The courage and perseverance of a PCOS sufferer in her emotional path to parenthood.
Tessa Falk was in her early twenties and recently married when she was diagnosed with PCOS and Stage 4 Endometriosis. What followed was an intensely emotional journey of open surgery, laparoscopies, monthly fertility specialist appointments and a miracle baby, four years after receiving her diagnosis. Today she is the Marketing Specialist at the Fertility Specialists of Texas, helping women come to terms with their diagnosis, and supporting them in their own personal journeys.
Tessa speaks about the challenges she had to overcome in her path towards parenthood as a PCOS sufferer, and on the importance of support in coming to terms and dealing with this diagnosis.
Daniela: Good morning Tessa, and welcome to Dreaming of Baby. It is our pleasure to be speaking with you. Today we shall be discussing PCOS and infertility, particularly your first-hand experience in dealing with this condition. It would be great if you could introduce yourself to our readers.
Tessa Falk, Marketing Specialist at Fertility Specialists of Texas: Hi, thank you so much for having me; it’s an honor to share my story with your readers. My name is Tessa Falk, I’m a marketing specialist with Fertility Specialists of Texas.
Daniela: I am aware that you have dealt with PCOS and Stage 4 Endometriosis personally; can you tell us a little about when you were first diagnosed?
Tessa Falk, Marketing Specialist at Fertility Specialists of Texas: My mom struggled with PCOS and endometriosis, so I always had it in the back of my head that I might have challenges, as well. When I was officially diagnosed, in my early 20s, it wasn’t a huge surprise, but then again, when you grow up dreaming of being a mom, you’re still not quite prepared for the actual reality that it’s going to be an uphill battle to see that dream realized.
Daniela: Were you already married at the time and seeking to be a mother, or was it more of a routine check-up?
Tessa Falk, Marketing Specialist at Fertility Specialists of Texas: I’d just married my high school sweetheart, Chris, and knowing my mom’s history, I wanted to know what our path to parenthood was going to look like as soon as possible. I’d been having pretty severe pelvic pain, so I knew something wasn’t right.
Daniela: What was the process for obtaining a diagnosis like?
Tessa Falk, Marketing Specialist at Fertility Specialists of Texas: To be honest, it was a blur of emotions … fear, anxiety, stress. The tests themselves were fairly simple. A thorough medical history: Acne? Check! Weight trouble? Check! Irregular menstrual cycle? Check! The sonogram revealed lots of cysts on my ovaries; one was so large and concerning, it required surgery to remove it. This was the first of many pelvic surgeries to come.
‘It was harder to admit the truth to myself than to confide in my husband.’
Daniela: Indeed, that must have been difficult to go through. From having talked to other women that have been diagnosed with PCOS, sharing the diagnosis with a partner is not always easy especially when there are other co-occurring disorders such as endometriosis. Were you able to share the diagnosis with your partner?
Tessa Falk, Marketing Specialist at Fertility Specialists of Texas: It was harder to admit the truth to myself than to confide in my husband. I’ve been incredibly, beautifully blessed with an amazing spouse. Chris has loved me through every trial and celebrated with me through every triumph.
Daniela: That is very positive; would you say support is key in dealing with such a diagnosis?
Tessa Falk, Marketing Specialist at Fertility Specialists of Texas: Absolutely. Our office hosts free fertility seminars every month and as part of that, I try to share a bit of my story with attendees, to let them know they’re not alone. To let them know that it is possible to overcome. Whether we find support from a spouse, a friend, a co-worker or a perfect stranger at an event, just being able to hear from others and to share your own struggle — to share your own truth — with someone else can be so powerful.
Daniela: That must be very very helpful. Did experiencing these conditions first hand influence your career choices?
Tessa Falk, Marketing Specialist at Fertility Specialists of Texas: It did. When I was first diagnosed, I was an editor for a Dallas, Texas-based parenting magazine and while I loved my job, after my diagnosis, the hole in my heart just intensified. I had my miracle baby, Cooper, nearly 4 years after my diagnosis. It’s because of the struggles with infertility due to PCOS and endometriosis that I am where I am now, working for a fertility center. I always imagined Cooper as a big brother and when that wasn’t an option (I had to have a total hysterectomy at 31), I experienced a grief just as profound as before I became a mom. Even now I catch myself longing for what might have been. I joined Fertility Specialists of Texas about two years ago because I wanted to help make a difference — in whatever way I could — for those who were hurting. For those who, too, longed to have a baby and couldn’t.
‘It’s because of the struggles with infertility due to PCOS and endometriosis that I am where I am now, working for a fertility center.’
Daniela: I’m sure that through your work you are assisting women going through similar experiences in a most profound way. With the aim of helping others, especially those who have just learned about these conditions, what did the journey to your miracle baby look like following diagnosis?
Tessa Falk, Marketing Specialist at Fertility Specialists of Texas: I had a cystectomy shortly after my PCOS diagnosis. At the time, my OB said an open surgery, versus a laparoscopy would be the best option. The resulting scar, a large red swipe across my bikini line would later be replaced by the mark of motherhood: a C-section scar. The cystectomy was followed by several laparoscopies to remove endometriosis and an HSG (hysterosalpingogram) to make sure my tubes were open. I saw my fertility specialist every month to evaluate my ovaries, to see if we were able to start treatment. Every month I had more cysts. I was in a constant holding pattern and I was devastated. My husband and I decided to take a leap of faith. We contacted a family friend, who was an OB/GYN in our home town and after examining me, she agreed to let me try a fertility medication for one month. I was incredibly hopeful and optimistic. I felt like this was our chance for a miracle. I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but after years of pain and anguish, it happened: a positive pregnancy test! My son was born the next Spring.
Daniela: Wow! What a journey! In your special path to parenthood, what was the most difficult aspect to deal with and overcome?
Tessa Falk, Marketing Specialist at Fertility Specialists of Texas: My biggest struggle was myself. Reconciling reality with the version I had created in my head and in my heart was an impossibility I thought I would never overcome. For years, my entire identity was the pursuit of motherhood. And, every failed pregnancy test, every month with more cysts, every night I curled in the fetal position and cried myself to sleep from the physical pain of my conditions was a strike against who I thought I was and would never become. I wrapped myself in grief. I didn’t know anyone else who was struggling like I was. I felt so alone, so left behind. My husband couldn’t reach down into the hole I’d dug, it was too deep, too dark. He was there, loving me in the best way he knew how, but I became lost to him, to everyone. It wasn’t until we decided to take that leap, to listen to what our hearts were saying that I felt hope. The last 10 years as a mom have been indescribable. I have never felt more like myself, more centered and self-assured than basking in the joy of my son’s smile, his laugh and his love for life.
Daniela: What an intensely emotional path to parenthood. What helped you overcome your situation at that time and take that life-changing leap of faith?
Tessa Falk, Marketing Specialist at Fertility Specialists of Texas: I wish I had this really amazing, powerful answer. But, the truth is, I don’t. At the end of it all, regardless of your diagnosis, your struggle, your past, as cliché as it sounds, you have to listen to that little voice inside that whispers to your heart when everything else is screaming in your head. There’s a reason for it, a purpose for it in this season of your life. Just listen, take that first step (or that 1 millionth). And, most importantly, know you’re not alone.
Daniela: Thank you, Tessa, thank you for sharing your personal journey with us. The words you’ve shared would assist many in coming to terms with their diagnosis. I wish you all the best in your work with other women and the priceless support that you provide on a daily basis.
Tessa Falk, Marketing Specialist at Fertility Specialists of Texas: Thank you! I appreciate this opportunity immensely.
Read more about the Fertility Specialists of Texas, here.