“When I grow up I want to be a Mommy.” How many little girls dream of one day being a mommy? Imagine finding out as a teenage girl that you were born with a rare condition and your uterus did not form properly; or maybe you don’t even have a uterus. Your dreams of motherhood become confused and you struggle with your identity as a woman. You begin to think about options like adoption or not having children at all. Is there any chance that you could ever have your own baby? What about surrogacy? Is that an option? Your mind reels and sorts through your choices.
Earlier this month a new option became a reality in the United States for women struggling with uterine anomalies. For the first time in our country, a live healthy baby was born from a woman enrolled in an experimental uterus transplant program at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.
According to Dr. Testa, one of the physicians leading the experimental program at Baylor, “This first live birth to a uterus transplant recipient in the United States was a milestone in our work to solve absolute uterine factor infertility; but, more importantly, a beautiful moment of love and hope for a mother who had been told she would never be able to carry her own child.”
While this is the first baby born in the USA via uterine transplant, eight babies have been born outside our country by the same procedure. Baylor University Medical Center has performed eight uterine transplants so far during this study. The first three transplants failed. One woman delivered a healthy baby boy and one woman is currently pregnant. The others are in various stages of the transplant process.
Uterine transplants are not for the faint of heart. Meeting a strict set of standards to be included as a candidate is just the first step. Next the woman goes through the process of collecting healthy eggs from her ovaries. The research team needs to screen and choose a donor to provide the new uterus. In the case of the baby recently born in Texas, a live donor underwent a five hour surgery to donate her uterus to the recipient. The surgery to implant the donated uterus takes approximately five hours. After the procedure is finished, the woman recovers from surgery and waits to achieve menstruation. She must take medication to prevent rejection of the uterus. When she is having regular periods and has healed from the transplant, she can begin IVF (in vitro fertilization). Because the new uterus is not connected to the ovaries, IVF is required. The cost is also very high. Dr. Testa estimated the costs to be between $200,000 and $250,000. Expenses for the first 10 women are covered by the research study. And there are no guarantees. This is a new frontier in medicine; three of the transplants have failed. After the baby is born, the transplanted uterus is removed to protect the woman from the effects of organ rejection.
Are the risks worth the benefits? There are also moral issues to consider in regards to the cost and risk and even IVF itself. For some women, the hope of birthing a baby may be worth the risks. For one family, a dream came true in time to bring home their new baby boy for Christmas.