Published on September 19, 2016
Ever since I posted our battle with infertility last year, I started getting tons of messages from women saying that they felt inspired after reading my blog post. I honestly don’t know why. But I guess some women found comfort in learning that they are not facing their battle alone. I guess that by using my blog as a platform, I have managed to increase people’s awareness about couple’s struggles with infertility. (Kahit 10 lang ang readers ko, at least nakatulong ako. Hahaha!)
A big percentage of women who reached out to me were also diagnosed with PCOS. That actually came as a surprise to me. Before I was diagnosed with PCOS in 2012, I only knew two women who have it. When I published my blog post last year, some friends sent me messages telling me that they, too, have PCOS. Wait, what?! Puwede na pala akong magtatag ng The Sisterhood of Petiks Ovaries sa dami namin. But unfortunately, despite our number, PCOS is still unknown to many. That is why September has been tagged as PCOS Awareness Month. O ‘di ba? Hindi mo rin alam na may PCOS Awareness Month!
I took it upon myself to write about PCOS. I know that I don’t have a large following, but I’ll use this blog as a tool to raise awareness kahit puro friends ko lang naman ang nagbabasa ng blog ko. Hihi. I figured that by doing this, other women with PCOS who are still “hiding” in the dark will feel empowered. I was too embarrassed to admit that I have PCOS. In a society where women are expected to get pregnant right after marriage, having PCOS made me feel really inadequate. And apart from this, I do hope that I get to raise awareness to those people who are unknowingly hurting women battling PCOS. I, too, had a fair share of insensitive comments from people around me. They range from innocent questions like, “Wala pa ba” up to the gusto-kitang-patayin-pakialamera-kang-bruha-ka comments like, “Sino sa inyo ang may diperensiya?” (Side story: An oldie holding a baby once told me and Boyet, “Cute niya ‘no? Wala! Hindi niyo kayang gumawa ng ganito ka-cute!” In my head, I was like, “Nyeta, antayin mo ‘yung anak ko!” And because I’m naturally bitchy, I whispered to Boyet, “That kid is not even cute!” Sorry na! :p)
Anyway, please note that I am not a doctor. Everything you’re about to read beyond this point is just based from my personal experiences. If you have PCOS or you suspect to have it, the best thing to do is to go to an OB/GYN. Not me, not Google, okay?
So what is PCOS? PCOS means Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. It’s a hormonal imbalance which causes irregular periods, acne breakouts and unexplained weight gain. Women get diagnosed through a blood test or an ultrasound. I’ve always had irregular periods. Unfortunately, I was only diagnosed with PCOS in my late 20s when my then OB/GYN from Manila Doctors Hospital ordered for a transvaginal ultrasound. I’ve had countless of pelvic ultrasounds prior to that diagnosis. Dra. Australia Luz, the OB/GYN from St. Luke’s Global who later on handled our fertility workup, told me that pelvic ultrasound is not conclusive. My old OB/GYN should have gone me through transrectal ultrasound at the very least.
For those who have no idea what happens to women with PCOS, allow me to give you an “overview” first of a woman’s cycle. A healthy woman without PCOS has two ovaries, the left and the right (hold them up high, so clean and bright, hihi). The ovaries release an egg cell. (Usually one lang. In some cases, more than one which explains the existence of twins.) If the egg cell is fertilized by the sperm, the woman gets pregnant. If not, menstruation happens. And then the cycle continues. These lucky women can observe their cycle to have at least an approximation of when they ovulate. This makes planning to get pregnant a bit easier for them. This is not the case for women with PCOS. Our cycle is very unpredictable. In my case, I experienced not having my menstrual period for more than a year. The OB/GYN from Manila Doctors Hospital who initially handled my case at that time said that I was just underweight. (Oo mga bes, bwisit ‘yung doctor ko dati! Kapag naiisip ko siya ngayon, sinasakal ko siya sa utak ko. Haha!) Anyway, we don’t know when we ovulate. In my case, I didn’t ovulate at all. As a result, my ovaries had a lot of undeveloped eggs which appear as cysts in an ultrasound scan. Kaya siya tinawag na polycystic ovaries. It made getting pregnant very difficult for me. Ovulation had to be induced. I had to take hormones to make my ovaries release an egg. Unfortunately, my ovaries were resistant to such medications for years.
Apart from the hormones, I had to take Metformin. It’s one of the most common medicines given to women with PCOS. Incidentally, it’s also the same pill given to diabetic patients as it controls the level of insulin in the body. Metformin is our best friend, but that best friend is a bitch. Its side effects are horrible – nausea, headache and LBM just to name a few. Apart from people who kept on asking me why I still didn’t have a baby, I also had to face the horrible side effects of Metformin. Naisip ko nga dati, bakit hindi na lang ‘tong mga tsismosang atat na atat akong mabuntis ang magtae araw-araw?! :p
Although PCOS is one of the major causes of infertility to women, there are other things attributed to this condition that women with PCOS have to go through. Normal ovaries produce a little amount of male hormones. But the ovaries of women with PCOS produce more which result in acne breakouts and unwanted hair. And then there’s weight gain! I’ve known women with PCOS who exercise like there’s no tomorrow and eat nothing but salad, and yet they still struggle with losing weight. Blame the messed up hormones and insulin!
In a society where body-shaming has become the new norm, women with PCOS have to go through the pains of being ridiculed. In a society where women are expected to bear children, women with PCOS have to endure the never-ending emotional struggles of feeling incapable.
A lot people are so ignorant on what women with PCOS go through!
Some may say that PCOS is not a big deal. Hindi naman siya sikat so ano nga ba ang pinaglalaban namin? A person once told me, “Malayo naman pala sa bituka ‘yan,” after I explained what PCOS is. There was also this one time when a friend told me this story. My friend has an officemate who also has PCOS. A relative said to her officemate after finding out that she has PCOS, “PCOS LANG, HINDI KA NA MAGKAANAK?” Naknampucha! So yeah, PCOS is not a big deal.
I mentioned earlier that when I was diagnosed with PCOS in 2012, I only knew two women with PCOS. Now picture this. I have lunch buddies in the office: 5 girls, and 3 of us have PCOS! One of the girls was diagnosed with PCOS four years after she gave birth. That’s 3 out 5 just in my inner circle alone! Pffffttt! So yeah, PCOS is not a big deal.
For women who come out victorious mothers despite PCOS, the battle is not yet over. PCOS survivors who get pregnant are at a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes. I was quite fortunate that my GD was managed through strict diet. Others had to inject insulin on a daily basis. GD is not something that should be taken lightly since it can harm both the mother and the baby. Nakaligtas ka sa PCOS, magkakaroon ka naman ng gestational diabetes. Ang saklap lang! And even if infertility is already out of the question, PCOS still poses as a health threat to women. Women with PCOS are at greater risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, heart diseases and ovarian cancer. So yeah, PCOS is not a big deal.
I’m writing this post for two things.
First is to raise awareness so more people will know how serious PCOS is. The thing is, you’ll see a woman, and you won’t even have the slightest idea that she has PCOS. I have PCOS. I don’t have breakouts, and I am not overweight. I know someone who never missed a period but was later on diagnosed with PCOS. I also want people to know that apart from the physical struggles that these women go through, we also deal with our own demons. We fight the urge to eat our favorite chocolates because we’re hoping that even the smallest effort can help us succeed with our fertility treatments. We exercise to death even if we know that it’s nearly impossible to lose weight. We look at the mirror every morning hoping that one day, we’ll finally have our clear and rosy cheeks back. We throw up, go to the bathroom countless of times in a day and try to keep ourselves from banging our aching heads just because our bodies can’t handle the side effects of Metformin and Clomid. We strive to be genuinely happy for our best friends who got pregnant without even trying. We look at kids with tears in our eyes while asking the question, “Will I ever get my turn in motherhood?” We feel guilty for dreading to go to family reunions primarily because we already got so fed up with relatives asking why we are still childless. We pray at night and sometimes bargain with God with the hopes of having an answered prayer soon. We get sad each time we can’t buy that dream bag to save for the pocket-draining fertility workups. We cry every single time we hear of stories of mothers throwing babies in the trash can while our dysfunctional ovaries can’t even produce a single egg cell. We pray that our husbands will continue to love us even if we can’t give them the kind of family that they deserve. We are in a battlefield every single day, and sadly, there are days when our hearts are dying. So the next time you utter an insensitive remark, whether you said it in jest or simply out of your ignorance, remember that these women are going through tougher times.
Second, I’m writing this with the hopes to empower women with PCOS. I look back at the days when I felt so embarrassed about having PCOS, and I wonder why I felt so inferior about it. I hid it like I did a heinous crime. It’s probably because I was so ashamed that I didn’t fit the mold of a “real” woman. Now that I have this platform, I’ll be using it to make these women feel that PCOS can be managed. I want these women who are being “beaten” by PCOS to feel differently. You are beautiful! You are sexy! You are smart! You are funny! Don’t let other people feel that you’re less of a woman just because your ovaries are lazy. And for those who are still praying for a baby, let me be a living testament that although having PCOS makes it more difficult to conceive, it does not mean that it’s impossible. Hang in there! You’re going to be an amazing momma!