“You’re pregnant!” – the best words an endometriosis mom can hear

I was first diagnosed with endometriosis at the age of 14 and doctors warned me from a young age that I would most likely battle to conceive, if ever. For a young girl, this was devastating news. I experienced a lot of pain and couldn’t compete in school activities or sports as I never knew when the pain would hit me. I also missed a lot of school, as I was hospitalised quite often due to severe pelvic pain. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy my young life very much.

I had had four surgeries (laparoscopies) for endometriosis before I met my husband, Victor, in 2009 when I was 25. For some reason, both of us just knew that we were meant to be. He was the first guy who had stood by me through the years of fighting this devastating and painful disease. He had to do so much research on my condition and never once turned his back on me. We got engaged in August 2009 and immediately started trying to conceive because we just didn’t know what would happen in the future. The first few months passed and I didn’t fall pregnant, but we weren’t too worried at that stage. We were married in February 2010 and moved to Hartbeespoort Dam.

I was diagnosed with stage four endometriosis as well as a low egg reserve (my AMH level was 0.58, while a normal level for my age at the time is about 6.8). In the seven years that we’ve been together, my husband has had to hold my hand through six surgeries (four laparoscopies and two laparotomies) and artificial insemination, as well as IVF treatment where I underwent an HSG (an X-ray procedure done to check if the fallopian tubes are blocked and the position of the uterus) and egg retrieval.

He had to wash and blow dry my hair, and help me around the house. It is extremely painful to just lift your arms or even get out of bed after each surgery, especially after a laparotomy and being cut from hip to hip. He would fall asleep with his hand on my tummy as I told him they were magic and helped me with the pain. This brought us closer – he knows me better than anyone else and has seen me at my best and my worst.

“My heart started pounding and I’ll never forget what happened next. He said, ‘You’re pregnant’!”

Infertility isn’t an easy journey

Walking the road of infertility was not easy at all. At one stage I lost all faith and sank into a deep depression, so I decided to start a Facebook group for women suffering from endometriosis. Knowing that I was not alone helped me a lot, along with the love and support of my husband. My faith slowly started to return and I learnt to pray again, but I made peace with the fact that we might never be able to conceive a child.

We have met some wonderful doctors over the years – and some not so wonderful – and were told that the only way we might conceive was through in vitro fertilisation. We decided to first try artificial insemination, but all three rounds failed, so we finally underwent IVF at the end of 2014. It’s not for sissies, with injections and raging hormones, but we persisted and were left broken-hearted when we learnt that it had failed. We decided then to give up especially because the treatment was so expensive.

Syringes and medications used for IVF treatment
My IVF journey. Image: Supplied

I’d had four more laparoscopies before August 2015 when I had my ninth surgery for endometriosis and our specialist gave us six months to try again naturally. We decided not to put pressure on ourselves this time around – no calendars, no watching out for signs of ovulation. By February 2016 we still hadn’t fallen pregnant, or so we thought. I began to complain about pain in my uterus and had to visit the emergency room, where they performed a scan but didn’t detect anything. I was given pain medication and sent home.

Our specialist managed to squeeze me in on 23 February and when he performed an ultrasound he noticed that my uterine lining was very thick. He asked when I’d had my last period and I realised I was a day late. He ordered a blood test but we didn’t think much of it – an hour later he left a message for me to call him. My heart started pounding and I’ll never forget what happened next. He said, “You’re pregnant!” At first, I thought I had heard wrong, then I burst into tears as I had waited for seven years to hear those words.

Mom with newborn conceived using IVF treatment
Rechelle with baby Liam Victor Heldsinger. Image: Supplied

I had a lot of scar tissue due to all my surgeries so my pregnancy was quite painful. Our baby also wanted to arrive early twice (at 32 and 36 weeks) because of irritation in the womb. Fortunately, we managed to stop the contractions both times. I never complained. It was such an amazing journey that culminated with the birth of our son on 21 October 2016 via C-section as he was breech. We were in awe when the doctor showed us a knot in his umbilical cord – our little miracle could have died at any stage during the pregnancy, but he had been protected by God. Three years later and he’s truly a strong warrior, as his name Liam suggests. Liam is also short for William, my husband’s second name.

Doctors often tell you that having a baby will cure your endometriosis but by the time Liam was four months, the familiar pains started to return. My endo specialist put me on the oral contraceptive Minerva to try and help with the pain but by December 2017, when Liam was 13 months old, I had to have my tenth surgery (second laparotomy) where they found an endometrioma (chocolate cyst i.e. non-cancerous) on my left ovary. A decision was made to remove the ovary so that I could live pain-free. We knew that this meant no more kids, but we were happy to have our little miracle.

Not one but two blessings

In May 2018, Liam was 18 months old and I was still breastfeeding when I told my husband I thought I might be pregnant. I was experiencing similar pain to the first time, but we played it down until one day I simply placed my hand on my tummy and thanked God for this baby. We waited until that weekend when my period was due and Victor bought three home pregnancy tests. The first one came back with a big fat positive and we were shocked (happily so) because we hadn’t been trying to fall pregnant.

I immediately sent our specialist at the time a photo of the test via WhatsApp and he ordered blood tests to confirm. We were thrilled to find out we were having another little boy and decided to name him Seth (‘The chosen and anointed one’), but we were not quite prepared for this pregnancy. It was a rollercoaster ride from the beginning, with bladder infections, a shortened cervix, trips to the hospital for premature contractions from 16 weeks, having to see my doctor weekly, as well as take medication to stop and control the contractions right up until the night before Seth was born.

Premature baby in NICU attached to monitors
Baby Seth Christian Heldsinger. Image: Supplied

At our 23-week ultrasound, we found out that the blood flow through the umbilical cord was poor. I was placed on even more medication and we had to visit the doctor every week. Despite this, Seth was growing and developing well. When we went for our 31-week scan, the doctor broke the news that I had no more amniotic fluid so I was admitted to hospital the following day and received steroid injections to develop Seth’s lungs. We hoped we could keep him in until at least 35 weeks but with my next scan, there had been no improvement so Seth was born via emergency C-section at 32 weeks on 28 November 2018, weighing just 1.65 kilograms. He spent 25 days in NICU.

Photo of happy brothers with colourful balloons
Brothers Liam and Seth Heldsinger. Image: Robyn E. Prevost

I expressed for the first 20 days of his life, and he latched for breastfeeding for the first time when he was 18 days old. The NICU journey was quite tough, but today Seth is a happy 14-month-old who, I’m happy to say, is still breastfeeding.

We are now a family of four, with two very busy little boys who keep mommy and daddy on their toes. Even though parenthood isn’t always easy, we take each day as it comes. What I learnt during this journey: find the right doctor, trust and believe and your partner and, most importantly, never lose your faith.