Unprecedented Advancement For Women Struggling To Conceive In The U.S.

Most moms would say that pregnancy, childbirth, and raising a baby that has grown and developed in your own body is the greatest miracle we can experience in our lifetimes.

Motherhood is a profoundly personal experience, and many of us take for granted the blessing of conceiving and delivering a baby without complications.

Thousands of women each year go to agonizing lengths to conceive and will do whatever it takes to carry their own child.  For these women, there is an incredible medical advancement that has now been successful in the U.S.  The risks are high, but this procedure is offering some women another path to motherhood.

PopSugar reported:

“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,” said Giuliano Testa, MD, principal investigator of the uterine transplant clinical trial at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas. The new mother received a uterus transplant as part of a “landmark clinical trial conducted over the past year and a half.”

The fact that the labor and delivery were successful is a huge step in helping women who were either born without a uterus or needed to have it removed due to cancer or other illnesses. However, uterus transplants aren’t actually designed to be permanent organ donations. “Because carrying foreign body tissue can increase infection risk and requires lifelong antirejection medication, women in this study will undergo a hysterectomy after one or two successful pregnancies,” reads a Baylor Scott & White Health publication outlining the clinical trial.

Researchers at Baylor University Medical Center are pleased with the results and are hoping to help other aspiring moms in the future. Doug Lawson, PhD, president of Baylor University Medical Center, said, “This baby, born to a mother who could not otherwise have carried her own child, represents the ultimate success of this program, and we are honored to have been part of this milestone for her.”

Swedish physicians have had a track record of success with this procedure, and thus far, eight women in the country have been able to successfully carry their babies to term with a transplanted uterus.

The first attempt in the U.S. in March of 2016, however, led to rejection of the organ in the mother and was soon after removed.  The woman has since completely recovered and U.S. teams have analyzed that failure and continued research to lead to the first successful procedure in our country.

Physicians across the globe are hoping this miraculous procedure will become commonplace and give hope to thousands of women who have not been able to conceive due to disease or other physical issues with their reproductive anatomy in a chance to experience the most natural form of motherhood.

Critics, however, point to ethical questions raised by the procedure and the high risks and costs involved to the mother and baby.  Organ transplant of any kind comes with complications, including a high risk of infection, rejection of the organ that can lead to lengthy recovery, and reliance on anti-rejection drugs that can cause any number of long-term health risks.

Because the uterus is an organ that we can survive without, physicians will remove the donor uterus by hysterectomy after a woman has gone through a successful pregnancy or two, adding another risky surgery and long recovery process as part of the procedure.

Others, however, believe the procedure is an advancement that will serve as an alternative to women who go through years of painful and dangerous IVF procedures, or those who turn to surrogacy, both of which have ethical complications of their own.

Livestrong reported:

Developing an emotional bond with a baby during pregnancy knowing that you will soon hand her over to another woman can result in confusion, sadness or even anger. During the nine months of gestation, the biological mother bonds with and becomes emotionally attached to the baby growing inside her. For some women, giving the baby up after birth may present a loss too challenging to overcome without outside help. Professional counseling during and after the pregnancy can help to minimize the effect of such emotions.

While there’s no doubt that carrying a baby for nine months and giving birth creates an emotional attachment, additional problems can arise if the surrogate has the legal option to keep the baby. Surrogacy is not equally enforceable in all states. This may mean that the intended parents have no legal right to claim the baby as their own. That may complicate the decision-making process for a surrogate who can’t bear the thought of giving up the infant.

And another option for women who cannot easily conceive is undergoing in vitro fertilization procedures.  These can be painful and physically dangerous for the mother, as well as extremely draining on a couple’s finances.  IVF is not only risky but often leads to years of disappointment and hopelessness for a couple if the procedures do not work.

Pregnancies as the result of IVF have a higher incidence of miscarriage, and can also lead to immoral consequences, such as “selective reductions.”  The incidence of conceiving multiples is far higher when a woman conceives by IVF, and physicians often encourage aborting one or more of the babies in order to grant a higher rate of successfully carrying the pregnancy to term.

And what are the other health risks to mom and baby with uterus transplants? NPR reported on the comments of the medical team who have been in the forefront of this first success in the U.S.:

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Dr. Testa and his colleague, Dr. Liza Johannesson, who joined the Baylor team from Sweden earlier this year, spoke about this development.

Dr. Johannesson [on the risk of anti-rejection drugs on mother and child]: So in that sense, we know a lot. That’s maybe the only aspect of this that we actually have a good knowledge of because females have been giving birth after kidney and liver transplants for many many years on immunosuppressive drugs. So we know what the effect of immunosuppressive drugs has on pregnancies, on babies, on recipients. And we know which immunosuppressive drugs you should not take during pregnancy.

Dr. Testa [on women who choose to consider this option to conceive]: I just understood through this process that I myself had completely underestimated the wish of any woman that I’ve met thus far to have their own child. I don’t know whether there is a price for it. I have no philosophical discussion to add. I just have to say that it was a humbling discovery and I’m still profoundly touched by it.

Dr. Johannesson: I think it’s important to say also that it doesn’t exclude surrogacy or adoption. Dr. Testa: That’s absolutely true. But this is true for infertility at large in this country. … Some woman will go to extremes to be able to have this experience. The cost of medical care is at any rate extremely high for anything we do.

There are currently several other women in the U.S. who have undergone a uterus transplant and are at different stages of pregnancy, one close to delivery.

While opinions about this procedure differ, one thing is certain.  For women who will do anything to conceive and carry their own child, medical advancements are occurring every day that give women the hope to do so.  It is a very personal decision and one that others may not be able to understand unless they have been through the struggle of infertility.

What do you think of this medical advancement?  Do you think it raises questions about safety and ethics, or do you think it is a miraculous development for women who desperately want their own child?  Leave us your thoughts in the comments section.