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Is it PCOS? Ask Your Mom

Beth Heller, M.S.

Has your fertility journey caused you to ask your mother questions about her experience trying to conceive?  Many women at Pulling Down the Moon report that their challenges have prompted their mothers to reveal  previously untold stories of struggles to conceive, miscarriages and losses.  Others learned for the first time that their mothers had irregular cycles or experienced strong menstrual cramps.

Unfortunately, modern society has lost touch with the value of this transmission of “woman-wisdom.”  I am not advocating a return back to “the red tent,” but I do lament that the menstrual cycle has arguably been demoted in our world.   As a holistic fertility practitioner, I am trained to view the menstrual cycle as a fountain of valuable information about the physical and even emotional health of a woman.  The shedding of menstrual blood is an important detoxification process.  The downward flow of energy that governs the menses (called apana in yoga physiology) can be strengthened with yoga poses and other lifestyle practices.  This same energy channel also allows us to excrete bodily wastes and let go of negative thoughts and emotions.  From a yoga perspective, when apana is blocked or impeded overall health (and fertility and emotional well-being in particular) suffer.

The very idea that there are now birth control pills that advocate limiting menses to four times a year makes my teeth itch.

Medical research is now revealing that some fertility challenges may be hereditary.  Many women are not aware that Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) has a hereditary component.   Sisters and daughters of women diagnosed with PCOS have a 50% chance of developing this syndrome.  If a young woman knows that her mother experienced irregular cycles or had difficulty getting pregnant, she may be more aware and proactive about her own reproductive health.  An early diagnosis of PCOS can help a young woman enormously.  Some of the external manifestations of PCOS – acne, hirsutism, weight gain – can be mistakenly attributed to normal adolescent changes.   However, these  symptoms are not necessarily an “inevitable” part of growing up and if PCOS is present they may be treated with diet, lifestyle and pharmaceutical methods.

So, while  mom may not be able to diagnose our PCOS or other fertility issues, her menstrual history, her experiences of trying to conceive, and other reproductive wisdom can prompt us to be more aware of our own bodies.  Opening a line of communication early on with young women to discuss their cycles – even the gritty details of flow, cramps, PMS and cycle length – should be an important pulbic health issue.

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