She is currently nursing her 10-month-old son, Liam - who she calls a “miracle baby”.
“I was diagnosed with endometriosis, an abnormal growth of endometrial tissue (lining of the womb) outside of the uterus at the age of 14, and my diagnosis was confirmed at 17. The doctors told me I would battle to conceive, or not conceive at all,” said Heldsinger.
In women with the endometriosis, the lining of uterus is displaced outside the cavity. The endometriotic deposits are usually extruded during a woman’s menstruation, and undergo monthly changes. These changes result in spotting and cause scarring of the inside of the pelvis.
According to a Cape Town gynaecologist Dr Peter de Jong, endometriosis is a common condition and results in a huge amount of suffering in many thousands of young women every month.
He says the commonest symptoms of endometriosis are pain in the pelvis, very painful periods, pain during sexual intercourse and infertility.
After suffering from the disease for 19 years, the founder and chief executive of EndoWarriorsmSA, a Johannesburg NGO, had almost given up on having her own children.
Now Heldsinger’s support group creates a safe haven for women to tell their stories, and receive support from other women going through similar circumstances.
She still remembers vividly how she battled with the medical condition, and in particular, how she struggled to conceive.
“We did numerous IUIs (intrauterine inseminations) and one failed ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) and IVF (in vitro fertilisation).
“After my last surgery, in August 2015, we decided not to allow the struggle to conceive to get to us any more, and that we must accept what must be must be.”
Since Heldsinger’s diagnosis with endometriosis, she had had nine surgeries to treat the condition.
She says living with the disease meant that she was constantly exhausted, in excruciating pain and very lonely.
“I had pain 24 hours a day. Up until my pregnancy, I had to live on schedule five pain medications to just get through the day.
“The pain came back after my pregnancy, and because I am still breastfeeding, there are few pain medications I can take.”
De Jong said while endometriosis often resulted in infertility, the condition could be successfully treated.
“Endometriosis, which is a condition of modern living, can be treated by means of medication, and if this fails, the patient may need to undergo a laparoscopy and removal or cautery of the endometriotic deposits.
“Under rare circumstances the endometriosis may fall on the bowel, causing painful defecation symptoms.
“The condition is best treated by a gynaecologist after the diagnosis is confirmed on ultrasound scan and clinical examination.
“It’s a very difficult disease to treat, and so it is advisable that endometriosis is treated by a specialist who commonly manages this condition,” he said.
Heldsinger believes that the fact that she was not the first in the family to have the condition helped her in her journey. Her mom also had endometriosis, and so shared a special understanding. Another person who was a pillar in the journey was her husband, Victor Heldsinger.
“For some reason, both of us just knew we were meant to be together! He was the first guy who stood by me through the years, fighting this devastating and painful disease.”
After trying all the different options to conceive, they decided not to worry about it any more.
Last year her specialist gave them six months to try to conceive naturally before they gave up. Months later, after she started experiencing an unusual pain, Heldsinger decided to make another doctor’s visit - she was ready to have a hysterectomy, the pain was so intense.
After noticing a thick endometrium (lining of the womb), the doctor performed a pregnancy blood test.
“As I was walking down the passage to the lab, I thought to myself, ‘why even bother?It’s always negative anyway’.”
She had the blood test regardless, and about two hours later, she missed her specialist’s call.
“He sent me an SMS saying that he can’t share the news if I don’t pick up the phone. By then, my heart was pumping like crazy, I phoned him back immediately.”
She admits that the words “you are pregnant” took her by surprise. “It was the first time I’d ever heard those words!”
Although Heldsinger was thrilled to have conceived, her pregnancy didn’t come without challenges, and she experienced a lot of pain due to all the earlier surgeries.
“I have a lot of scar tissue and the stretching of the uterus caused so much pain. But I was grateful... a lot of women with this diseases have miscarriages. The fact that the uterus can’t expand the way it should because of the scar tissue can also result in a smaller baby. I was lucky to have an otherwise healthy pregnancy.”
Heldsinger gave birth at 39 weeks.
“On October 21 last year, my baby boy, Liam, was born by C-section. The journey of parenthood has been a dream come true, I am loving every moment!
“Yes, there are days that can be challenging, but mostly it has been such a joyful time. I even quit my job so I can be home with my little miracle. I want to be there for every milestone he reaches.”