'I would just love to have a baby': Maeve Madden on polycystic ovary syndrome and fertility
We can't talk about fertility without looking at the reasons that women struggle to conceive.
One of the major natural causes of infertility in women is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). It's a condition that affects an estimated one in ten women, but do you know what it is and how it can affect reproductive health?
What is PCOS?
It occurs when a woman's ovaries contain multiple benign cysts. These sacs are actually egg-producing follicles but the eggs they develop never mature fully enough to cause ovulation.
The condition also sees an imbalance in sex hormones and a higher level of male hormones being produced in the woman's body. This can disrupt menstruation, meaning sufferers may not get regular periods.
It can also cause an imbalance in insulin levels.
Symptoms of PCOS include:
- Irregular periods or no periods
- Heavy bleeding
- Excess hair
- Weight gain growth
- Anxiety or depression
- Dark skin patches
- Thinning hair or hair loss
How can it affect fertility?
Ovulation might not occur regularly in sufferers because of higher levels of male sex hormones like testosterone or because of the production of immature eggs.
Even if a woman does ovulate, the imbalance of hormones can mean that the lining of the uterus doesn't develop properly to allow for implantation.
This means it is typically harder for them to get pregnant naturally.
What can you do to boost fertility?
Women may be prescribed medications like the pill or be put on a contraceptive like the coil to help to regulate their hormone levels.
There are also a number of fertility-boosting medicines that doctors can prescribe if a woman is actively trying to become pregnant.
Fertility treatments like IVF may also be an option.
Lifestyle changes like diet and exercise and regulating stress can also help to manage symptoms and help with the chances of conception.
Every woman will be different, so it's important to talk to your doctor if you have PCOS and are trying for a baby.
Someone who firmly believes in a more natural approach is Maeve Madden.
The Newry-born fitness blogger, 29, has been open about living with PCOS with her 155,000 followers on Instagram.
As well as having to put up with symptoms like acne and bloating around her stomach, she was told that she would struggle to have a baby when she was first diagnosed with the condition over ten years ago.
"I was absolutely devastated," she tells us.
"I remember I called mum when I came out straight away and she was devastated and I said no, I’m going to talk to someone else."
She sought opinions from several doctors and was given varying answers over the years.
Maeve then began to work with a doctor from the US with a background in nutrition and found that adapting her lifestyle could have a big impact on her symptoms and her fertility.
She turned away from using hormones to control her PCOS earlier this year after learning that using the coil for several years had actually compounded her fertility issues.
"I have a massive fibroid (a growth in the uterus) which is the size of a nectarine at my cervix," she says.
"It wasn’t there before I had the coil but it’s because it disrupts your hormone level in that area.
"So although it was supposed to help with the PCOS it’s now caused another issue."
She now focuses on her diet and exercise to help deal with her condition and hopefully boost her chances of conceiving in the future, citing New Zealand-based nutritionist Claire Goodwin as an expert she's turned to.
Becoming a mum is something she'd like to do in the next few years, she says, and she knows that there are lots of different ways of making that happen.
"Even if you asked me a few years ago I would have said no, absolutely not but I feel like now something has just clicked.
"I’m like, what?! I hate other people’s children! And now I’m like I would just love to have a baby.
"I’m not trying. I would like to get married first but if I did get pregnant that would be amazing.
"If I couldn’t have kids myself and I froze my eggs and they were fine, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with getting a surrogate, if you have the money to do these things. Then there is IVF too."
Maeve is keen to stress that just because a woman has PCOS it doesn't mean she can't become a mother.
She says that even in the ten years since she was diagnosed, there have been loads of advances both in the thinking around PCOS and in fertility treatments.
"I want to try within the next two to three years but we don’t know with the girls who are in their teens to early 20s... we don’t know will there be something different for them.
"I get messages about fertility and PCOS every day. I always think that girls are very worried about it but I've had more positive stories sent to me than negative ones, which I love.
"I’ve had so many say, 'I tried for so many years and now I’ve got four kids or three kids' or 'I came off contraception and within six months I was pregnant', so there are there are so many stories of positivity."
This October is Fertility Month on Her, when we’ll be talking all things reproductive health and having babies.
You can check out all of our Fertility Month articles here.
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