Being told to ‘just relax’ when struggling with PCOS and infertility

Angeliqua had the classic symptoms of PCOS, a common cause of female infertility, since she was a teenager but it was only diagnosed when she was 27 and had a miscarriage. 

Symptoms were fobbed off for years

“We went to see our GP fairly early on when we were trying for a baby,” says Angeliqua. “I just had a feeling that we would need a little bit of help, you know, when you get that feeling in your gut? I know it sounds really silly but I did.

“I had sought medical advice for a number of issues starting from when I was a teenager, which I now realise should have flagged up earlier why we were struggling to get pregnant.

“I only had a period every three months, had a few stray facial hairs which made me really self-conscious, and I found it impossible to lose weight even though I was exercising and eating healthily. Over the years I had been fobbed off by doctors who told me to ‘just relax’, ‘not to worry’ and that I just had ‘puppy fat’.”

Haydn and Angeliqua with Isabella
Haydn and Angeliqua with Isabella

Lost pregnancy heartache

Angeliqua met her husband Haydn when she was 22. “When we had been together about six months we started talking about marriage and babies,” she says. “It was always on the agenda and so I hoped that as soon as we got married we would be lucky enough to have a baby, but unfortunately it wasn’t as easy as that.”

Only having four periods a year made it difficult for Angeliqua to gauge when she was ovulating and whether she could be pregnant. “We tried for two years before we went to see the GP and during that time I had a miscarriage without realising I was actually pregnant,” she says. “I had started bleeding and went to the hospital on a Bank Holiday, and that is when they told me that I had been pregnant and miscarried. I didn’t even know how many weeks pregnant I had been because my periods were so irregular. We were heartbroken.”

Finally, aged 27, Angeliqua was diagnosed with PCOS. “I should have been diagnosed a lot earlier,” she says. “I hadn’t heard of PCOS or its symptoms until my diagnosis but suddenly all the symptoms I had been experiencing since I was a teenager suddenly all made sense to me.”

Angeliqua had a new GP by this stage but still felt that her concerns regarding fertility were not fully understood. “Even once we knew that I had PCOS my GP initially told me to ‘just relax’ about getting pregnant, which is the most frustrating thing you can hear when you are trying to conceive,” she says.

Angeliqua with Isabella PCOS and infertility

Fertility advice at Luton and Dunstable Hospital

Eventually Angeliqua and Haydn, who live in Luton, were referred to Luton and Dunstable University Hospital for fertility testing. The hospital has a dedicated fertility centre which acts as an outreach clinic for Bourn Hall for patients who live near Luton. The couple were told that they would need IVF and were eligible to have it NHS-funded.

“We were able to have all of our consultations and monitoring appointments at the Luton and Dunstable fertility centre and then go to Bourn Hall Cambridge for egg collection and embryo transfer,” Angeliqua explains.

There is some evidence to suggest that women with PCOS have an increased risk of miscarriage and although Angeliqua’s initial four treatments at Bourn Hall (which were a mixture of fresh and frozen cycles) resulted in three pregnancies she miscarried each time (her first treatment didn’t result in a pregnancy).

“When we had our first treatment I honestly believed that we would be taking home a baby and so the more times we went through it the harder it got for me to believe that it was actually going to happen,” she says. “I suppose in my heart I must have believed it would happen, because I kept on going with the IVF, but Haydn found it easier to be more positive than me.”

Referral to NHS miscarriage clinic

Having suffered a miscarriage after conceiving naturally, followed by two after IVF, Angeliqua was entitled to access an NHS miscarriage clinic and opted to drive down to Surrey to see Mr Hassan Shehata at the Epsom and St Helier Hospital as she had read about new therapies which he was trying. “I thought that if anyone was going to be able to help it would be him,” says Angeliqua.

“Dr Shehata prescribed me prednisone at a very specific point in my cycle, and I also had progesterone injections (lubion) for the first time.”

Finally, on the couple’s fifth treatment at Bourn Hall – their second attempt at Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) – Angeliqua had a successful pregnancy which went to full-term. “I didn’t allow myself to relax though,” she says.

Here at last

Isabella was born in January 2020 and is now a bubbly two-year-old.

“Now that Isabella is here I have finally allowed myself to relax,” says Angeliqua. “It is magical being a mum. There is so much frequent joy in everyday moments, when she says a new word or starts laughing or smiling or just does something completely unexpected. It is just lovely doing things together with her.

“Isabella had a fantastic second birthday! She absolutely loved the whole celebration: blowing out the candles on her cake, dancing, party games and opening her little kitchen!”

The couple have two frozen embryo embryos stored at Bourn Hall.

“We would love to have a sibling for Isabella,” smiles Angeliqua. “We plan to return to Bourn Hall. We just have to!”

Angeliqua and Isabella with Angeliqua's mum and Louise Brown
Angeliqua and Isabella with Angeliqua's mum and Louise Brown, the world's first 'test-tube' baby

PCOS – the main symptoms to look out for

It is estimated that around one in ten women in the UK have PCOS and it has a wide variety of symptoms, which can make it difficult to diagnose and treat.

Bourn Hall fertility consultant Professor Arpita Ray has an extensive research background in PCOS and says: “I often see patients who report having seen different specialists over a number of years for treatment of various symptoms without the realisation that the problems all have the same cause.”

Not everyone has the same symptoms for PCOS and they can range from mild (or even no symptoms at all) to severe.

Dr Arpita Ray, Regional Lead Clinician IVF in Suffolk

Typical symptoms can include:

  • Irregular – or a complete lack of – periods
  • Irregular ovulation – or no ovulation at all
  • Reduced fertility
  • Excess facial or body hair
  • Olly skin/acne
  • Hair loss or thinning hair
  • Weight problems – including difficulty losing weight
  • Depression and mood changes

Prof Ray would like to see a multidisciplinary holistic approach towards the condition.

“I would like to see greater communication between the people involved with the various disciplines – the dermatologist, the endocrinologist, the gynaecologist and a dietician – together with the GP and the patient at the centre. This should help the condition be spotted earlier, which can then make it easier to manage.

“For women with PCOS who struggle to lose weight, support could include nutritional advice and a new exercise regime to boost metabolism and help weight loss and provide long term health benefits.”

More information

PCOS and fertility – Dr Ray and nutritionist Angela Attwood talk about impact of PCOS on fertility and role of nutrition

Improving fertility health for those with PCOS

To book a free fertility nurse consultation at Bourn Hall or find out more about Bourn Hall’s range of fertility tests which provide results within six weeks visit our fertility advice blog.

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