Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Be an Advocate for Your Own Fertility

On the topic of being an advocate for your own health, I wanted to share a story I recently heard. Last week, I spoke to Camie Gontier who created My Cycle Diary. She was found to have endometriosis that was so bad she lost one of her tubes and an ovary. For someone who wants a child that is tragic!

What hurts worse, is that this didn’t have to be. If she had been diagnosed earlier, it would not have had to result in such a dramatic loss. She knew something was not right. She had mid-cycle bleeding, but her doctor at the time said all was fine, not to worry. She accepted that, but feels that if she had listened to her instinct instead and investigated the causes of her mid-cycle bleeding more thoroughly or gotten a second opinion back then, she would have had her diagnosis much sooner and been able to prevent losing major parts of her reproductive system.

Message here: Follow your instincts. If something a doctor says – or something you read or hear – doesn’t sound right to you, trust your gut and investigate further. Do your own research, talk to others, get a second opinion. And when it comes to your fertility, although a lot of family practice and OB-GYN doctors are good, find someone that specializes in fertility, a reproductive endocrinologist. And even then, keep researching, keep investigating, keep following your gut until you get the answers that ring true for you.

My friend’s story reminds me of the pre-cycle spotting I used to have – and another example of the need to investigate something further. I think I was in my early thirties when it started. From what I remember, I told my family doctor about it, that I spotted for two or three days before I got my period, and she said (if I remember correctly) that wasn’t really anything to worry about. So I didn’t. I attributed it to aging; my cycle changing with age. I don’t remember if I even mentioned it to my OB-GYN or what she said if I did. Still thought it was really weird, though.

Fast forward to the month I turned 40 after trying for over a year to get pregnant. I had a whole new OB-GYN and also a fertility specialist. I ended up having an HSG test – in which dye is injected into your uterus to see if there are any abnormalities, such as fibroids or polyps. Well, turned out I had three big old polyps in there. Who knew how much those were getting in the way of implantation for the pregnancy I so desperately wanted. My OB-GYN confirmed that the polyps may have been causing the spotting before periods.

I had the polyps removed and I’ve never had pre-cycle spotting again since. So there. The polyps must have been causing this abnormal bleeding and I didn’t know better to investigate further and have those polyps removed sooner. They sat in my uterus for eight or so years.

Moral of both of our stories? When it comes to your health, you have to be your own advocate. Again, you have to listen to your gut and research and investigate until you get answers that ring true to you.

Now, most doctors are well intentioned. Generally, they do what they do because they want to make a difference in people’s lives. They want to help people. But they don’t have all the answers, they don’t know you as well as you do, and besides, everyone is different. One treatment might work great for one and lousy for another. There are so many variables. Keep in mind too that medicine is a practice, not a science;  there is room for interpretation.

So, I always advise when going through challenging health issue to use your well-educated, experienced doctors as tools to provide information, help you wade through treatment options, provide  educated diagnoses for you to seriously consider, but don’t blindly rely on them to make you all better. Don’t give away all your power like that.

In the end, you are in charge of your own health and well-being. It’s up to you to be an advocate not only of your own health, but of your own fertility too.  Especially given how much mystery there is in conception.

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