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Taking back my power after being diagnosed with hypothyroidism and PCOS

Taking back my power after being diagnosed with hypothyroidism and PCOS

6 min read

Fertility could be top of mind or on the back burner for now — but it has the power to impact everything. We’re sharing your stories to both celebrate and create space for the many ways we navigate our careers, relationships, and finances in relation to our reproductive health. If you have a story to share, get in touch.

Regina Townsend is a librarian, mom, and blogger at The Broken Brown Egg. She had no idea that other Black women struggled with infertility until she had her own issues conceiving. Connecting with other women — including one incredible OB-GYN — helped her feel less alone and gave her the strength to withstand the ups and downs of trying to have a baby. A few years ago, she had a successful round of IVF and became a mom.

The road to having my son was long and winding. It took two diagnoses (hypothyroidism and polycystic ovary syndrome), blocked fallopian tubes, insurance complications, and in-vitro fertilization — as well as a lot of anger and sadness — before getting the call from my doctors. When they first told me that I was pregnant, I didn’t allow myself to get excited because I didn’t know whether or not some bad thing would be right around the corner.

Let’s back up: My reproductive health and I have always been frenemies. I started getting ridiculous periods starting around age 17. It took forever to get my period, and when it came, it was a complete jerk. It lasted way too long, left a mess and soaked through my clothing, then disappeared for two months before returning and ruining everything. My mom took me to the doctor and they told me that I had some thyroid issues, which I found out my mom also had. They gave me Synthroid (a medicine that treats hypothyroidism), which I’ve been on since then. They also gave me birth control to regulate my periods.

I didn’t have insurance, and would have to wait hours to see a doctor. When I did, I got very little explanation about what was happening to my body: I didn’t know what the thyroid even did. We never got taught stuff like that in sex education at school. I didn’t know what my body was doing, or what it should be doing instead. I didn’t trust my body.

I went off birth control after getting married and deciding to have kids, but we couldn't get pregnant. I researched more about my thyroid condition and finally realized it meant I'd have fertility issues. I began blogging about my experience on The Broken Brown Egg to feel more in control and as a way to cope.  

A doctor who read my blog suggested I ask my OB-GYN about polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) — and after it was initially dismissed, I saw a different doctor who changed everything. I got diagnosed with PCOS and made a plan to move forward. It felt like restraints were taken off. My husband and I had stopped trying to get pregnant, but I knew fertility was a time game, so we started up again. I was terrified of IVF, so we avoided that at all costs at first.

As I began managing my condition, I tried everything to get pregnant: fertility drugs (Clomid), basal thermometers, and eventually a hysterosalpingography test (X-ray that outlines the shape of uterus) that revealed my tubes were completely blocked. My doctor came to the foot of my bed, put a hand on my shoulder, and said, “You have done everything you could. I just want you to know that. I know you don’t want to do IVF, but I think that’s where you’re headed.” I was devastated, but she reassured me that I wasn’t quitting or failing.

My doctor referred me to one of the fertility clinics here in Chicago and we did sperm testing on my husband for the first time — we found out he had some fertility issues as well. But before we could move forward with any next steps, my insurance changed at work and the fertility center was no longer covered.

At the same time, we learned that my husband’s relative was pregnant — and she didn’t feel confident that she could keep her baby. There was so much back and forth: Once we decided that we were destined to adopt this baby, the mother changed her mind. But then she asked if we’d be willing to temporarily foster. We felt conflicted, but ended up fostering the baby for six months. We thought that maybe she would change her mind and say, “You guys are doing great.” But at the end of the six months, the child went back to live with her mother. We were riding a roller coaster of emotions — and I was still so frustrated with my body. I thought, okay, that’s it. I couldn’t walk away from all of this with nothing.

I was angry at the lack of information that existed about Black women and infertility, but sometimes anger can be fuel. When I first started researching my fertility issues, I was part of a website called Chocolate Brides which was started because Black women aren’t seen on the covers of bridal magazines, and the bridal message boards can feel very toxic for women of color. We’d talk about weddings, but then people would stick around and talk about trying to have a baby. I remember a few women saying they were trying or thinking about IVF. I thought, “Wait a minute, how common is this with Black women?” The message I’ve always received was that Black women were hyper-fertile — that we needed to make sure we didn’t fall into the stereotype. I didn’t know that infertility affected us at all.  

Alongside blogging, I started holding Infertility Awareness Weeks at the library where I worked. I invited a doctor to speak, and at the end of the panel, she asked how things were going. I told her that my insurance didn’t cover the fertility clinic anymore — that I was at a standstill and was just trying to hold myself together. She said, “I’ll take your insurance.” So I made an appointment a couple weeks later.

When I went in for the appointment, she told me, “Regina, you’ve been in this for too long. Somebody has been dropping the ball because these are fixable things. Your tubes are blocked? IVF can help. Your husband has issues with his sperm? If we do an intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), we can get around that. Someone should have helped you figure out how to move past these things.” The way she spoke was so hopeful at a time when I felt so hopeless.

We went home and looked into IVF some more and realized we were going to have to do it. After I went through dilation and curettage (DNC), we did a round of IVF with our new doctor and got really good egg retrieval.

By the time I had my son, I realized that I had been wound up for so long. While I was experiencing fertility issues, I thought that it was all my fault. That I was stopping my husband from the life he was supposed to have. That my grandfather would never be able to see kids of mine. I had also been working with children my whole professional career as a librarian. When we would have story time or a Halloween parade, I would see kids in their costumes and you could just blow me over with a feather. Life felt like a minefield because I didn’t know what it was going to bring, or what friend was going to get pregnant next. It was devastating. I realized my mental health is part of this experience and it’s all so much bigger than babies.

I keep writing on The Broken Brown Egg because we have to change the narrative. If we don’t talk to each other about fertility, our mental health, our physical health, our financial health, all of those things, then the next generation will be just as confused, sad, and angry. I don’t want my niece to grow up and feel like she’s strange, or broken, or that there’s something wrong with her. I don’t want people to feel like they don’t have a voice or like they can’t share their experiences.  I decided I wanted to be a strong voice and give back to this community — and that’s what I’m doing.

Personal essay by Regina Townsend, edited by Sarah duRivage-Jacobs

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