Guest post by Taryn Oesch
I was first prescribed the birth control pill when I was 17 years old. Since my first period at 13, my periods were irregular, heavy, and painful. I went months at a time without a period, so I never knew when to expect it, and when I did get it, my cramps were terrible.
So, my mom took me to her gynecologist, and she did what most gynecologists and GPs do in this situation, she prescribed the pill. I took it every day, more or less, until I was 28.
Last year, I decided to stop taking it, mostly for philosophical and religious reasons, although the more I read about the pill, the more I distrusted it from a medical standpoint as well. Regardless of the reasons though, without the pill, I wasn’t sure what my cycles were going to be like, and I wanted a way to track them. I had read recently about the Creighton Method, a natural, fertility awareness-based method (FABM) of family planning, and it appealed to me because of its educational aspect (after all, how many of us have really been taught about our cycles?) and the fact that it had a medical component – NaPro Technology – that gynecologists use to treat any underlying medical problems observed through the method.
I reached out to a local Creighton practitioner, and my charting journey began.
The term “charting” encompasses a variety of FABMs that use biomarkers of fertility to help women understand and track their cycles. The Creighton Method uses cervical mucus, but other biomarkers work too. Essentially, what I learned to do was observe the mucus (or lack of it) produced by my body each day and how to connect the type and amount of mucus to where I was in my cycle.
After I had been off the pill for a while and been charting relatively accurately (there’s definitely a learning curve, especially if you never learned this stuff in biology or health class), a pattern emerged. My cycle (defined as the first day of your period until the last day before your next period) was fairly reliably about a month and a half long. While I was relieved that, while irregular, my cycle is much more reliable than when I was a teenager, my practitioner and I realized that it was not normal, and she referred me to a gynecologist who uses FABM to diagnose and treat gynecologic problems.
After having my blood drawn on certain days of my cycle (and visiting my local lab so often that the phlebotomists and I became pretty chummy), I returned to my gynecologist, which is when I officially joined the PCOS Diva club.
A friend of mine with PCOS had told me that there was no way I had it; I don’t struggle with my weight, I don’t have more hair than average, and I’ve never had problems with acne. My gynecologist did acknowledge, “If you do a quick Google search of PCOS, you won’t think you have it.” But there are many symptoms of PCOS, and I have a quite a few (in addition to the hormonal imbalances that clinched the diagnosis for my doctor). I’m hypoglycemic; I have anxiety and sometimes bizarre mood swings; and, of course, I have irregular periods. My gynecologist didn’t use the term, but I believe it’s what’s known as lean PCOS.
The question I keep asking myself is why neither my general practitioner nor the first gynecologist I’d gone to had thought to look for why my symptoms were showing up. As Amy Medling points out, “Most health care providers treat individual symptoms without pinpointing the root cause” – and as someone with fibromyalgia, which no one knows the root cause of, I’ve lived that reality since I was 13 years old.
But the fact is that we do sometimes know the root cause of our symptoms. Sometimes, we can do more than put a band-aid on our bad periods. Following the Creighton Method worked for me. My advice to my fellow PCOS Divas is to find something that works for you. Most importantly, find a doctor who works with you.
Want to learn more about charting? Read:
Taryn Oesch is a writer in Raleigh, NC, where she works as a managing editor for Training Industry, Inc., a digital media and content marketing company. She writes and speaks about women’s issues and disability inclusion for a variety of publications and conferences and is a contributing writer to FemCatholic.com. When not writing or editing, Taryn is typically reading Jane Austen, drinking Earl Grey, and spending time with family and friends. She is an active member of the Raleigh Catholic Young Adults, where she co-leads a small women’s group, helps organize Spirits & Wisdom events, and plays the piano and the flute for monthly holy hours. You can follow Taryn on Twitter @TarynOesch; on Instagram at CatholicCareerGirl; on Facebook; and on her blog, Everyday Roses.