A mom who never thought she would be able to carry or birth a child did just that last month, thanks to a uterus transplant at Baylor University Medical Center in Texas. She was the first woman in the U.S. to give birth to a baby after getting the breakthrough procedure as part of an ongoing clinical trial.
Most of the details are being kept private, such as the names of the patient and her family, as well as when the baby was born. But here's what we do know: The birth was a scheduled C-section, with most of the members of the clinical team present, and the baby boy was delivered healthy. The mom is one of 15.4 percent of women of childbearing age who suffer from absolute uterine factor infertility, which means the uterus is nonfunctioning or nonexistent.
"It was very special to look in the eyes of the mother. She was told when she was a teenager that she would never see this moment, and then all of a sudden you see this happening and you think everything has meaning," Dr. Giuliano Testa, the surgical chief of abdominal transplantation at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, told ABC News.
Doctors hope that the transplants can help several thousand women bear children.
Wait, back up, how does a uterus transplant work?
According to Baylor's website describing the trial, the women selected as recipients have to be between 20 to 35 years old and have healthy, normal ovaries. Donors, who can be dead or alive, must be between 30 to 60 years old. First, the recipient will undergo in-vitro fertilization to harvest her eggs and fertilize them. Embryos are frozen until they're ready to attempt pregnancy. Then, the donor womb and cervix are removed and implanted into the recipient. Patients take immunosuppressant drugs, which can pose long-term health risks, to prevent organ rejection. Embryos can then be thawed and implanted at least a year after the transplant. The wombs are not meant to be permanent and would be removed after, at most, two successful pregnancies.
This baby is the ninth baby born in the world from a uterus transplant. The first successful birth was in Sweden in 2016.
Baylor researchers have completed eight total uterus transplants, including this successful birth story, and are looking to complete a total of 10 as part of its first trial. Three have been unsuccessful because of poor blood flow, one woman is currently pregnant and the remaining women are in different stages of the transplant process.
How affordable is it?
Time magazine reports that uterus transplants are estimated to cost up to $500,000, which is incredibly high, even when compared to current infertility treatment costs such as egg freezing (about $5,000 to $10,000 per cycle) and IVF ($15,000 to $20,000 per cycle). It's rare for insurance companies to cover infertility treatments as they're mostly viewed as elective procedures.
Baylor covered the first 10 transplants, but the team is now looking for funding in order to continue their trials.
Is this going too far?
The uterus transplant program has been a ray of hope for women who didn't think they even had a chance of birthing a baby.
"We do transplants all day long," Testa told Time. "This is not the same thing. I totally underestimated what this type of transplant does for these women. What I’ve learned emotionally, I do not have the words to describe."
Critics have said the medical procedure has gone too far and worry about the risks it poses to those desperate to have children.
"I don't think you can find people more vulnerable than those who wish to become parents and can't," Michele Goodwin, director of the Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy at the University of California, Irvine, told NPR last year, when the Cleveland Clinic announced plans to launch the first U.S. study to evaluate womb transplants.
Other criticisms are less about the health and safety of the mom and more about the social limits. Wouldn't this perpetuate the stereotypes that "real women" should have a genetically related child? What about adoption or surrogacy?
"If they have enough [money] to do this procedure, they would probably have the money and resources to adopt, but they won't because they think their genes are so amazing," reads a comment on a Reddit thread, with several people echoing similar opinions.
"A lot of people underestimate the impact that infertility can have on a person’s well-being," Dr. Liza Johannesson, an OB-GYN and uterus transplant surgeon at Baylor told Time. "It can have such a profound impact."