Alice was determined to be fit and healthy for a pregnancy before she started trying.
When she was 27, she visited her GP for a preconception health check and started taking folic acid supplements as recommended. She was eating well, exercising regularly, and her husband James backed off on visits to the pub with mates to make sure he wasn’t drinking too much.
All of this made the couple feel optimistic they’d see two lines on a pregnancy test quickly. But when Alice and James started trying, they realised getting pregnant wasn’t that simple.
Alice had been on the contraceptive pill for 14 years before stopping it, so she was still getting used to her periods off the pill. Her cycles were irregular, ranging from 32 to 36 days, so she was finding it hard to pinpoint ovulation.
“I was weeing on the ovulation sticks every day, but still couldn’t figure it out,” she says.
Despite doing all the right things, month after month went by without any luck. Alice became increasingly anxious about taking a pregnancy test because she feared another negative result.
“I kept saying ‘I’ll do the test tomorrow’ or ‘maybe this one didn’t work, I’ll do another test’. It was very deflating.”
After about six months, James went to his GP for some fertility tests. He was fine. So Alice went to her GP who ordered some additional tests, including an internal ultrasound to look at her ovaries. She was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – a hormonal condition that affects about one in 10 Australian women of reproductive age and can interfere with fertility.
Alice didn’t have any signs of PCOS, except for an irregular period. But she recalls having acne as a teenager, which was treated with the contraceptive pill.
“It gave me some validation as to why I was having trouble falling pregnant,” she says of the diagnosis. “I was pretty deflated and thought it wasn’t going to be easy.”
Alice was given a referral to see a fertility specialist but there was a three month wait, so she and James decided to de-stress and back off the intensity of trying. They were also planning a holiday to Bali for a friend’s wedding which gave them something else to look forward to.
“I thought I’d wait until we got back from Bali to figure out what to do,” she says.
The next month, Alice realised her period might be late. She hadn’t been tracking it as closely as usual and estimated it had been 40 days.
“I thought I should do a test, but also thought ‘no, don’t get your hopes up’,” she says. “I went to the toilet, did the test and got double lines quickly… I started crying and ran down the hall to my husband. He said ‘get another test to make sure!’”
Alice had the pregnancy confirmed by her GP and after a smooth nine months, gave birth to a healthy girl.
Looking back, Alice wishes she knew about PCOS before she started trying.
“It would have been nice to know because I wouldn’t have put as much pressure on myself,” she says. “I didn’t piece together the bad skin from my teenage years and the irregular period until I was diagnosed… If there was some sort of information to read, a pamphlet at the GP or something similar for signs to look for, I might have asked for some tests earlier.”