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Keke Palmer’s pregnancy offers hope to women with PCOS

Keke Palmer. (Washington Post illustration)

Akeelah is having her own bee.

Fans have been awash with celebratory chatter this week, ever since Keke Palmer, the “Nope” and “Akeelah and the Bee” actor, revealed she was pregnant while hosting “Saturday Night Live” for the first time.

“There’s some rumors going around. People have been in my comments saying, ‘Keke’s having a baby, Keke’s pregnant,’ and I want to set the record straight,” Palmer said in her opening monologue. She then ripped her coat open, revealing her baby bump. “I am!”

Her announcement was particularly meaningful for people with polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS. The hormonal disorder, which starts around puberty and can cause cysts in the ovaries, affects as many as 5 million women of reproductive age in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some of its effects include abnormal periods, acne and excess face or body hair. It’s also one of the most common causes of infertility in women.

Palmer has been particularly vocal about her own struggles with PCOS, and her pregnancy has given hope to others with the disorder.

“Especially when I was younger, when you got told you had endometriosis or PCOS, it was like, ‘That’s it. You’re infertile. Good luck having children,’” said Jordan Wood, a 27-year-old mom of two in Dallas. But as Wood has told discouraged friends who have PCOS like she does, “Don’t write yourself off.” Palmer makes that evident for a larger audience, she said.

For half her life, doctors told her to lose weight. But something else was going on.

Palmer said late last year in an interview with Tamron Hall that her struggle with severe acne and facial hair clued her in to seek medical help, which ultimately led to her PCOS diagnosis.

In 2020, Palmer shared a barefaced selfie and opened up about what she was experiencing on Instagram: “For me my platform has always been used for things much greater than me. Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome has been attacking me from the inside out my entire life and I had no idea,” the caption read.

On the Tuesday following Palmer’s SNL run, she defended herself on Twitter after a picture of her without makeup was criticized.

“I really want y’all to get the help y’all need because makeup isn’t real,” she tweeted. “I’m beautiful in real life, because of who I am, not what I look like.”

Like Palmer, Rachael Sullivan, 29, also dealt with acne and had multiple doctors visits to find out what was wrong. What helped Sullivan get her diagnosis was when she saw an influencer with PCOS.

“That was the first person I ever saw talk about it, and all her symptoms kind of related to what I was going through,” said Sullivan, who lives in Raleigh, N.C.

The Instagram account Sullivan’s husband created, @mealssheeats, became wildly popular as he prepared meals to regulate her hormones and help her have a healthy pregnancy. The couple will soon release a book to raise awareness through Sullivan’s PCOS journey. The exposure on PCOS that Palmer brings can help so many others, she said.

“It’s just exciting when you see someone who is going through what you’re going through and gets to come out on the other end with a positive experience,” Sullivan said.

Wood was told she had PCOS and endometriosis when she was 15 after experiencing long, intense periods that would make her miss school. She said the diagnosis has helped her find the treatment that works for her. While different solutions work for different people, she says cryotherapy and fenugreek, an herbal supplement, have regulated her menstrual cycles while not on birth control.

As people who have the common disorder learn more about what’s uncommonly discussed, Wood says they can find what options work for them.

Palmer hasn’t publicly spoken about how PCOS has affected her pregnancy, and representatives didn’t respond to a request for comment. But nonetheless, she has created a talking point for PCOS where none existed, Wood said.

“It destigmatizes that PCOS and endometriosis women are infertile or can’t have children.”

When Anaheim, Calif., mom Estefania Sauza, 24, learned of her PCOS, she worried it would ruin her dreams of having children young. She’s fortunate that a shift in her diet — fewer processed foods and more greens and fiber — has made PCOS manageable for her.

Sauza said she’s blessed to have a daughter who’s 4 months old, and she hopes to have at least two more children. Seeing Palmer, whom she grew up watching on TV, have a similar journey made her even more motivated.

“It got me really excited, because as someone with PCOS, it’s just the pride of never giving up and never doubting yourself.”