that it finally did happen for me, and it was long, painful, and awful. I only had one more in the next year, so my mom decided to take me to my primary care physician as a precautionary measure, as well as to find out further about what was going on.
I was first diagnosed with PCOS when I was about 14 years old, but I was told to go on hormonal birth control to manage it. They told me not to worry about what it meant for me until the day I was ready to have children. Being a teenager, I didn’t think twice about being diagnosed with PCOS and continued with life as I knew it. However, there were many struggles that untreated PCOS brought for me in the years to come. For years I struggled with weight gain, proper nutrition and dieting, and never was able to have a regular menstrual cycle. In fact, there were times that I would go off birth control just to see if I would be able to have a period on my own, and nothing happened. In my third year of college, after having very high blood sugar readings at a routine physical, I was diagnosed with insulin resistance as a result of having PCOS, and told to start taking Metformin. It was also suggested that I change my diet to include more protein and less carbs, but that was advice that I didn’t really heed as a college student. Instead, I continued to feel sick, lethargic, and depend on the birth control pills to have any type of “regular cycle”.
My husband and I are college sweethearts we got married the year after we graduated, at 24 and 25 years old. I visited by OGYN when we made the decision after two years of marriage that we were ready to start trying to have a baby. He informed me that my path to motherhood might look different because I had PCOS, which is something I suspected all along, especially because I knew that I didn’t menstruate on my own, a necessary step to getting pregnant. I wanted to try naturally at home for a while before he gave me advice about any potential fertility treatments. I can specifically remember being excited to start trying to have a baby, and didn’t really think it would take long for my body to respond, regardless of the medical diagnosis I was given. I didn’t change anything about my activity levels, my nutrition, and certainly didn’t understand hormones or what it would take for me to become fertile. Looking back, I know that I just didn’t truly understand the things that were going on in my body or how to take care of myself properly. We tried for months and months. Initially, taking ovulation tracking tests and pregnancy tests at home was exciting to me, however, it quickly became a heartbreaking experience. I can specifically remember being on cycle day 176 and still had no period or sign of ovulation. I knew that I couldn’t go on like that anymore. I was at the age where it seemed like so many of my friends and coworkers were getting pregnant and starting their families with no issue at all, and I longed for that same success. I went in to see my OBGYN with tears in my eyes and explained to him that I wanted that same happiness and chance at having a family. Without hesitation, he stated that it was time for me to go see Dr. Sharara.
I can remember calling the VCRM office that same afternoon and getting an appointment for the following week. I was terrified and didn’t know at all what to expect, but when my husband and I entered the office, we were met with kind faces at the front desk and a loving presence from Dr. Sharara and the nurses. He took the time to ask us about ourselves and get to know us and our goals, and we left feeling that we had some kind of hope and were in the right place. The first thing that Dr. Sharara suggested I do was change my diet and overall lifestyle to give myself a better chance of having regular cycles and lower the hormonal stress and imbalance I was experiencing. It is so helpful that I was finally seeing a reproductive endocrinologist, someone who truly understands PCOS and hormonal disorders, and could give me solutions to the things I dealt with for years. At first keeping a low glycemic diet, changing the way I looked at health as well as my approach towards it, was quite frankly daunting. That said, there is a special type of motivation that women going through infertility struggles have, and I was determined to make these changes for the better. I quickly got to work, and I was amazed at how fast and positively my body responded to the things he suggested!
I was very scared about going through fertility testing and procedures, but each visit Dr. Sharara eased my fears and I learned just how strong I truly was. I was delighted to find out that I didn’t have any polyps, blockages, or uterine problems. Dr. Sharara encouraged me knowing that things were going well for me with the changes I implemented, and a wonderful environment for a baby to grow. We went through three rounds of IUI with ovulation medication, but unfortunately, the procedures were not successful. My body, although changing each month for the better, was still stubborn about egg maturation and response to the procedures. After the third failed IUI, when Dr. Sharara suggested we move on to IVF, I was initially crushed. I never once imagined that IVF would be our path to parenthood and only thought about how intimidating the whole process sounded. However, I wanted to become a mother more than anything, and my husband and I agreed that this was the right next step for us. Looking back the process went by rather quickly, and in a matter of just a few months, we had our egg retrieval, yielded 6 healthy embryos, and were transferring the first one. We are so blessed and fortunate that it stuck, and we have now welcomed a sweet baby boy! The feeling of finally seeing my first positive pregnancy test and running to share that happiness with my husband is something I will never forget, and we definitely consider it one of the happiest moments of our lives.
In addition to the pregnancy, there are so many positive things I’ve gained from being a patient of Dr. Sharara’s. I lost a total of 50 pounds and was able to completely reverse many of the ailments that plagued me for years because of PCOS. I ovulated on my own, which was something that hadn’t happened for me in almost 8 years. I learned how to have a healthy relationship with food and nutrition, enjoy being active, and truly understand PCOS so that I can continue to use these tools to better myself for the years to come. It was easy to feel alone in the struggles of infertility, especially being so young, as it felt like nobody else my age was dealing with the things that I was, but in through the struggles, I have gained a family in all of the staff at VCRM. At VCRM you are not just a number, unlike larger fertility centers – Dr. Sharara and his staff truly take the time to get know you and your story, and genuinely care about you. The nurses, Jo, Lilly, and Jessica were always there for me every step of the way, whether I sent a text or reached out with a phone call. They were always there to comfort me and answer my questions. Through the ups and downs and worries, Dr. Sharara remained confident that we would have success and consistently told us what great parents we were going to be. We feel so blessed that under his guidance and expertise we have been able to start our family and look forward to continuing to grow it in the years to come. We really cannot thank you all enough and will be forever grateful to you for educating us, helping to keep us strong, and providing the care we needed to get to where we are now. We can’t wait for you to meet our son!”
If you have any questions, or would like to share your story with us – please follow us on Instagram @vcrmfertility, facebook at Virginia Center for Reproductive Medicine,
or call us at (703) 437-7722.