Womb Transplants: A New Fertility Hope

By Alex Temblador
A pregnant woman in Timor-Leste pensively looks outside her window. Recently, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) supplied equipment to Timor-Leste's national hospital which will aid in improving child delivery and reducing maternal mortality.

There are many women and individuals, one in 4,500, who are born without a uterus, a syndrome known as MRKH. Similarly, 40% of women who develop cervical cancer are in their childbearing years and must have their uterus removed to battle the cancer. These women are unable to have children, but a new type of surgery might bring a fertility hope to these couples and individuals who want a family. It’s called “womb transplants.”

Womb transplants are a fairly new phenomena that it is still undergoing testing in many countries. Having said that, Sweden successfully transplanted nine wombs a few years ago. These wombs were donated by living relatives or friends to women that weren’t born with a uterus or had to have theirs removed. One of the women who received a womb transplant gave birth to a healthy baby soon after the transplant—the first of its kind. With such results, the United Kingdom is looking to do a similar study on 10 more women.

Womb transplanting is a medical procedure in which one person receives a transplanted womb because they were born without a uterus, or because of cervical cancer, they had to have theirs removed. After receiving a transplanted womb, the women are unable to get pregnant naturally, but must instead use IVF. Additionally, the women must take anti-rejection drugs so that their body doesn’t reject the womb. The womb must be removed after two pregnancies so women can stop taking anti-rejection drugs which have side effects.

There is, of course, controversy surrounding the womb transplant procedure. Some doctors claim it’s not worth the risk to do a womb transplant since it’s not a life-saving surgery. Although Lisa Campo-Engelstein, an assistant professor at the Center for Biomedical Ethics Education and Research at Albany Medical College in New York made a good counter-argument when she said, “Being able to carry a pregnancy and have a biological child, that’s extremely important” to some women.  There are a variety of common surgeries that are done daily such as breast augmentation that are not “life-saving.”

Others suggest that with the option of adoption and surrogacy, there isn’t a need for womb transplants. However, in many countries, surrogacy is illegal and adoption can sometimes be difficult for certain individuals like single women or women in the LGBT community.

There have also been concerns for the fetuses of pregnancies that may result from the womb transplant. Some doctors are unsure of whether a transplanted womb can provide the right nourishment, and others worry about pre-mature births, the placenta not growing properly, and a fetus being exposed to anti-rejection drugs in the mother’s system (though tests have proven that the medication usually doesn’t harm a fetus).

Despite the risks or the controversy surrounding the surgery, many people are excited about the possibilities womb transplants could bring to their life and the lives of other women or have brought to their life.

Lisa Gimre who was born without a womb and runs an organization in Norway for women born with MRKH syndrome stated, “If this had been possible when I was younger, no doubt I would have been interested.”

The father (name not provided) of the one child born from a womb transplant told reporters after the birth: “It was a pretty tough journey over the years, but we now have the most amazing baby.”

The ability to have a biological child naturally is a strong urge for many people and even though womb transplants might be controversial and in its early stages, it still brings hope to many women and individuals. As the trials continue, it will be interesting to see how womb transplants could benefit more people in their quest to build a family.

Photo by United Nations

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