Ipswich mum on joy of giving birth after having PCOS
An Ipswich mum oblivious for years that a medical condition was causing her fertility problems, irregular periods and facial hair growth has urged others to become more aware of the condition.
Rachel Woodward had experienced excess facial hair growth and had just one period a year – sometimes less – ever since she was a teenager.
But it was only when she and her husband Arren had difficulties conceiving that the couple first realised she might have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Rachel and Arren were later referred to the Bourn Hall clinic in Colchester for IVF treatment, which was successful and led to the birth of their daughter Adele.
Much to the couple’s surprise, Rachel fell pregnant again afterwards - and their son Eoin was born in April this year, in the middle of the coronavirus lockdown.
The 34-year-old is now backing a campaign by PCOS charity Verity to raise awareness of the condition, which affects approximately one in 10 people.
“Looking back, I wish I had known earlier that I had PCOS,” she said.
“I definitely think there should be more information about PCOS, because we only suspected I had it when my husband Arren read a magazine article describing the symptoms and we realised I had several of them.
“If we had been more aware, we would have got some advice sooner than we did.
“More information about the mechanics of the condition would have helped me too, because I like to understand how I can help myself.”
After having problems with facial hair and irregular periods since she was a teenager, Rachel had her testosterone levels checked out.
However, the results came back “within normal limits”, so she wasn’t given any advice at that stage about fertility.
Instead, she was put on the pill to regulate her periods.
Rachel came off the pill when she was 23, shortly before her wedding to Arren - and the couple started trying for a baby.
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“When I couldn’t get pregnant, I felt as though I had failed as a woman,” she said.
She was referred by her GP to Ipswich Hospital, where she said she was “put on various tablets and therapies and then I had an ovarian drilling operation”.
None of that worked, so the couple went to Bourn Hall for NHS-funded IVF treatment - where “for the first time it was explained to me what PCOS actually is and what it means”.
Their first two IVF cycles were unsuccessful but, after losing a stone and a half in weight in a few months to improve her chances of getting pregnant, the third round of treatment worked.
“When I saw the positive pregnancy test, it was the first time I had seen one and it seemed surreal,” she said.
Rachel added she and Arren were both “gobsmacked” when she fell pregnant again with Eoin.
“I think young women with the symptoms of PCOS need to be aware that it might impact their fertility in later life if they don’t maintain a healthy BMI,” said Rachel.
“I know that it would have been much easier for me if I had known a lot earlier what I was dealing with.”
Bourn Hall is now hosting a free webinar, called PCOS and Fertility, on Tuesday, September 15 to give practical advice on how women with PCOS can improve their chances of conceiving.
Dr Arpita Ray, regional lead clinician for Bourn Hall in Essex and an expert in PCOS, said: “PCOS is a complex syndrome that produces a wide variety of symptoms which makes it difficult to both diagnose and treat.
“Patients often report having seen different specialists over a number of years for treatment for various symptoms, acne, excessive facial hair, weight gain, heavy periods, without the realisation that the problems all have the same cause.
“An example of this is that acne is treated with antibiotics, facial hair with laser treatment and menstrual disturbance with the contraceptive pill. It is only when they have tried to conceive that the PCOS has been correctly diagnosed.
“The problem is that if it is only diagnosed at this stage, many women have an increased BMI as PCOS can cause weight gain.
“This makes fertility treatment less effective and pregnancy more of a problem.”
The webinar will take place at 7pm and is free to attend, although there is a limit on numbers.
More information is available at Bourn Hall’s website.
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