After repeated miscarriages, woman finds help and hope

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When 34-year Depeatrice Harris got pregnant her daughter Amaya 10 years ago, she was surprised.

Three years earlier, the Atlanta stay-at-home mom had been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS.

It is a cluster of health factors that usually includes insulin resistance, increased levels of hormones called androgens, which can make it harder for a woman to ovulate, and an irregular menstrual cycle.

PCOS is something that affects about 1 out of every 10 women of childbearing age, and it can make it harder for women to become pregnant.

"So, when Amaya popped up it was, like, 'Okay! Nature is working," Harris says.

But in early 2017, when Harris and her boyfriend Jacob Houston started trying to have another child, they hit a roadblock.

She got pregnant right away, but quickly miscarried.

"The first miscarriage, I was 7 weeks pregnant," Harris says.

Two months later, she was pregnant again.

"And every was going fine," she says.  "Come to find out, I was 5 weeks pregnant with that pregnancy, and I lost that one."

Harris had expected challenges, but not back-to-back miscarriages,

"You have this feeling of emptiness like we are supposed to be able to conceive and give life," Harris says.  "When you can't or when it's challenging, you just feel empty on the inside. You feel like something is being taken of you."

Women with PCOS are three times more likely to miscarry, and studies show anywhere from 40 to 80% of women who have repeated miscarriages have PCOS.

Dr. Dorothy Mitchell-Leef, a reproductive endocrinologist and fertility specialist at Morehouse Healthcare, says PCOS is more common in African American women than Caucasian or Asian American women.

So, in her practice, she often sees patients having a tough time getting or staying pregnant. 

"A lot of time you see them as teenagers, because they come in not having periods, not ovulating," she says.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, or ACOG, says common signs of PCOS are irregular menstrual periods, infertility, obesity, excess hair growth on the face, chest and abdomen, and fluid-filled sacs in the ovaries.

Women with PCOS can also have severe or "adult" acne, oily skin and patches of thick, velvety darkened skin.

Dr. Mitchell-Leef says if PCOS goes untreated, it can cause more serious health problems down the road.

"Our biggest problem with polycystic ovarian syndrome is the future," Mitchell-Leef says.  "We worry about them developing type 2 diabetes.  If they don't have cycles every month, they can develop the early stages of cancer, or even endometrial cancer."

Harris says she struggles with her weight, and has excess facial and body hair.

Last winter, she and Jacob started trying to get pregnant again,

"I was just, like, it's not going to happen, it's just not going to happen for me," she says.

But it did. 

And this time around, Harris was put on the hormone progesterone, to help her stay pregnant.

"I was really nervous," she says.  "I wanted to keep checking her heartbeat. Making sure she moved. I was really anxious, and I wanted to get out of the first trimester. Once I got out of the first trimester, I kind of calmed down."

Her second daughter was born in January 2019.

She says her OB-GYN has told her she can get pregnant again, but will likely need medication and careful monitoring.

Harris hopes her story will give hope to other women struggling with infertility and recurrent miscarriages.

"Don't give up," Harris says.  "Just don't give up."