On face value, Brigitte Warne was living a blessed life. The Sydney-based model and entrepreneur was the picture of health and wellness, from the bouncy blonde hair to the effervescent glow and tanned limbs of someone who actually enjoys going for a run outside (apparently, they exist). She had a degree in Health Science and Commerce, a thriving modeling career, and a hand in establishing a number of fledgling international businesses. She was married, and life was good.
After coming off the contraceptive pill, Brigitte experienced an eight-month battle with unexplained symptoms ranging from acne to nausea and headaches, hair loss, and amenorrhea. While she was initially dismissed by doctors, eventually she was diagnosed with Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). “It was a mix of feeling like my body had failed me, feeling ashamed and also frustrated, but also relief that I finally had an answer”, Brigitte says of the diagnosis. But along with the clarity of knowing what her condition was, came the news that she would likely not be able to conceive naturally.
Although Brigitte wasn’t necessarily planning on starting a family, the news was devastating – and instantly made her realise she did want to fall pregnant. “Hearing those words really spurred something inside me that instantly made me realise I wanted to have a baby of my own so much.”
In true entrepreneurial style, Brigitte refused to accept the standard treatment for PCOS, and instead committed herself to researching the condition and designing her own treatment plan. That drive saw her develop her own range of Cysterhood Tea, a naturopath-approved blend of hormone-balancing herbs, and fall pregnant with her son Flynn within two years of her diagnosis.
We spoke with Brigitte about her fertility journey, her platform PCOS To Wellness, and how her pregnancy was almost misdiagnosed as a rare African virus!
Talk us through your fertility journey. When you decided to start trying for a baby, what was your experience?
My experience really started when I was diagnosed with PCOS and was told I would not be able to have children naturally. Hearing those words really spurred something inside me that instantly made me realise I wanted to have a baby of my own so much. Previously to that I had never really thought too much about having kids. I always thought I would be a mother one day, but it was almost like I needed to hear I wouldn’t be able to, before I really knew how much I wanted it.
It was at that point that my fertility journey really became more of a journey of wanting to understand why I was experiencing these symptoms of PCOS, and focus on treating the root cause of my symptoms, rather than just focusing on falling pregnant.
How did you react to being diagnosed with PCOS? Did you think you'd never be able to have children?
Honestly it was shocking. It was a mix of feeling like my body had failed me, feeling ashamed and also frustrated, but also relief that I finally had an answer as to why I was experiencing severe acne, hair loss, anxiety and an absent menstrual cycle.
Being told I wouldn’t be able to have children naturally was a whole different mind game. Looking back it would have been easier to believe the doctor and take the synthetic hormones I was being offered to ‘kick start’ ovulation and mask my PCOS symptoms, but something inside me told me that I needed to take the time to really listen and learn about what my body was trying to tell me. I thought if I could work that out, there might be a chance I could still have a baby naturally. Despite my doctor telling me that wouldn’t be possible, something in me told me not to listen.
What made you decide to try a natural route to healing your body?
I have always been drawn to natural and holistic remedies. I have a degree in public health and health promotion, and am passionate about the concept of ‘prevention rather than cure’ when it comes to health and wellness. So I think although part of me just wanted to take the medication my doctor was prescribing me, as I knew it would probably be the ‘quicker’ solution, I also knew in my heart of hearts that I needed to take the time do my own research and seek out advice and information so that I could make an informed decision.
Ultimately after spending hours tirelessly researching what PCOS was, speaking to holistic practitioners and looking at alternative treatments, I felt comfortable that with the right support behind me I would be able to find natural alternatives to help manage my symptoms and actually address the root cause, rather than mask it through prescription medications.
What do you think were the key factors that helped you conceive?
I think what really helped me was taking the time to understand what was actually going on in my body, and that my symptoms of PCOS were my body’s way of telling me there was an underlying issue and hormonal imbalances that needed to be addressed.
I also think that really understanding ALL the aspects of my PCOS puzzle, rather than just focusing on one or two things was crucial to helping me conceive. This included looking at my diet, physical and mental stressors, nutritional deficiencies, the right herbs and supplements, learning how to track my cycle and cervical fluid, and removing environmental toxins.
Did you consider more medicalised treatments like IVF?
Jesse and I did discuss the possibility of doing IVF. I personally didn’t think I would be emotionally able to go through with IVF, and it did worry me. I had a few friends who were undergoing going IVF treatments at the time and I thought the extra stress would be too much for me.
However we both agreed that even if we did go down the IVF route down track, I still wanted to take the time to really get my body in optimal condition to prepare for pregnancy and have a healthy full term pregnancy.
Can you tell us about the moment you found out you were pregnant?
Oh gosh I remember this day so vividly. It actually took me a lot longer than expected for me to find out I was pregnant. Jesse and I had just got back from a trip around South America. We had been home for a couple of weeks and I started to feel really unwell. I started to worry that I might have picked up some weird illness while we were away, but I brushed it off.
However a week later I started to get sicker, and I thought maybe I will just get a pregnancy test to be 100% sure that I wasn’t pregnant (I had also just had what I thought was a period too, so I really didn’t think I was pregnant but just to be sure!) Well, I did the test and it came back negative, so that took that out of the equation.
I will still perplexed as to what was wrong with me, I felt absolutely exhausted and very unwell so I went to the doctors and she was really concerned that it might be something serious. She organised for me to have some blood tests done and told me I would get the results back in a week or so, and they would call me if there was anything wrong.
A week later I got the call that I urgently needed to come back in. I was so worried because I assumed that meant that I had some horrible disease. Instead I was hit with the very unexpected but incredible news that I was pregnant! I was completely shocked and overwhelmed and I think I kind of just didn’t really believe her.
Because we had no idea how pregnant I was, I booked the next week for a dating scan and was greeted by the even more shocking news that I was nearly 10 weeks pregnant! So I had a lot of things I had to get my head around, very quickly!
Once you'd fallen pregnant with Flynn, did you have to manage the pregnancy any differently due to PCOS, or did pregnancy 'cancel it out’?
I don’t believe that falling pregnant ‘cancels’ PCOS out, and since women with PCOS do have a higher risk of miscarriage and gestational diabetes I did need to be conscious of that, however I just made sure I ate a really healthy diet and stayed active and I had no issues at. In fact I absolutely loved being pregnant!
My doctor did suggest that I take the gestational diabetes tests twice (which is recommended for all women with PCOS), however I decided not to do two and was completely fine.
I also have an inverted uterus, which just meant we had to monitor Flynn’s position in the early stages until it eventually tilted forward, and also found out I have a condition called rhesus factor (a negative blood type) which is managed through a series of injections of Rho(D) immune globulin (RhoGAM).
What inspired you to launch your Cysterhood tea?
I was basically inspired to create Cysterhood tea because it was something I wanted myself – selfish I know! I was getting such great results using herbs, but I was starting to lose motivation to buy, measure out, and then consume so many different herbs daily. I figured there must be a way I could safely combine them all, and still get all the therapeutic benefits – and from there Cysterhood tea was born!
I began trialling lots of different versions of the tea at home, and once I was finally happy with it, I worked with a naturopath to ensure that the herbs were in the perfect ratio and that every herb had a purpose. It was really important to me that there were no ‘fillers’ and that Cysterhood was the highest quality product on the market.
Do you hope to have more children in the future? If so, is there anything you'll do to assist the process?
Yes! I would definitely like to have at least one more baby. I think I will do the same sorts of things that helped me the first time, making sure I am eating a really balanced plant based diet, reducing stress as much as possible, continuing yoga, taking my herbs (which are now all in my Cysterhood tea so it makes my life a lot easier), acupuncture and tracking my cycle. Although I don’t know how easy doing all of that is with a child and two businesses to run!
Do you think the natural treatments you've used can work alongside more traditional methods like IVF, or is it a one or the other situation?
Absolutely! I think it is so important to remember that there are so many things we can do increase our fertility and overall health in the hopes of falling pregnant – no matter what path we each go down to get there.
According to research, food and lifestyle changes alone can actually help to boost fertility by up 69%. At the end of the day our bodies need to be in optimal condition to not only fall pregnant, but also have a successful pregnancy to term, so supporting our bodies with great diet and lifestyle choices is one of the best things we can all do.
Whether you have just started to think about having a family, are currently undergoing fertility treatments, or you have been trying to conceive for some time, please don’t lose hope. There are so many things you can do to help increase your chances of falling pregnant, no matter what path you take!