“‘You know if you would stop eating all those donuts and Frappuccino’s, you would stop gaining weight.’
As a teen, I was put on birth control because I did not have regular periods. I would get about 6 a year. Some lasted for a week, some lasted for two weeks. They could come every other month or have a lag in between. They were very painful and kept me from playing sports or being able to focus. I began to think this was normal. I finally opened up about what I was dealing with and my parents and my doctor agreed I should try birth control as a way of managing my periods. It worked. It helped me have not so painful periods. They didn’t come every month exactly, but they were much more normal, so this became my new normal. I would occasionally have the super painful kind of the past, but overall, I was feeling much better. Collage came and went with no real issues. Then I moved to Chicago for a job and needed to find a new doctor.
A co-worker gave me a referral to this super fancy women’s health clinic. It felt so fancy and I was excited to meet my doctor. I was very impressed with her and trusted her when she wanted me to try a new kind of birth control. The Nuva Ring. She suggested this because she said there had to be a reason why my periods still weren’t normal, and she thought this might be the solution. I gave it a try but came back to her after three months because it made me feel very off. I felt anxious, depressed, and not able to manage my emotions. I did not feel like myself and I wanted a prescription for my previous birth control. She said it was best for me to give the Nuva Ring time to balance and that I would be ok. I left agreeing to this plan, but more months went by and I still wasn’t ‘balanced.’ I should also add that she pushed me to take an STD test during this appointment (after I said I was already feeling very emotional). Her reasoning was that even though I felt like I was in a committed relationship, I don’t really know what my partner is up to. Basically, insinuating that he could be cheating on me.
I left without what I wanted (my old prescription) and with a new fear that my partner was cheating on me. Fun!
Time went on and I never felt ‘balanced’ as she had promised, so I decided that maybe I could just not use birth control… there are other methods to prevent pregnancy and my partner and I decided to go that route. I thought of birth control as just that…. a means of preventing pregnancy and the current one I was on seemed to really mess with my hormones, which I didn’t like. What I didn’t realize is that I had a common condition called PCOS and the pill had been helping me…. More on that to come.
I quit using the Nuva ring and almost immediately felt the ‘balance’ I had been wanting. I felt like myself again which was great. But along with that came the old version of my periods that I had known as a teen. Again, I settled in to my new normal and just dealt with it, because it was familiar.
But now as an adult there was a new issue that came with the cramps, pain, clots, etc… I seemed to be gaining weight pretty quickly. I gained about 20 pounds in a year and when it was time to finally go back to the doctor (I had been dragging out my annual and with breast cancer in our family, this is not something I should be doing), so I went back to her… The doctor who didn’t seem to listen. The doctor who was losing my trust. She was not happy to hear I had stopped using the Nuva Ring and again tried to get me to start using it again. She also went on to fat shame me. After reading my new weight and asking me what was going on, I shared that I hadn’t changed anything but that I was no longer on birth control. That was all that had changed…. Maybe I was more stressed? I had started a new job… I was reflecting on changes and trying to find a reason. Then she shared with me her solution…. No joke, she told me, ‘You know if you would stop eating all those donuts and Frappuccino’s, you would stop gaining weight.’ This is not even something I was consuming on a regular basis or something that in any way could have been the reason. I left that appointment crying and vowed to never return. I started avoiding the doctor. I didn’t really need them anymore now that I didn’t have a prescription to renew, so what was the point?
Time went on and I learned to love myself again. This new version of me about 60 pounds heavier at this time, and I knew I needed to find a new doctor. Someone I could go to when I was sick and down the road when we wanted to start having kids.
I found a new office and my first appointment was with the head doctor who ‘welcomed’ me to their practice by reviewing my file and fat shaming me. I can’t remember his exact words because they weren’t as cruel, but he said I should be keeping a food and exercise journal to really see what I eat and find what is making me gain so much weight. I did that, and I kept my calorie intake low to make sure I didn’t gain any more weight… It didn’t work. I even gave up gluten and saw no change in my weight.
I got sick with the flu and needed to go to the doctor. Without time to be able to find someone new, I made an appointment back at his office. This time I was seen by the nurse practitioner on staff and she was so kind. She listened and made me feel comfortable. This was my first doctor appointment in over a decade where I wasn’t told to lose weight.
The next time my annual rolled around, I requested her again. This time I had gained more weight, which was becoming my new norm. This time I brought it up. I shared my journey and she suggested that we do blood work to test my thyroid. Tests came back and there was nothing they could see. I was healthy. It’s a weird feeling to get a healthy blood panel back when you feel so crappy. At this point I had gained about 80 pounds and I wasn’t feeling like myself. I wasn’t comfortable.
I was feeling defeated and felt like this was just the life I was given and gaining weight was something I couldn’t control. I even convinced myself at a point that I must have a tumor or something that was rapidly growing and causing my weight gain.
Time continued and the next time I went to the doctor, I shared with her that we had been trying to get pregnant with no luck. She asked how long we had been trying and I shared that since my periods were so irregular, we hadn’t had that many chances, but it had been almost eight months of tracking and trying when we could. She suggested I go to see an OBGYN who had more experience and could help me.
This is where and when my world changed. My new doctor was amazing! She too was concerned with my quick weight gain since I stopped taking birth control, but instead of shaming me, she asked me questions, took notes, and said she needed to review my file. I came back in for a follow up a couple weeks later when she said, ‘You have PCOS.’ She explained that the hard thing with PCOS is that there is no exact test to say someone has it, but rather symptoms that can be tracked and things that can be seen with ultrasounds… Cysts, etc. But from everything I shared with her, she said yes. I have PCOS. Great, but what exactly is PCOS??? I had heard of it but needed to do more research. I felt relief, frustration, and anger all at the same time. Anger for all the times I hated my body. All the times I was told to hate my body by others. All the years of stress caused by this process. At this point in my journey, I had found love for myself and my body, but it took a lot of time. I had always been large, but the rapid weight gain was scary because I didn’t know where or when it would end.
My doctor is still working with me and I have now found out that I not only have PCOS, I also have endometrioses and a bicornate uterus (heart shaped). Life is a journey and I am still learning, loving myself, and most importantly finding ways to help empower myself to be a stronger advocate for what I need. I hope that my story can inspire others to find a health care provider that listens and helps, instead of one that shames you into thinking there is no hope. There is always hope.”
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