How I conceived naturally with PCOS
I wanted to detail what I was doing when I got pregnant naturally despite my PCOS, in case anyone else might find it helpful.
A few things first:
- I am not a doctor. (Though my dad is, and a very good one at that.) Please don't take my experience as anything even remotely resembling legitimate medical advice.
- I am not an expert in PCOS treatment. I'm just one of the one in 10 women of childbearing age who suffer from it.
- I tried these things, but I believe that ultimately it was God who helped us conceive. Had it not been in His will for us to get pregnant when we did, I don't know if these things would have "worked" so to speak.
A little more context around me and my lifestyle habits at the time:
- I was 27 years old.
- I'm of East Asian descent.
- I weighed around 113 to 117 lbs depending on the week, putting me in a BMI range of 22.4 to 23.2.
- My full-time job was very sedentary (but very rewarding! Love y'all always, BuzzStream team.)
- I taught five dance classes a week after my day job. Outside of teaching and choreographing for those classes, I was a total bump on a log.
- I was following a vegan diet. No meat, no dairy, no eggs. Lots of beans, rice, tofu, fruits, and veggies. (And way too many potato chips and vegan cookies if I'm being honest.)
Here are the four things that I was doing that I think may have made a difference in helping us conceive naturally with PCOS:
1. Took a cinnamon and poria herbal supplement
When I wrote about my PCOS diagnosis, my friend Colleen suggested I think about treating my condition with Chinese herbs. Specifically, that I use a cinnamon and poria supplement to help regulate my wonky, infrequent, and irregular cycles.
Girl, say what?
Now, this wasn't coming completely out of left field. Colleen had a Master’s degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, and was working toward her Doctorate at the time. She was also actively practicing at Sì Shòu Acupuncture and Wellness, in addition to teaching a boatload of contemporary dance classes at the same dance studio I taught at.
However, I come from a family chock-full of doctors, all of whom are real quick to give the side-eye to anything outside the realm of non-traditional/non-Western medicine.
But I was intrigued.
Experimenting with traditional Chinese medicine wasn't something I had considered. But why not? After all, I'm ethnically Chinese. If this stuff is going to work on anyone, surely it'd be a Chinese person like me, right?
I was curious as to why this supplement could possibly help regulate my cycles, so I did some reading and found some small studies that showed cinnamon helped "curb blood sugar by lowering insulin resistance." This made sense, given that many women with PCOS are also insulin resistant. In fact, a 2012 study exploring the connection between women with PCOS and insulin resistance summed up its findings in its title, saying simply: "All Women With PCOS Should Be Treated For Insulin Resistance."
So, under Colleen's guidance, I started taking Golden Flower's cinnamon and poria supplement in September. Following her recommendations, I took three tabs at a time, two times a day, about 12 hours apart.
For the first two days, I kept some notes on how my body reacted. They're a little graphic. So now is a good place to skip if you'd rather not get the literally gory details.
Day 1 - 9/2/17 - First day of taking the cinnamon and poria supplement! It happens to align with the third day of my cycle, so I'm already on my period. I took the tabs at 10 am and 10 pm. Felt like my period was over, but then it started again in the evening. Not a heavy flow though, just more bleeding.
Day 2 - 9/3/17 - When I woke up this morning, my period seemed basically over. My overnight pad had only some light smatterings of watery brown blood. Was out and about, so I missed taking my 10 am tabs. Dry all day period-wise. Took my 10 pm tabs and showered. After my shower, the blood started to flow again. This time it was bright red! Eeeee! For context, I have not bled bright red blood in years. My blood has always been deep red or brown, and full of clots. Hurray for bright red blood!
Fun fact: Bright red blood generally indicates a a healthy, regular period, whereas dark, clumpy blood could mean low progesterone levels and high estrogen levels. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is the exact hormone imbalance many women with PCOS tend to have. So I wasn't a total weirdo to be super excited to see bright blood. Just kinda one.
After those two days, I forgot to keep taking notes. (Typical Gracelyn.) But I kept taking the supplements.
Overall, the only differences I noticed were that:
- The period described above was slightly longer than previous periods (bleeding for four or five days instead of just two or three.)
- I bled bright red blood instead of just dark, clumpy, deep red blood.
I didn't notice any other side effects otherwise. I stopped taking the tabs once I found out I was pregnant (again, on Colleen's recommendation), which means I took the supplement for about a month and a half.
So did it work?
Maybe. The goal of the cinnamon and poria supplement was to regulate my cycles so that I could get pregnant later, with the potential added benefit of decreasing my insulin resistance.
Turns out, the finding that insulin resistance and PCOS are closely related has been around for over a decade, and has been explored in numerous studies.  So, my current theory is that taking the supplement may have helped decrease my insulin resistance, which helped allow my hormones to get back into balance, which then led me to ovulate naturally for the first time in almost a year.
I gotta say, though: If you decide to experiment with traditional Chinese medicine, please see a trained professional. Colleen not only had her degrees, but over 1,000 hours of training, knowledge of my life and background, and a genuine desire to help me. I promise you, I would never have considered taking the supplement if it weren't for all of those factors.
In the same vein, I also recommend that you avoid taking any supplement that you can get without the explicit approval of a licensed practitioner. (ie: Anything you can just order from Amazon.) The herbal supplement market is not well-regulated. Better to be safe than sorry.
2. Drank apple cider vinegar
I don't remember where I first saw or heard it (very dangerous, I know), but it came to my attention that consuming some apple cider vinegar (or really any vinegar) before eating a high carb meal could increase insulin sensitivity. A good thing if true!
Thankfully, I wasn't pulling this idea out of nowhere. There are studies that have shown vinegar can help increase insulin sensitivity. Here's one, for example: Vinegar Consumption Increases Insulin-Stimulated Glucose Uptake by the Forearm Muscle in Humans with Type 2 Diabetes.
I was interested in targeting my insulin resistance (especially since diabetes runs in my family), so I started drinking a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar diluted in a pint (16 oz) of water every morning. Note: Even diluted, this stuff is SOUR.
Immediately after drinking, I'd swish my mouth out with plain water to prevent any enamel damage. (My mom has a degree in dentistry and recommended I do this. Thanks, mom!)
So did it work?
Again, maybe? The goal of the apple cider vinegar drinking was to decrease my insulin resistance. That again could have helped balance my hormones, given how PCOS and insulin resistance feed on each other.
At the very least, I'm happy to report that it doesn't appear to have done any damage to my teeth. I've been to the dentist twice since then and have come back with a clean bill of health. So if you try this one, be sure to swish afterwards like Mama Tan says!
3. Did not take Provera, Clomid, or Metformin
As I mentioned in my PCOS diagnosis post, I had done two cycles on Provera and Clomid (one in May of 2017, and one in July of 2017), and I didn't ovulate during either cycle. I felt that God was calling me to stop with the medication, so I decided to take a two month break from any prescription drugs meant to fix my problem.
The second month of that two month break is when God allowed me to ovulate naturally, and allowed Thomas and me to successfully conceive.
So did it work?
Yes? In that we managed to get pregnant without the drugs.
Big HOWEVER here: After I opened up about my PCOS diagnosis and fertility struggles, quite a few friends of mine who also have or had PCOS mentioned to me that Metformin (a drug traditionally used to treat diabetes; there's that insulin resistance-PCOS connection again) helped them conceive.
Personally, I know my older sister was conceived using Clomid, and my mom somehow got pregnant with me while taking Provera?? (Which is not at all what Provera is intended to be used for, but I'm obviously thrilled that it worked out.) So I know these medications can work for the right bodies and the right situations.
4. Stopped focusing on my infertility for a week (AKA stopped taking my basal body temperature)
I'm fully aware that this is the absolute worst and most annoying advice I ever received when trying to conceive. "Just relax!" "You're young. It'll happen!" "Just stop thinking about it so much!"
I can feel my blood pressure rising already.
Hearing that advice was insanely annoying, but it turned out that living it out was very beneficial to me.
Near the end of my second month off medications, I decided to stop taking my basal body temperature every morning because I had given up on seeing any good news. It felt sucky, but it helped me loosen my grip on my dream of motherhood, and as a result, gave me mental and emotional room to genuinely find interest in my life again.
More concretely, here are two things I did that I think helped me refocus on the positive in my life:
A. Did something new and distracting
I was insanely lucky that the week I decided to stop temping was also the week before Austin City Limits (ACL). I distracted myself with preparing for the festival, wrapping up stuff at work and trying to figure out what bands we'd go see.
Plus, the actual festival itself was such good stress relief. We walked so much, got so much sun, and couldn't help but be present in the current moment. We were also in a setting that was much easier to enjoy without having our own kiddos in tow. (Though there were a surprising number of babies with noise-blocking headphones in attendance.)
The whole experience got us feeling very romantic toward each other again. I was finally relaxed enough to act on those romantic urges, and "act" we did.
So I highly recommend trying something new with your partner to help reframe your mindset. Even better if it's physical, so y'all will get those happy exercise-induced endorphins, and time sensitive, so y'all can't put it off or opt-out at the last second.
B. Read other perspectives
Before I took my week off, I would spend a lot of time reading about PCOS and the perspectives and stories of other infertile women. It was nice to feel so understood.
During my week off, however, I intentionally opened myself up to some different perspectives.
I (like almost 24,000 others) follow Karen Swallow Prior on Twitter. She's an author, professor, and godly woman who I love hearing from. She was also, recently and upsettingly, literally hit by a bus. But thank God, she's since returned home and is currently on the mend. I highly recommend reading her reflections on her bus accident in Christianity Today, "Sin Is Like Walking in Front of a Bus."
Luckily, her Weimaraner, Eva, is by all accounts an attentive and capable nurse.
Prof Prior wrote about her own experience with infertility in her piece, "Called to childlessness: The surprising ways of God." (Another read I highly recommended, of course.)
This paragraph in particular grabbed me:
Sometimes God’s calling is not one we want. Yet, obeying that call is the only thing that will bring us true and lasting joy. Recognizing my childlessness as a call of God has transformed the way I see my whole life and the work of the Lord in it. For many years, my desire was to be a mother. My desire now is to be the woman that God calls me to be. No more. And no less.
This was a much different take than the kinds of stories I had been surrounding myself previously, to say the least.
Although I didn't feel anything close to the sense of peace and fulfillment Prof Prior wrote about, it gave me hope that maybe one day I would. It helped me accept that my plan is not God's plan. It helped me allow myself to grieve the plans and dreams that I had, and accept that, even if I couldn't imagine it, God had something even better in mind.
I also dove into reading the Old Testament, since I'm much less familiar and comfortable with it than the New Testament. Turns out, barrenness is all over the place! The struggles of Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel reminded me that infertility can be and has been used by God for good.
Not only that, but He wants to hear from me as I struggle with it. I can cry in front of Him. I can rage at Him. I can question His goodness despite everything He's already done, and He will continue loving me regardless.
So did it work?
Yes! Taking time off from striving so hard to conceive gave me a renewed perspective. It helped me recalibrate emotionally, appreciate what I've been given, and feel ready to take my infertility journey in stride with the other aspects of my life. It helped me heal.
If you're trying to get pregnant with PCOS
My approach to treating my PCOS naturally was roundabout: I focused on treating my insulin resistance and changing my mindset, and by the glory of God, He allowed it to work.
If you have any questions about anything I was doing or why I did it, please don't hesitate to reach out. Again, I'm not a doctor, but I can at least tell you my experience and hope it can help you too.
This is not an easy journey. But you are strong, and you are loved by an even stronger God. Not only can He take whatever you need to throw at Him, but He wants to.
When I mentioned that the PCOS and insulin resistance connection is well-established in scientific literature, I wasn't kidding. Here's a small selection of what I was able to find with a quick search: