Getting Pregnant Despite PCOS
Courtney discusses going through fertility treatments.
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Having lived with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) for most of her adult life, Courtney knew it would affect her chances of getting pregnant. But that fact didn’t become real until her mid-30s, when she married and wanted to start a family.
PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility. Courtney and her husband quickly became immersed in the world of fertility treatments. It took its toll – but just when they were ready to take a break, the treatments worked. The couple welcomed daughter Caroline in summer 2019.
In this edited interview, Courtney shares her journey – and a message for other women facing similar struggles.
ACOG: How were you diagnosed with PCOS?
Courtney: From when I was a teenager, my period never followed any real pattern – it would show up whenever it wanted to. I once went more than 2 years between periods.
I was finally diagnosed when I moved to Chicago in my mid-20s. My new ob-gyn suspected PCOS based on my history and other symptoms, including excessive hair growth, fatigue, pelvic pain, and vaginal dryness. They confirmed it with an ultrasound. My ovaries were covered in cysts.
We tried hormonal birth control to get my body on a schedule. It did help regulate my periods, but it came with extreme side effects for me, like anxiety and weight fluctuations. I finally quit taking the pills, thinking “I don’t need to put up with this.”
For years, PCOS was something I just lived with. After all, there isn’t a cure.
ACOG: How did PCOS affect your plans to get pregnant?
Courtney: When I was first diagnosed, the doctor did mention I might not be able to have my own children. That news shocked me, but it also didn’t really stick because I wasn’t yet married or ready. It was a long time before I fully realized that PCOS would impact my fertility so significantly.
My husband, Craig, and I started planning for a baby right after we got married, because we knew it was going to be a process. With the PCOS diagnosis, we could bypass the whole “try for a year” stage. We got to walk right into a fertility specialist’s office and get started with a fertility evaluation and treatment – and, thankfully, insurance covered it.
ACOG: What were your fertility treatments like?
Courtney: It was a fast-paced treadmill of appointments, medications, injections, blood draws, and transvaginal ultrasounds. We were in that clinic up to three times a week, often at 6 am so I could still get to work on time. Between appointments, we were communicating back and forth with the doctors and nurses.
Everything needed to be done in a very particular manner. The first step was to take oral medication that would stimulate ovulation. I did several cycles with different medications.
After they determined a follicle was ready to produce an egg, I would also get an injection that would stimulate ovulation. Then we had to have sex multiple times within the next 24 to 48 hours. We’d wait to see what would happen … and start all over again.
I’ll be honest, it took a toll on us. Sex became a requirement – there was no fun in it anymore. My hormones were all over the place, I was overly emotional about everything, and we were so tired from all the logistics.
ACOG: Where did you turn for support?
Courtney: Craig knew this was harder on me than on him, so he followed my lead. He travels a lot for work but came to the appointments whenever possible. After a few visits, he even ventured into the exam room.
Being in the fertility specialist’s office so often, you see the same people time after time. Even if you don’t talk to someone, you have these moments of acknowledgment – that can be nice.
One day I ran into a colleague in the waiting room, so we took to chatting at work. I always had to explain the whole thing to other people, but with her I could jump right in, knowing she would understand. (Her baby was born just before mine.)
I also browsed online communities and blogs for women going through fertility treatments. That was huge – helping me know that other people were going through this, and what did and didn’t work for them.
Also, the fertility specialist’s office offered counseling. While I didn’t end up using it, it was good to know it was there. They gave me the information I needed, when I needed it.
ACOG: What did it feel like to learn you were pregnant?
Courtney: We had been at this for about a year, and IVF (in vitro fertilization) was going to be the next step. Craig and I discussed maybe taking a break to get our lives back.
And go figure, it worked on that fifth cycle. I took a pregnancy test at home exactly 14 days later, and it was positive. In 3 days we were back in the office for a blood test, and then another a week later, and then an ultrasound a week after that. Pregnancy is a long 40 weeks when you find out that early!
You know, it was exciting but also really weird. We couldn’t quite believe it was real. Suddenly, it was all over – and at the same time, just beginning.
For the first 12 weeks, we still visited the specialist’s office for monitoring. But after I passed the first trimester, we “graduated” back to my regular ob-gyn, and my pregnancy was treated like everyone else’s. It didn’t matter how we got there.
My daughter was born just past her due date, and while I had problems with hemorrhaging, it wasn’t related to the PCOS. Both of those problems affected my breast milk production, however – PCOS was one of the first things my lactation consultant asked about.
ACOG: What would you say to another woman with PCOS who wants to have a baby?
Courtney: Give yourself space to acknowledge that this is hard. Talk with others if you want to. And if you don’t feel like telling anyone else about it, then don’t.
The best way to get through this is to speak up for yourself. As hard as it is, keep track of everything and ask questions when you have them. Remember, you are in charge of your own health and medical experience.
Every story matters. Share yours.
If you have an infertility story to share – or a story about any aspect of women’s health – submit your story to ACOG.Go
Published: October 2020
Last reviewed: October 2020
Copyright 2020 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Read copyright and permissions information.
This information is designed as an educational aid to patients and sets forth current information and opinions related to women’s health. It is not intended as a statement of the standard of care, nor does it comprise all proper treatments or methods of care. It is not a substitute for a treating clinician’s independent professional judgment. Read ACOG’s complete disclaimer.