Living with PCOS: A very good place to start

Anyone with PCOS knows that one of the most disconcerting aspects of the disorder (and in fact, the biggest giveaway to the fact that that's what you are dealing with) is the lack of a regular menstrual cycle.

In my own journey, my cycle has actually been a bit of a measuring stick for how I am doing at moving towards greater health. Both ovulation and regularity (having cycles that take approximately one month, give or take a week or so) have been clear markers for me that something is happening as it should be.

So, how do we move in the direction of regularity?

Really, this is done through the bigger picture of improving our nutrition, exercising, avoiding those things that hamper our efforts, and supplementing with herbs, homeopathics, vitamins and minerals.

Today I want to focus, though, on how to work towards a greater knowledge of our cycle and what is happening within our bodies. Though it is important to begin to do all of those other things, starting off with a solid knowledge of what is actually happening within your body is so very valuable!

Charting your Cycles

Do you really, truly know what's happening during your cycle? Could you pinpoint the day that you ovulated (or whether you even did at all)? Could you tell me how long your luteal phase was (my lutta-whatta phase?) and whether you have sufficiently high progesterone to support a fertilized egg? Are you having signs that indicate impending ovulation, without the big O actually taking place?

Fertility chart

**This is an example of a cycle chart, with the blue dots representing basal body temperature, and the red line in the center representing the day of ovulation. More on this below**

All of these are important questions to be able to answer, for a couple of reasons.

Seeking Pregnancy: First of all, if you are seeking to become pregnant now or sometime in the near future, you would be served to know how your body works, when things happen (or don't happen), and how to best work with what's going on. Knowing your cycle also lets you know when to try to conceive, to have the best chance possible.

Something to Show: During the year that we sought to conceive our little boy, I charted faithfully, and I am so glad that I did. When the doctors wouldn't take me seriously and didn't want to run hormone tests and when I wasn't getting a positive test month after month, not only was I fairly certain of why it wasn't happening (I wasn't ovulating), but I also had something to take with me and help me to advocate for myself in my appointments.

More Information: Charting tells me when I am about to ovulate, and indicates to me when it has already happened. It tells me when to watch for my period (those with long cycles, like myself, will understand how helpful this might be!). It tells me whether my progesterone is likely too low, and whether my luteal phase (the time between ovulation and menstruation) is too short to allow an egg to implant in my uterus, and it helps me as I seek out ways to improve these specific issues that I see happening. Overall, it serves as a bit of a measuring stick for my reproductive health, and indicates problems that need to be addressed.

There are already so many great resources out there for charting (or using the Fertility Awareness Method, as it is also called), that rather than reinvent the wheel, I'm simply going to direct you to them:

Naturally Knocked Up: How to chart your temperature, Checking your cervical mucous, Using cues from your cervix position

How the Fertility Awareness Method Works: Start on the first page, and then click the link that says Next at the bottom of each page (it's 3 pages total). This is from the author of the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility.

Fertility Friend: This is a site that offers free online charting (rather than simply making your own chart with graph paper). It's convenient and something I have used before. Their handbook on fertility is extremely thorough and gives a really excellent overview as well as answering many more detailed questions on the topic.

Taking Charge of Your Fertility
by Toni Weschler: This might just be the most comprehensive book on this topic and is a
valuable book for any woman to own (I have it and have recommend it to
many women!)

Any other charters out there? For those who do chart, how have you found it to be beneficial? What other resources or charting tools have you used and liked?

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  1. I used Fertility Friend to chart my monthly cycle when I was trying to get pregnant with my son. This really helped me realize how my body worked, and I had so much fun with it! Three months later, I was pregnant.

    I am currently pregnant and was diagnosed with PCOS after my first pregnancy. I decided to do a cycle chart again, while trying to get pregnant this time. This time, though, it became more of a frustration when month after month went by without a pregnancy even though I had always “predicted” my ovulation pretty accurately with the chart. After several months, I gave up on the charting. It was becoming too intense and not fun anymore…and, of course, as soon as I gave up – I got pregnant! Funny how God works. 🙂

    I am really glad that I learned how to chart my cycle, though, because it helped to ease my mind, knowing that I was actually ovulating when I saw my temperature rise every month.

  2. thank you for blogging about this! i’ve used fertilityfriend as a method to not get pregnant before it was our time to and with that i was shown how crazy my cycle is! i’ve also grown up using vitamins/minerals/homeopathics and more. i appreciate your openness about this subject and spreading the word about fertilityfriend.

  3. I have the Taking Charge of your Fertility book and also used the software from her website TCOYF. (before my 1st child, that is). I plan to start again after this child (our 3rd) is born. I have to learn how to do it when breastfeeding b/c I know that it is different.

  4. It is so neat how God works. I just found out yesterday that I have PCOS. This post couldnt have come at a better time. I dont currently chart but if I dont get pregnant this month I plan on starting. We have been trying to concieve for about 7 months now and I tried to chart in the past but it never worked out because my daughter still wakes up at night. Anyway it is so good to know I am not alone in this and that I can still get pregnant!

  5. Yes, I chart, and I used it to conceive all my pregancies (3 so far, two went to term). It was very beneficial to know what was going on, not only from a stand-point of knowing that I would likely get pregnant if I picked a certain day, but also to give me a better understanding of how my body works- quite liberating and empowering to actually know what was going on! It also helped me to realize after my miscarriage what was going on with my body, and why I wasn’t getting pregnant. Another wonderful thing about it is that it taught me I have long cycles- ovulation is usually around day 20 or even later- and therefore I could prove when I did get pregnant that the baby’s due date would be far off from the one that just goes by your last period. This was extremely helpful in the case of my first baby because the date corresponding to my last menstral period was much earlier than the date I could prove from my chart. (also with my 3rd pregnancy but not so dramatically). My first baby was born 9 days later than my chart due date, so if I had not have known this information, even the midwives I had would have pushed for induction after 14 days (she was born 16 days after her due date according to my last period, 9 days late according to my chart date) and she was perfectly healthy. The midwives agreed that she was not 16 days late. I wonder how many women are told to be induced when they are “late” but are really not, which can lead to more issues with childbirth. In fact I know someone who had a planned c-section at what they thought was the right time, but the baby ended up being born premature because they had the dates wrong!

    The only thing I find hard about charting and also using the FAM is that its SO hard to do while breastfeeding and also frequent night-waking children. I can’t chart right now very well due to that reason. Reading “breastfeeding and natural child spacing” allowed me to understand a bit more about that side of things and its affect on my cycle.

    I first learned about this through Serena Canada and I use their charts (and took their course) even though I am not Catholic. Since then I have also heard geat things about “taking charge of your fertility.”

  6. What a blessing technology can be! This would have been wonderful information to have when I was going through infertility. I did chart my temperature, but it was very basic and like walking around in the dark compared to all the information you have made available here. So many are experiencing infertility in this generation. I applaud you for taking the time to share this much needed information.

  7. Thankyou for your openness about how to deal with/manage PCOS. I was diagnosed when I was 14 (11 years ago) and my husband and I have been trying for 3.5 years to get pregnant. I just went out and bough the book “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” and we’ll see if it helps! 🙂 I also have difficulty establishing a healthy diet, as work/moving/other life circumstances often get in the way of eating whole foods. I’m allergic to dairy and wheat with several other food sensitivities, so trying to find resources on how to eat effectively for PCOS is difficult, especially when animal protein is not effectively broken down in my body! Do you have any suggestions for resources?
    Be blessed!

  8. I LOVE Fertility Friend!!! With my first two children I did the whole paper chart thing, but when my 2nd was about 8 months old and I wasn’t breastfeeding anymore, my cycles went haywire (one was 90 days long…), I turned to their charting because it had so much more to offer – even though we weren’t actively trying to conceive, I knew we wanted to in the next 6-8 months. I figured out I was ovulating and my luteal phase was a proper 14 days, then we were able to figure out what was wrong with my follicular phase and why it was so long. My cycles gradually started improving with some mild treatment, but never did get back to ‘normal’ before I was pregnant again, but having my charts with me at the first prenatal appointment allowed me to tell my doctor exactly when I ovulated and therefore predict a more accurate due date (it would have been more than a week off, otherwise). I recommend it to everyone I know who is considering trying to conceive.

    My other suggestions to friends are a good basal thermometer (to get the most accurate temp.) and the book “Fertility, Cycles and Nutrition” and of course, Taking Charge of Your Fertility!

  9. I use TCOYF and like it a LOT– and can attest that if you cheat while you’re charting for child spacing you WILL get pregnant, by definition. 🙂 On the upside, I know exactly which day my almost here baby boy was concieved. 😉

  10. I’ve used charting but based on the Billings Method. I admit that we have used it not to conceive but to avoid conception at times. It is very interesting to know these things about our own bodies, especially when you start to track your moods by the ‘time’ you are at in your cycle.

  11. We had trouble getting pregnant with our first child. I have very long cycles. I charted for a long time. I made the charts myself. It was very helpful for us to finally figure out that I was ovulating and when. We did eventually get pregnant naturally, even though the doctors told me it would be very unlikely because my cycles were so long.

  12. I’m not trying to get pregnant, but I do have PCOS, and I’d like to figure out a way to manage it without the birth control pills that my doctor put me on. Is there a way to use that information in a way that doesn’t relate to pregnancy, but just letting me know that everything is working properly? Thanks for talking about this. I just started reading this blog and your openness about our shared condition is one of the reasons I keep reading.

  13. I am a charter, too, and I am a big fan of TCOYF. I have their charting software (I think it’s called Ovusoft). Anyway, it’s fantastic, and it really helps me to keep track of everything in an easy-to-use program.

  14. I charted up until I conceived our 1st child, as NFP. I never took my temperature, just checked the mucus. It worked well for preventing, then I conceived the first month we “tried”!

    Then with nursing and not having a period, I totally did not know what to look for. I got pregnant when my baby was around 10 mos., never having a period. All is well, but next time around, I’d rather not get pregnant so soon. I’m wondering how to tell when ovulation is coming when you’re nursing. Anyone out there been sucessful at noticing this? Thanks!

  15. THIS IS AWESOME! I found your blog just today by linking in from another one (that I also found last night). I was looking for the frugal info, and stumbled across your post on PCOS. Thank you for your openness about an issue that affects SO many women, most of them unknowingly.

    I was diagnosed in 2002, and I’m so grateful for that. It gave me a chance to get nutrition and medication under control before I was ever trying to get pregnant. I can’t say enough about “Taking Charge of Your Fertility”, and I am so thrilled that you wrote about it!! I think it’s a must-read for any woman, regardless of her stage of life. While it’s not a faith-based book, I don’t know how one can read it and not be awed by the God Who created our bodies. I also strongly recommend Ovusoft as a charting software due to its remarkable accuracy compared to other available programs such as Fertility Friend. It predicted the pregnancy due to a triphasic shift when FF was still changing its mind and essentially saying, “Wait–I’m totally confused by you”. Because of this knowledge (and God’s grace), I was able to get pregnant on our fourth cycle because, on Day 45 of my typically irregular and unpredictable cycle, I had a dizzy spell. I recalled previous dizzy spells and headaches the previous nights… and put together a pattern that I ovulated. Awesome! I would never have seen that coming otherwise.

    I just found out that I am pregnant this weekend, which is a total surprise. We were not TTC, and given my years of being told I would require significant intervention, I’m so grateful that I didn’t have to go through this. Every woman needs to be empowered to take care of herself and fully understand the body God has blessed her with.

    Thanks for your terrific post!

  16. It is a rarely known fact how serious PCOS can be. I bled for over 2 years straight before the Drs figured out a med that would stop it.

    It can make it so you can’t have babies at all. (IF you don’t ovulate like I don’t). My two boys are miracles because I almost never ovulate! My DR is hoping that if I lose off my weight then I will get a regular cycle. I’d like to have another baby someday.

    I have only ever had about 3 months of reg. periods my entire life! The longest i missed was for 11 months in high school. If I hadn’t been a virgin I would have thought I was pregnant!

    I don’t know of anyone who has this condition as badly as I do.

    Hannah, I avoided the birth control pills for a long time and truthfully it just kept getting worse. If there is another solution I’d love it, but for now it (and the grace of God) is the only thing that keeps me from bleeding to death.

    One exception is if you are overweight. Losing the weight can help. But I had PCOS even when I was only 130lbs at 5’5′.

    Remember the Lady that touched Jesus’ hem? the one with the bleeding disorder. It is thought that she probably had PCOS. Isn’t that interesting?

  17. I don’t chart and admittedly have no idea how my body really works. I do have a copy of TCOYF though I have never read it. Reading it is something I’ve been meaning to do though, regardless of whether or not I ever plan to chart.

    Thanks for the links. Off to check them out.

  18. My doctor told me that PCOS has a connection to being insulin resistant. I also learned that it can contribute to higher blood pressure and since women who ovulate on schedule have more protection against heart disease, PCOS can interfere with that.

  19. Any suggestions on how to chart when you are not getting a consistent amount of sleep because you have to wake up in the middle of the night with a baby? Is it even possible to chart during this season of life? I charted before conceiving my son and found it to be a valuable resource.

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