A diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome at the age of 14 inspired one suggestion for treatment: the birth control pill. Unaware of better alternatives, my mom and I agreed to try it, and I walked out of my OB/GYN’s office with a prescription in hand.
What followed were months of suffering side effects: in short, I became a moody monster. Severe irritability, prolonged sadness, and a general mean-ness replaced my typically joyful disposition. School – still one of my favorite things – ceased to excite me and I found less and less enjoyment in spending time with friends.
It eventually occurred to my mom that the Pill might be responsible for these odd changes. She was right – I stopped taking the Pill and returned to my normal self.
It eventually occurred to my mom that the Pill might be responsible for these odd changes
Fast forward to the age of 20, when I decided to pursue treatment for PCOS, again. Before visiting the OB/GYN, I researched on my own. I was hesitant to go on the Pill a second time, but realized that my young age (i.e. being an angsty high schooler) may have exacerbated its effect on me.
Further research turned my hesitation into resolution. I said no to the Pill definitively after learning more about its side effects and risks: cervical cancer with long-term use, heart attack, depression, stroke in women who experience migraines, and blood clots.
Determined to find another treatment, I walked into the OB/GYN’s office and told her that I wanted to treat my PCOS; this time, without the Pill. I shared what my research revealed and asked her about alternative treatments. She gave me a blank stare and the impression that she had little confidence in them. Shortly after that appointment, I left for a yearlong study abroad program and resolved to, once again, seek treatment without the Pill when I returned home.
At the beginning of my senior year of college, I was at last introduced to Fertility Awareness Methods (FAMs) and NaPro Technology. I began charting my cycles with the Creighton Model under the guidance of a FertilityCare™ Practitioner. We saw that my charts reflected my diagnosis of PCOS, but we also saw much more. My practitioner knew when I experienced extreme stress, based solely on my charts; she was right every time. I witnessed how stress impacts a woman’s cycle, which became a wake-up call for me to improve my stress management. I adopted a low glycemic index diet and watched my cycle dramatically improve, becoming more regular than it had ever been.
Astounded, I resolved to continue with healthier eating habits. I then visited the only local NaPro OB/GYN, who read my charts and (finally!) honored my request to treat PCOS without the Pill. He began by changing my diet and adding over-the-counter supplements to my daily routine. And they worked, without artificial hormones and the risk of dangerous side effects. My graduate student budget left me unable to keep seeing my out-of-network NaPro physician, but I continued working with my FertilityCare™ practitioner and monitoring the effectiveness of this treatment.
I finished graduate school, moved, and began the process of finding a new OB/GYN. At my first appointment, I shared my story of PCOS and the Pill (like “The Princess and the Pea,” except not at all), relieved when he truly heard me and ordered lab work to find the best course of action. We decided on a prescription of Metformin and continuing with a low glycemic index diet. He emphasized the importance of a regular exercise routine, focused on cardio. And so, I began running, which I never thought I would do. He did end up suggesting the Pill to manage a symptom of PCOS, but respected my “no” as this particular symptom does not pose a danger to my health. (His exact words were, “This isn’t the hill I want to die on.” Which is a good thing, because I am willing to die on this hill.) As it turns out, this combination of Metformin, a healthy diet, and exercise does the trick in managing my PCOS.
Saying no to the Pill began a process of learning to advocate for myself (even in front of doctors), take ownership of my health, practice self-discipline in diet and exercise, and appreciate the uniqueness of the female body. Learning more about woman’s physical singularity ignited a desire to dive into what it means, holistically, to be a woman. Thus began my interest in feminism.
Learning more about woman’s physical singularity ignited a desire to dive into what it means, holistically, to be a woman.
Coincidentally (or not), I took a course on Theology of the Body while I began charting with the Creighton Model. This was especially appropriate given that the Creighton Model is the beautiful product of 32 years of research by the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction. (We can save my story of why Pope Paul VI is one of my heroes for a later time.)
The unfortunate symptoms of PCOS (e.g. weight gain, acne, infertility, and others) can attack your self-esteem as a woman – at least, they did in my case. Even with a good diet and regular exercise routine, I fight an ongoing battle to maintain a healthy weight and self-image. Though I am unmarried and do not yet know whether I will experience infertility, worry lurks in the back of my mind. The symptoms of my PCOS often made – and sometimes still make – me feel less feminine, but pursuing treatment other than the Pill gave me a greater appreciation for what my body can do. Resorting to the Pill would have simply put a band-aid on my condition and robbed me of the opportunity to witness my body combatting PCOS, with a little help from diet, exercise, and regulating blood sugar (thank you, Metformin).
While my body battled PCOS, my spirit battled the evil voice telling me I am less feminine because of my condition.
While my body battled PCOS, my spirit battled the evil voice telling me I am less feminine because of my condition. Taking PCOS head-on meant confronting the symptoms that threatened my femininity and, in time, lead to understanding that God intentionally created me as a woman and no symptom or medical condition can take that away.
I still struggle with my weight and may one day bear the cross of infertility. At the same time, I know that these things do not make me less of a woman and that my femininity manifests itself in countless ways, such as how I am capable of receiving and taking care of others. Something about being a woman allows me to welcome each friend I love and student I work with, discerning which needs of theirs I can fill.
The newly ignited, now insatiable, desire to learn more about what it means to be a woman led me to a deeper understanding of the feminine soul and a greater appreciation for God creating me as a woman. Saying no to the Pill - and finally coming to terms with my female body - that’s what began the journey that brought me here.