I had a bit of a meltdown the other evening. You see, we watched our donor’s pets while he was away and he brought us back a large crate of beer. I allowed myself one (or two [or three]) during shark week as a consolation prize, but then I had to put them away. Alcohol can worsen infertility problems and the gluten in beer is a problem for both me and the PCOS.
Then shark week was over and the beer was still there. That specific evening, I just wanted a beer. I tried to talk myself out of it. Half of me wanted to avoid any gluten or alcohol to give this cycle the best chance possible. Half of me wanted to say fuck it and just not try. Lining everything up perfectly hadn’t worked in the past. But if I didn’t try and it didn’t work again, I’d wonder.
How bad could it be? To answer that and hopefully decide on a course of action, I took to the internet. Bad mistake. Everything affects fertility. Everything causes infertility. Everything and in any quantity.
I’d run up against the wall I’d been running up against for months now – a year, even. This need, this feeling, that I have to do everything perfectly to circumvent my infertility. That if I just ate less carbs, less alcohol, less gluten, less chocolate – if I just ate more olives, more fish, more greens, more vegetables – if I just walked more, if I just meditated more, if I just did acupuncture, if I just, if I just.
A year and a half and I have never once managed to do every single thing I should. I have never once been perfect. There is always something more I could have done, and that Something More was exactly the reason for my infertility.
When I was diagnosed with PCOS, my need for control ratcheted up further. I had something wrong that gave me a specific framework in which to be neurotic. And I was for a month and change. Then I wondered why I felt like shit.
Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that if I just did everything perfectly right, then the next cycle would work. Unfortunately, this set me up to crash hard when the cycle didn’t work. And I would go wallow in those sugars and alcohols and overall just not taking care of myself. Rise, fall, crash, burn. Repeat.
That’s when I realized I was setting myself up for failure.
I’m not perfect. I can’t control every situation, every moment, no matter how much I try. In the attempt, I only create more stress – something else I need to avoid.
I need to look at this a different way. I need to treat the cause, not the symptom. I also need to be more gentle with myself – my PCOS won’t ever go away. It’s always been a part of me – I’ve known something was wrong with my hormones since high school.
I already know what helps. Switching to paleo four years ago brought my cycles back. It wasn’t carb-counting or avoiding alcohol or even nightshades (tho they give me other troubles, fuckers). Eating greens and fruit and eggs and making healthy substitutions instead of avoiding something entirely. Something sustainable. Something I can – and have – been doing for years.
That’s how I need to approach this. I don’t want to be on metformin forever. I don’t want to take birth control either. This is longterm, not cycle by cycle. And knowing that helps me make those decisions.
To illustrate, here are the two different approaches:
Let’s say 0-1 is the optimal level of stressors/inflammatory foods – for me, that’s sugar, high GI foods, gluten, alcohol, caffeine, and nightshades. That also includes stressing about said foods/lifestyle choices.
Treating my infertility, I get a lot closer to that optimal level, but because reaching that level is in and of itself stressful, my willpower crashes hardcore. By the end of each cycle, I’m stuffing my face with cookies and whiskey to feel better.
But treating my PCOS – as I was unknowingly doing for a while – is a lot more level. I make substitutions, which means I never quite reach the optimal level, but I also maintain my willpower.
One of these options is way less stressful overall to my body, and way more sustainable.
Another example, going back to that beer at the beginning:
Should I have that beer?
A) Treating infertility: No, absolutely not. Maybe in two weeks. But it has gluten and alcohol and it’s going to shrivel up your eggs and screw up this cycle.
B) Treating PCOS: No – you know you can handle small quantities of gluten, but is beer really worth it? How about a half glass of wine instead? It’s less carbs and you can save your limited gluten allowance for a special occasion.
Maybe someday I can gradually approach the optimal level, but for now I need to be aware of my own limitations and work within them. I’ve been beating myself up for too long and it hasn’t helped anyone or anything.
Now, if only I can remember to be more gentle.