When you’re 16 years old, your gynecologist will prescribe you a birth control pill due to irregular periods. You won’t think to question it, because you’re a teenager who really just wants clear skin, so what’s the big deal, right? At this age, you will not be worrying or even thinking about your fertility because having babies seems a long way off.
Still, throughout your 20s, you will always have a sneaking suspicion that the pill is masking an underlying issue. You think there has to be a medical reason why your periods had been so few and far between before starting birth control. Yet, every time you see your gynecologist for your yearly exam she will dismiss your worries and say,
“You won’t know until you go off of the pill and start trying.”
It won’t be until you’re 27 and newly married that you will decide to stop taking the pill. At this time, you and your husband won’t necessarily be ready to start actively trying for a baby— you just want to flush the hormones out of your system in hopes of restoring your normal menstrual cycle. You don’t know it then, but your body has vastly different plans for you.
Several months after going off of birth control, you still will not have gotten your period back. You will return to your gynecologist, and following a blood test and an ultrasound, you will be diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Your doctor will tell you that trying to conceive naturally will be difficult for you, and she will refer you to a Reproductive Endocrinologist to assist you in getting pregnant.
As someone who has always known you wanted to be a mother, you will be devastated by this news. Your first thought will be,
“Why didn’t my former gynecologist test me for PCOS 11 years ago when I went to her with an irregular menstrual cycle?”
I’m sorry you were so blindsided by this news. I’m sorry you were in the dark for so long about your fertility, only to be diagnosed right when you and your husband wanted to start a family. It’s just not fair.
I hate to break it to you, but your diagnosis will only be the beginning. Starting then, you will embark on a year-long fertility journey that will both challenge you and change you.
Fast forward to being a new mom to twins that is now on the other side of infertility, and there are so many things I wish I would have known both when I was a teenager and at the time of my PCOS diagnosis. Hindsight is 20/20, but if I could go back…
Here is what I would tell my younger self about what to expect on my journey to motherhood:
1. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
When I first received my PCOS diagnosis, my gynecologist made it seem like getting pregnant with the help of a fertility doctor was going to be a quick fix because I was under 30. Maybe she was trying not to scare me, but it didn’t end up being so easy for me. I wish I had known sooner that infertility is not one-size-fits-all. Everyone’s body is different, and fertility treatments are a process of trial and error that take time and require patience.
2. It’s a huge time commitment.
I had no idea when I started fertility treatments just how much of a time commitment it would be. On top of my full-time 9-5 job, I would have blood tests and ultrasounds 2-3 times a week before work, acupuncture in the evenings, and a weekly therapy session. When you throw in having to remember to take several different medications every day, sometimes I marvel at how I juggled it all. On the bright side, it prepared me for the chaos of life with twins, but I wish I would have been more mentally prepared for the physical and emotional toll it would take on me.
3. It is a valuable life lesson on giving up control.
For me, infertility was a hard-learned but invaluable life lesson on giving up control. In the beginning, it killed me that I couldn’t plan my family the way I wanted to, but eventually, I started to come to terms with the fact that some of us just don’t have that luxury, and that’s okay. Realizing this helped me in a lot of other areas of my life, too. As it turns out, relinquishing control is kind of freeing!
4. It involves sacrifice.
One of the hardest parts about going through infertility is having to treat your body like you’re pregnant when you’re not, but you want to be. Sounds fun, right?
5. It’s easy to compare yourself to others, but try your best not to.
When you’re going through infertility, it feels like your body is failing you. It also seems like everyone around you is getting pregnant. Try not to compare yourself to them. Unfollow people on social media if you have to. Repeat the mantra, “Good for her! Not for me.” (Thanks, Amy Poehler).
6. It’s important to be your own health advocate.
If one doctor’s treatment plan or bedside manner doesn’t sit right with you, seek the opinion of another, even if it means switching doctors. In hindsight, I wish I had done this sooner so that I was more comfortable from the beginning.
7. It can feel isolating, but you are not alone.
Infertility can make you feel like you are alone in your struggle. Lean on friends, family, and your partner during this time. You will be surprised at how much it will strengthen those relationships. If you aren’t comfortable confiding in family or friends, talk to a therapist or join our FREE infertility support community & app. If all else fails, simply share a smile with someone in the waiting room of your doctor’s office. All of this will help you more than you know.
8. It’s okay to cancel plans and opt for self-care instead.
You can’t pour from an empty cup. Get your nails done. Go for a massage. Take a bubble bath. Read a book. Go for a run. Do whatever you need to do to relax amid this incredibly stressful process.
9. It’s okay not to be okay sometimes.
When you are having a bad day, when you get yet another negative pregnancy test, it’s okay to be sad. Take as much time as you need to grieve, but then try again next cycle.
10. It will change you for the better.
The year I spent trying to get pregnant was the hardest yet most rewarding year of my life. I wouldn’t be as strong a person or as grateful a mom if it weren’t for what I went through to conceive my twins. So, besides wishing I had known about my diagnosis sooner, I actually wouldn’t change a single thing about my journey, because it made me into the best version of myself for my kids.
So, to my 16-year-old self, I would actually say, everything you go through in life will ultimately shape you into the strong woman and mother you are meant to become.