A little background on how the diagnosis happened.
When I was in high school, the curriculum was one of those abstinence-based ones where the basic upshot was that if you had sex, you were almost certainly going to get pregnant (or an STI). Using condoms was good, but they weren’t very reliable and you would probably still get pregnant. Birth control pills were better, but lots of people forgot to take them and some things like antibiotics could make them less effective, plus you had to plan ahead that you were going to have sex – not just have an “oops” moment – and so you’d probably still get pregnant.
Fortunately age, common sense, and nursing school all intervened so that I eventually recognized that there were fairly reliable methods of birth control out there (I have a BA in English, then went back to school for my RN later). When we got married, my husband and I were nowhere near ready for a baby, but after around 7 years of marriage we decided we had met most of our other short-term goals and were ready to focus on having children. Despite all my knowledge about fertility, one note from that high school sex-education class continued to ring through my brain: getting pregnant will happen if you’re having sex.
I chucked my birth control, and type-A perfectionist that I am, I made sure to read reliable articles about getting pregnant, started taking prenatal vitamins, and swore off all caffeine and alcohol. I mentioned to husband that maybe he should start wearing boxers, and we made sure stuff happened around what I calculated to be my fertile times. I mean, some of the articles had mentioned it could take up to a year for normal, healthy couples to get pregnant, but damn it, I had managed a 4.0 GPA in nursing school and I was prepared. It was going to happen.
Then it didn’t. The first month’s cycle was 26 days or thereabouts. I had sort of hoped that we’d be one of those “we weren’t even really trying” couples, but I understood that the odds of getting pregnant were around 20% in a given month as long as intercourse was timed correctly. So that meant it was an 80% chance that we wouldn’t hit the jackpot, and I was okay with that. We’d try again next month.
Except that then I started the never-ending period. I mean, I spotted. I bled. I cramped for 2 weeks. I had about three days without blood, and then the spotting/bleeding/cramping started again and continued pretty much unabated for about 3 more weeks. I was having mind-melting hormonal mood-swings that left me alternately incredibly depressed and then snapping or having evil thoughts at pretty much everyone around me.
So I did what most people do in this day and age and consulted Dr. Google. Which is to say, I googled every symptom and worked on ferreting out the few good bits of information I could find amidst the torrent of other crap. As a nurse, I can’t diagnose, but I am pretty good at looking at information and knowing if it’s reasonably reliable (written by an MD, DO, NP or RN, consistent with basic medical facts, using reliable studies from peer reviewed journals – these are all good signs). Slowly but surely, I confirmed that what I was experiencing wasn’t normal, wasn’t something that happened to plenty of people getting off birth control, and probably ought to be checked out. I confirmed this by talking with a nurse from my OB/GYN office, who set me up with an appointment with my regular physician.
Dr. A is a great guy and I’ve always felt confident in him as a physician. He didn’t let me down, either. He listened, was appropriately empathetic, helpful, and checked out my symptoms, did a thorough exam, and admitted he was a little surprised by all the bleeding I’d been having. We decided on a month of low-dose birth control to see if that helped my body calm down a little, and then would go from there. I left the appointment hopeful that things were going to get back on track and work normally from here on out. But of course, that wasn’t going to happen.