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NFP Uncensored: PCOS

Woman suffering from stomach ache and lying on the bedNFP Uncensored is a series of candid accounts of the way NFP informs every aspect of life. You can follow the posts by searching for “NFP Uncensored” here in the Living the Love blog (use the search bar on the right-hand side of this page), or by searching #NFPUncensored on social media.

Lying on a restaurant bathroom floor is not how I saw myself helping my mom spend her birthday but that’s how it went.

As my mom sat next to me putting cold paper towels on my head, I laid in the fetal position with terrible cramping. I have always had awful cramps. From the time I started my period, they were debilitating. What made it worse is that my cycles were very irregular, so I never knew when the pain was coming.

Moments like the one on the bathroom floor led me to see my Ob/Gyn about my intolerable cycles. Much to my dismay it was decided that I would go on birth control to regulate my periods and help subdue my cramps. We tried many different versions of the pill, but none of them really helped. Finally, we turned to surgery. The doctor was expecting to find endometriosis. Instead she found a golf ball-sized cyst near my ovary. This helped lessen my symptoms but did not cure them, so I stayed on birth control.

Fast forward seven years to my engagement.

My fiancé and I knew a little about natural family planning (NFP) but learned more about it in our Pre-Cana wedding preparation class. After that we knew we wanted to practice NFP but I realized I had to get off birth control.

I was fully prepared for my nauseating cramps to come back, as well as my irregularity. What I wasn’t prepared for was weight gain, thicker hair follicles, mood swings, pelvic pain during intercourse and acne. I thought these weird symptoms were a result of coming off birth control so I didn’t go to the doctor.

Luckily my NFP instructor knew that many of my symptoms were not related to birth control. She asked me questions about my symptoms and helped me try to relate them to my irregularity. Lots of crazy changes happen to a woman’s body when she comes off birth control and which can make it difficult to chart at first. But even after the hormones were out of my body, I still wasn’t noticing much cervical discharge. As I was using the Creighton method which relies entirely on cervical mucus, charting felt impossible. I never knew if I really was infertile or if I was just reading my mucus incorrectly.

Working with my instructor and my doctor, I eventually got comfortable and confident in my charting skills. That’s we realized that I wasn’t ovulating between my periods. This had likely started before I ever went on birth control, but we didn’t notice it until NFP pointed us to the problem. I went back to my Ob/Gyn and she did tests, some of which came back irregular, and the levels of one particular hormone indicated a potential brain tumor. I was sent to a specialist who did more tests and asked both me and my husband some questions. Turns out the abnormal hormone levels weren’t quite high enough for a brain tumor,  but did indicate something else. It was then that we discovered that I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is the reason I wasn’t ovulating, had irregular periods, had terrible cramps and had all my other “new” symptoms. The condition isn’t one-size-fits all, and since it affects many women in many different ways, it can be difficult to diagnose and even more challenging to treat.

For me, the toughest part about having PCOS was hearing that it would be very hard for my husband and me to conceive. Around that same time, we decided that we would like to have a child so we weren’t as strict about paying attention to my fertility, but we also weren’t actively trying to achieve. We were just focused on trying to re-calibrate my cycles.

My doctor gave me a two-week medicine that was supposed to jump-start my system, but it wasn’t guaranteed to work. When two weeks passed and my period still hadn’t started, we were disappointed and ready to head back to the doctor to try the medicine again. But the doctor made us take a pregnancy test before she was willing to admit us for another appointment.

It was positive.

We had conceived! A later ultrasound revealed that we had conceived that very first week we were on the two-week cycle-starting medicine.

Thankfully, through lots and lots of prayers and some great doctors, we now have our baby boy, Camdyn.

NFP was a game-changer for me. It helped me realize that the symptoms I was experiencing were not normal. It helped my doctors and me realize something was wrong. Without NFP, we would not be aware of my PCOS, and I would not have realized that changing my diet could help make my symptoms lessen. Without NFP, would not have our sweet baby boy.

My reproductive system as always been confusing, and nothing has helped me understand it more than charting with my husband and my instructor. It’s certainly not always easy. PCOS messes up normal fertility symptoms, so we had to start from scratch to figure out which signals my body uses to indicate fertility and which ones indicate infertility. But ultimately, with NFP and committed help, we gain better understanding of my body every day. NFP is more than a safe way for Catholics to plan a family. NFP is a way for women to get to know their bodies, work with their bodies, and to become the healthiest, best versions of themselves they can be.

— Emily Bryant teaches first grade and lives with her growing family in Mascoutah, Illinois.