Back in my early 20s, a trip to a Planned Parenthood for affordable birth control led to a discussion about my health concerns. I had irregular periods, sometimes going months without one, and also worried how this might affect fertility should I choose to have children later on. I had also suffered from acne since fourth grade and wondered if there was some connection between my hormones, acne issues and irregular cycle.
She told me that it was somewhat normal to not have a period every month and that birth control would help regulate my menstrual cycle. There was no mention of the elephant in the room: that being on birth control doesn’t do me any good when I decide to have children some day.
I left that appointment with more questions than I came in with and began an emotional and frustrating journey into my health. It started by trusting that deep knowing within me that something wasn’t quite right.
A few years later, I decided to see another physician about my concerns, hopeful that we could put a name to what was going on with my body, come up with a treatment plan, and finally put my worries to rest. Again, I explained my concerns. Again, I was told it was “not uncommon” to skip a month or two, and that some people are just more prone to acne than others.
She also mentioned rather nonchalantly that I probably have something called polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, and that she’d write me a prescription for birth control to regulate my cycle. I told her, in essence, that I didn’t accept any of that as anything more than bullshit and asked for a blood test. When I was contacted a few days later about the results, the physician failed to test specifically for PCOS, but my normal test results did show a spike in hormones. They couldn’t tell me what that meant but assured me I “should be fine.” I could assure them that physically, mentally and emotionally I wasn’t.
Fast forward a year or two down the road: another doctor, the same “diagnosis,” and this time, a prescription for Metformin, a drug for Type 2 diabetes. Metformin is commonly prescribed to those with PCOS because of its ability to control the amount of sugar in the bloodstream. I didn’t show any signs of sugar issues in my blood work, but was told I should take it, because if I do have PCOS (again, she chose not to test me for it), I had the potential of developing diabetes and would end up having to be on this drug anyway. I couldn’t believe I was not eligible for specific testing despite three people now telling me that my symptoms aligned with this syndrome, and that I was given a drug for something I don’t have with side affects enough a reason to not take it (nausea, vomiting, stomach upset, diarrhea, weakness, or a metallic taste in the mouth).
Out of spite, I threw away the written prescription at the receptionist desk. I became consumed with hopelessness, anger and a belief that something was wrong with me, that I was broken, and that as far as the modern medical world was concerned, I didn’t matter.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is generally described as a hormone disorder that can cause cysts on the ovaries, acne, irregular periods, excess hair growth, weight gain and insulin resistance. Modern medicine knows little about the cause, although it is believed to be caused by genetic and environmental factors. The word “syndrome” is typically a fancy word for “we don’t really know for sure what this is or what is causing it,” further contributing to frustrations revolving around treatment.
Startling statistics from the PCOS Foundation show that 10% of women of childbearing age are affected by PCOS, with less than 50% of women diagnosed. PCOS is also believed to be responsible for 70 percent of infertility issues in women who have difficulty ovulating. Another study showed that a third of 1,385 women surveyed took at least two years and three different doctors to receive a diagnosis. With these kinds of numbers, I’m blown away that many doctors minimize these symptoms as “not uncommon.” Modern medicine is flat-out failing women.
After years of struggle, no answers and objectionable treatment options, I turned toward natural health practitioners.
Sometimes challenges are opportunities in disguise.
Once I found the right naturopath, it was the first time in my life I could speak without being interrupted and the first time I was truly heard with compassionate ears by a health care provider. It was the first time someone made me feel like I was, in fact, not broken, but that I was whole and perfect just as I was no matter what. It has been beyond nourishing for my mind, body and spirit, and I’d like to share some the life-changing ways I have found to begin healing from my symptoms.
All naturopaths view the body as an interconnected whole, but the way they work may significantly vary from one practitioner to another. In my case, what worked best for me was a traditional naturopath, and more specifically, the approach taken at Continuum Healing. Here, the naturopaths focus on the mind-body connection and believe that deeply rooted negative belief systems are often the root of illness. Exploring emotions, trauma and beliefs that no longer serve us are ways we can reconnect to who we truly are and allow for healing, not only on an emotional level, but a physical level, as well. Exploring these places has been incredibly healing, along with a variety of other recommendations, like herbs, supplements, flower essences and energy work.
Every body is different, and I believe there is no one perfect diet. Listening to your body and taking other things into account such as your body type, blood type and health concerns are all important factors. For me, a high protein, high fat, veggie rich, no sugar, low carb diet feels the best.
Exploring the root and sacral chakras
If you aren’t familiar with chakras, I highly recommend Eastern Body Western Mind by Anodea Judith. The root and sacral chakras rest in our pelvic bowl and sacrum which, anatomically, also house our reproductive organs. These chakras are all about grounding, safety, creativity, femininity and sexuality. If there are energetic blockages, traumas or imbalances, then our organs may not function optimally. Exploring these energies can be beneficial in relation to the menstrual cycle and can be done on your own, with an energy worker or a traditional naturopath.
According to several medical studies, acupuncture can increase fertility by reducing stress, increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs and balancing the systems of the body. Acupuncture has been shown to increase conception rates. Like naturopaths, acupuncturists aim to find and work with the root of the issue.
Reconsider synthetic hormones
Birth control is a source of synthetic hormones, which can mask the root of the issue. You may end up getting your period every month, but it’s not because your body is functioning naturally. Consider natural family planning or other options that are hormone free.
Connect to nature
There are many examples of cycles in nature. A well known one exists in the phases of the moon. Years ago, indigenous people who lived primarily outdoors often experienced their menstrual cycle in a way that aligned with the full moon. As a modern society, we have lost our connection with nature and spend an exorbitant amount of time indoors occupying our minds in ways that disconnect us from ourselves and the Earth. Being aware of the moon moving through its cycle and even sleeping near a window where the moonlight comes in can have a positive affect on some women and her menstruation.
Talk about it
Don’t hide behind your health issues. Talk about it. Shining light on issues and saying them aloud allows you to release the burden of carrying it by yourself. It allows you to connect to others who may be dealing with the same thing. Releasing it in such a way is just another way to shed layers, moving closer toward healing.
Taking these steps have given me hope, though it didn’t come without shame and confusion: Why wouldn’t you do what your doctor tells you? Don’t you think they know what they’re talking about? Have you tried A, B, and C? But taking my health into my own hands has been the best decision of my life so far.
Pay attention to that feeling you have that something isn’t quite right. That’s your intuition trying to get your attention. Listen.
My hope is that anyone reading this who has struggled with these issues has the courage to stand up to a system that isn’t working for them anymore. If you would like more information about PCOS, below are a few resources that I’ve found helpful.
Author: Jenny Bork is a licensed massage therapist at Continuum Healing who specializes in stress management, chronic pain and movement education. She is currently accepting new clients.
Photo: Gabriela Camerotti on Flickr, under Creative Commons