How I overcame PCOS and fell pregnant naturally after years of unsuccessful fertility treatments
If you’re reading this, then either you’re doing battle with PCOS or you’re trying to conceive and are struggling to fall pregnant.
Well I want you to hang on to hope. There are solutions to both of these problems that anyone can implement with the right knowledge and support.
This is my story of how I overcame PCOS and fell pregnant naturally after four and half years of infertility and miscarriages.
My PCOS backstory
I was once a textbook example of a woman with PCOS that has been let down by their health care providers. The only solutions I was ever given since the time I was diagnosed were band aid fixes for my acne, excess stomach fat, insomnia/anxiety, and lack of a regular period.
When I was a teenager, I was going up to a year between my periods so I went to see a doctor. His immediate solution was to put me on the pill, and with that easy fix the problem was out of mind.
Insomnia and anxiety
Around the same time I found a similar solution to my insomnia. I would get so anxious at night I just couldn’t sleep. I would take my blankets outside and just look up at the stars for hours on end. After my emotional state became more and more unstable, I ended up in front of another doctor. I was prescribed an antidepressant to help me sleep which I went on to take for the next 15 years.
Acne was always a problem for me too. Not just as a teen but throughout my twenties as well. I had tried antibiotics, I used prescription creams religiously and I bleached every shower cloth I ever used as a result of the potent peroxide based products I used to scrub my back.
Despite being athletic and really into sports (especially basketball) I always had excess stomach fat. It wouldn’t matter how much I exercised, or how hard I tried dieting the stomach fat would not budge.
The last symptom that plagued me, which I now know to be a result of my PCOS, were my digestive issues like bloating and acid reflux. While it took me years to figure this out, my gut health issues became my gateway to the long term natural solutions that transformed my health and got me pregnant naturally against all odds.
My infertility story
Specialist #1 – a most unhelpful endocrinologist
When my husband and I were ready to start a family I knew I was going to have problems as a result of my nonexistent periods. My first poor decision was to go and see an endocrinologist.
She was NOT helpful, and actually made me exceptionally mad after costing me a fortune. She didn’t do anything to find out what was wrong and gave me no diagnosis (I hadn’t even been diagnosed with PCOS at this time). She just said “you’ll be fine, keep trying”, even though my hormone test results were completely abnormal.
Specialist #2 – and my first experience with ovulation medications
About six months later I decided to try again so I went and found another endocrinologist. He seemed fantastic, diagnosed me with PCOS, and like all good doctors, put me on the two most common medications for ovulation and blood glucose regulation.
The problem with my first cycle was that my endocrinologist didn’t monitor me with an ultrasound during my cycle. He just said to take the pills and I would ovulate around a certain time. Everything would be fine.
So I took the pills and my husband and I timed it around when I thought I would ovulate. But I didn’t fall pregnant and I wasn’t sure why. Somehow I felt as though I wasn’t given enough supervision during that cycle, so I followed my intuition and moved on to specialist number three.
Specialist #3 – and my first pregnancy
My third specialist was an obstetrician and a gynaecologist. He agreed with my PCOS diagnosis and also put me on the same drugs but he monitored me with an ultrasound throughout the cycle. By doing this I knew exactly when I was ovulating and I fell pregnant!
This was a key lesson for me which I would recommend to anyone during a medicated cycle:
Make sure you get monitored via ultrasound!
Miscarriage and tears
I was SUPER excited, my husband was SUPER excited, but then I miscarried after 6 weeks. It was really devastating. I didn’t cry at first, and I remember the first few weeks thinking “I’m dealing with this really well, I’m just a really strong person”.
Then on Valentine’s Day, my husband and I had a silly fight and the miscarriage hit me like a ton of bricks. I just sobbed and sobbed for hours. I apologize for the details, but the worst part of the miscarriage was when I actually saw stuff come out. It was so upsetting knowing that what I was seeing could have been a baby.
After a break to recover, I did another four cycles with my obstetrician.
Unfortunately, none of them resulted in a pregnancy and after six cycles I was told to stop because doing more than six cycles can be harmful and the likelihood of getting pregnant was quite small.
I meet a real super-star: a functional medicine practitioner
It was around this time that I met someone who quite honestly changed my life. This person was a functional practitioner called Dr Yuwen Lee and I actually just chanced upon her when I was talking with a friend whose mother-in-law was seeing “this amazing doctor” who apparently “could cure anything”.
I knew I just had to see this woman as I was sure she could help solve the digestive issues I mentioned earlier, and I figured she might have some tips on treating infertility and PCOS without using drugs.
How a functional practitioner finds a real diagnosis
When I first saw Dr Lee she spent three hours with me!
Dr Lee asked me more questions than all of the doctors I have ever seen put together including some that seemed rather strange. After that she gave me a list of about 20 different tests that I would have to take. She checked for things like my cortisol levels and cholesterol levels as well as any vitamin deficiencies. She also ran tests for my liver health and gut health and checked for any food allergies.
Real holistic treatment for PCOS and infertility
Six weeks later I found out I was allergic to a LOT of foods so the first thing she did was eliminate those from my diet. The list of foods I shouldn’t eat also included processed foods and sugar.
I went on a whole food diet that primarily consisted of meat and vegetables, and also began taking a LOT of specific supplements for all the vitamin deficiencies the tests showed that I had.
Meeting Dr Lee, learning how to eat right, and solving my many health problems in a holistic, evidence driven way was a huge eye opener for me. Not only was I eventually able to fall pregnant naturally without using fertility treatments, but my whole life changed. I’m now a much healthier person and just so thankful for this experience.
I discover mindfulness
Another big game changer for me on my journey through PCOS and infertility was discovering mindfulness meditation which is why I did a podcast episode on this very topic. Learning to live in the moment more was a huge step for me emotionally with respect to both my PCOS and my infertility. As I later discovered, PCOS is made worse by emotional distress and so by learning to take care of my emotional health, I was inadvertently also treating my PCOS.
I’ve always been a very impatient person, and have always needed to be in control of everything in my life. I’m also very type A, and am accustomed to working towards goals and achieving them. But pregnancy doesn’t work this way and I found myself distressed by a situation in which I had no control.
I was not going to be happy until I had a baby and learning mindfulness meditation and starting to practice mindfulness in my day to day life really helped me learn how to deal with these feelings. I had to learn to accept the situation for what it was. Mindfulness has helped me learn how to be patient and it has helped me to be happy with what I have.
Through mindfulness, learning acceptance was a real turning point for me in my journey as well. I started to feel much tougher emotionally and we all need that right?
My periods start regulating normally
About six months after changing my diet I started to get a period thanks to Dr Lee! Within a year, I was getting my period around every six weeks or so which was a real miracle for me because this had never happened before in my life. Before this time I would either get my period once a year, or I’d have several in a row only two weeks apart.
Specialist #4 – and my ovulation induction roller coaster ride
Getting my period more regularly was a fantastic development and we tried conceiving naturally for a while. It was still difficult to figure out when I was ovulating though.
To be really honest, back then, I still believed that assisted reproduction technology would give me the best and quickest results. I wanted to get pregnant FAST and was completely under the spell of my loudly ticking biological clock. Looking back now I am mindful of how my beliefs reacted with my desperation to get pregnant and clouded my better judgement.
Despite all that I was doing to transform my health, I simply didn’t believe in my own ability to fall pregnant naturally.
This is something I really regret.
I decided to see a new fertility specialist, and this one suggested that we do an ovulation induction cycle. Ovulation induction is essentially a very mild treatment of IVF. You take hormone shots to ensure you ovulate, but fertilization is still done either the old-fashioned way or with artificial insemination (IUI).
We were so excited and happy again when it worked!
Around that time we were in the midst of moving to the Gold Coast from Sydney, Australia. We had bought a block of land in the beautiful Currumbin Valley and were building our family home.
I was managing the procurement and construction for our building project, and because my husband had to wait 7 months before he could transfer his job, we had to live apart during this time. So while freshly pregnant I moved all our stuff to the Gold Coast to live there by myself.
It wasn’t long after that I knew something was wrong. Because I had been getting early scans as part of the ovulation induction cycle, I knew that the baby was behind schedule. Then at 9 weeks they weren’t able to find a heartbeat…
I take a dive
My second miscarriage was more difficult even than the first because I was constantly wondering and worrying. Even when I was blissfully pregnant I still couldn’t enjoy it because I was just so scared of something going wrong.
The worst long term effect though was that I let this miscarriage reinforce my belief that my body couldn’t be trusted to make a baby on its own.
I had a D&C (Dilation and Curettage) where they actually remove the fetus surgically. The reason I chose to do this was because I wanted to be able to have some tests done on the fetus to know what was wrong. I wanted to know if I had done something wrong or if there was something wrong with my body.
The tests showed a chromosome problem, or a Trisomy 20 to be more precise.
Specialist #5 – and my journey through IVF
Once I had emotionally recovered from my second miscarriage, I started looking for a fertility specialist on the Gold Coast and found Dr Kee Ong. Looking back now I think that my second miscarriage had convinced me that the only way I would be able to fall pregnant and successfully carry a baby was through fertility treatment.
I was so excited to meet Dr Ong because I realized after talking to him that one of my biggest fears about how long it was taking for me to get pregnant was that I wanted more than one baby. Because I wanted to space them apart I was scared that if I was having so much trouble getting pregnant with the first one, then how much more difficult would the second one be when I was much older!
After talking to Dr Ong we actually came up with a plan that solved all of those problems which you can read about here in How to Increase Your IVF Success Rates With Family Planning. Dr Ong introduced me to the idea of family planning from an IVF perspective.
Dr Ong suggested going straight to IVF because while ovulation induction would likely be successful in getting me pregnant again, he wasn’t so sure about a second or even third baby if I still wanted more by then. When we had this conversation I felt a weight come off my shoulders as the pressure to rush and get all my baby making out of the way before my eggs expired was killing me mentally.
Why I went straight to IVF and bypassed IUI’s
At that time I also read a well-reasoned book that suggested going straight to IVF if you’re having problems (The relevant chapter covering this is titled “IVF & ICSI Bypass Everything that Could Go Wrong”.
The argument in favor of this view, is that you can get all sorts of diagnostics test done and try multiple ovulation induction and intrauterine insemination (IUI) cycles with a failed outcome meaning you advance to IVF anyway. IVF is unquestionably the most powerful fertility treatment because it bypasses many of the common barriers to pregnancy like fertilization issues and having blocked tubes.
Luckily in Australia some of the cost of IVF is covered by Medicare which also helped make my decision easier.
While I sometimes wonder if I would make the same decision today knowing what I know now, I made up my mind that it was time for IVF. After I finished “the house project” I started my first cycle.
A dream team doesn’t always win
Despite all of the support I was receiving, my first IVF cycle was a bit of a disaster. Because I had PCOS I reacted strongly to the hormone shots and even though we started on quite a low dose I ended up getting extremely sick and ovulating 44 eggs!! I remember waking up in the hospital after surgery with the number 44 written on my hand and some of the nurses around me saying that I had hit a new record for the hospital.
Of course ovulating 44 eggs sounds amazing but unfortunately it wasn’t.
Only a portion of the 44 eggs were mature, and of the ones that were, many did not fertilize. By day 5 we had only one embryo that was considered “A” grade morphologically.
Second attempt at IVF
Thankfully my second attempt at IVF went a lot better. We did a lower dose of hormone shots and I ovulated about 20 eggs or so and ended up with 8 of them fertilizing.
For the second cycle we decided that we were going to do pre-implantation genetic testing or PGD as its known. PGD is expensive and generally not covered by health insurance but we decided to go for it because long story short, I was so scared of miscarrying and PGD was going to halve the chances of that happening for us.
My good hubby took my fear seriously enough to agree it was worth the money to improve our chances of success. Of the 8 fertilized embryos, 5 came back okay with no chromosome problems so we put those into the freezer and got ready to put them back in.
Embryo transfers fail
During this period I had started smartfertilitychoices.com. After publishing articles like Misleading IVF Success Rates & The Numbers You Really Need to Know, and Calculating Your IVF Success Rates Over Multiple Cycles, I knew I had amazing odds of success.
For each transfer I had a 70%+ chance of success. Over two cycles, this equates to a 90% chance of falling pregnant which is about as good as it gets when it comes to fertility treatments.
As it turned out though…. I was the unlucky 1 in 10.
Both of my embryos transfer cycles failed and I was again devastated. By this time my veins were bruised, full of scar tissue and generally pretty unhappy.
Natural killer cells and IVF
90% of fertility issues are caused by issues with the embryo.
Because I had used genetic testing during my IVF cycles, I basically ruled this issue out. My fertility specialist recommended a uterine biopsy and found I had a high count of natural killer cells. This meant my uterus was treating the embryo like a foreign invader and hence my immune system was preventing implantation.
It was at this time that I wrote the article Natural Killer Cells and IVF.
In this article I explain how immune suppressant steroids are part of this unproven and controversial fertility treatment. I also describe how terrible I felt as a result of these drugs.
Time for another break
The drugs were so bad in fact, that I couldn’t proceed with my third embryo transfer cycle and decided to take another break. I was burnt out.
I had recently started my 30 Day PCOS Diet Challenge and was in the process of building my Beat PCOS 10 Week Program, a massive project that was completely consuming me. There was no way I could keep feeling sick, and doing another round of IVF while also working with my team to build the 10 Week Program. I also had made a commitment to a special group of women with PCOS and there was no way I was going to let them down. Truth be told, I was also starting to give up hope.
I buckled down on my work project while focusing more and more on perfecting my own self-care. I took my diet to a whole new level of commitment, I continued to work out correctly, and I kept up my mindfulness practice. In essence, I made sure that I practiced what I preached. I followed my own advice perfectly and without compromise because it was all I had left.
My infertility journey ends
By this time I was getting a perfect 30 day period. My acne was long gone, my stomach was flat, and I had stopped taking the antidepressants and anxiety medication I was put on as a teen. I had beaten PCOS in all ways possible apart from the one thing I wanted most. A baby.
Despite still having almost zero trust in my ability to fall pregnant naturally, in July 2016 when we took a break from fertility treatments my husband and I figured we might as well continue trying. We assumed there was basically no chance of me falling pregnant because of my natural killer cells, but there was nothing to lose also.
On August 4, the day of my 35th birthday, I realized my period was late. With the most fragile hope ever I went and bought a pregnancy test.
I could hardly believe the moment that a second dark line appeared. After all I had been through was it really possible that I had fallen pregnant naturally? And after only 2 months of trying naturally?!
This time the pregnancy stuck.
I had absolutely TERRIBLE pregnancy sickness and I loved every minute of it.
I was going to be a mom!
The most important thing I have learned about PCOS
My journey had started with a belief that conventional western medicine offered me the best hope for motherhood. I had absolutely no trust in my body’s ability to create a child and I paid the price for it. My husband and I spent tens of thousands of dollars on fertility treatments, and I suffered the sickness, pain, and emotional distress that goes part in parcel with any type of assisted reproduction. As my recent pregnancy has proven, I clearly didn’t need it. This is a hard reality for me to face, even now, but hindsight can be a bit like that…
Don’t underestimate evidence based diet and lifestyle interventions
While I am absolutely STOKED to be entering my third trimester this week with everything going perfectly, I regret not believing in myself more. I wish I had known that by perfecting my diet and by making the other lifestyle improvements that transformed my health, that I would actually be able to conceive naturally and have a healthy pregnancy.
I think I would have achieved my goals far sooner had I only appreciated more how effective diet, exercise and emotional wellness techniques can be. It is now perfectly clear to me that lifestyle changes can make far more of a difference than most people realize – my former self being a classic example.
Dietary changes should always be the first PCOS treatment
In the end though I came full circle and now believe that the non-pharmaceutical solutions offered by pioneering functional medicine practitioners should always be the first port of call for any kind of health issue – especially PCOS and infertility. The most powerful tool that any decent functional practitioner will reach for is the dietary and nutritional changes that can deliver all the benefits we could hope for.
Hang on to hope (but take action)
Coming back to the start of this story, the most import thing I have learned about PCOS and PCOS related infertility is that IT CAN be overcome using lifestyle interventions. The science says so, the thousands of women I have helped so far say so, and my big round belly says so too.
So hang on to hope – wherever you are at right now.
If you want to lose weight, get pregnant, and get rid of acne or unwanted hair growth….
If you want to sleep better, feel less anxious, get off antidepressant drugs, or discover the happy shining you that is just itching to come out…
Then take action today.
With the right knowledge, a supportive community, and touch of grit anyone can beat their PCOS and overcome infertility.
I know you can do it.