A reader recently sent me a very touching letter. Her daughter had been born without a womb and was desperate because she couldn’t have any children.
Was there such a thing as a womb transplant?
I have good news for her and her daughter. There is.
Consultant gynaecologist Richard Smith has been pioneering the Womb Transplant Project for nearly 20 years.
In September 2015, he was given permission by the Health Research Authority to begin a trial of Britain’s first womb transplants on 10 women.
Being born without a womb isn’t a rare occurrence. It happens to about one in 5,000 women in the UK.
That’s quite a lot left to live a life bereft of something most take for granted.
Add to this the number of women who, for reasons such as cervical cancer, have had their wombs removed, you then have around 50,000 living without a viable womb.
Not being able to have children can cause untold distress because many women feel deprived of a crucial part of their identity.
Mr Smith said childlessness could be a “disaster” for couples.
His technique would offer hope to those for whom the only options are surrogacy and adoption.
He said: “When you meet women who have been born without a uterus, or who have had their uterus removed for one reason or another, it is really heart-rending stuff and that is what has kept us going.”
The womb transplant op takes about six hours, with the organ coming from a donor who has died but whose heart has been kept beating so that the womb is healthy.
The woman receiving the transplant will need to take immunosuppressant drugs following the op and throughout any pregnancy to prevent her body rejecting the donor organ.
The woman’s health has to be monitored closely for a year to make sure all is well before an embryo is implanted in the womb using IVF.
Couples will be given the option of trying for two pregnancies before the transplanted womb is removed by a team of surgeons, preventing the need for the woman to be on immunosuppressants drugs for the rest of her life.
If all goes well the baby will be delivered eight months later by a C-section.
This is a very hopeful scenario for any woman who dreams of having a baby but who lacks the apparatus to realise her dream.
It’s a little way off but I suspect, in a few years, being born without a womb won’t preclude having a family.