Restart in the fall

“Autumn is performing a revue outside the hospital window. Sunshine against a park bench. Small breezes in the trees. Thick scarves. Autumn leaves that float softly through the air. I want to be out there. Be my usual me. It’s been a week since the surgery. Nothing as a whole, but an eon of time right now. As if autumn is passing me by. I’m stuck in here. Will it take another week? Two? Nobody knows.

I’m shaking constantly. The whole body is rebelling against medicines and the invasion of it. Have no energy left. Were we wrong? Was all this just a stupid idea? It’s hard to get distance from everything when you’re in the middle of it. The days before. Now that it is done. What to expect in the future. “It’s important that you focus on something else,” the doctors say. Don’t shut myself in. 

The autumn tree outside the window becomes my focal point. I see it age day by day. Pretend to feel the crisp autumn air in my lungs. Listen to Anders’s words in my heart. That we made the right decision. That we would have regretted if we had not done the surgery. I trust in those words. They calm me. He just repeats what I have said.

If the tree out there can let go of all its leaves, so can I. Let go of the control. Stand bare and skinless for the coming winter. Await my time. It’s all gonna be just fine. This is just a short moment in eons of time.”

***

Autumn has always been my favourite season. A rebirth. As if after a long warm summer I can finally breathe and look up and ahead. A time of clear perspectives and a new drive. But also serenity and thoughtfulness. A much needed break from everything that is shorthold and stressful, to embrace the familiar. Unwind. Peel off. Prepare for the oncoming.

The fall of 2012 was the start to a one big preparation. Up until September 15, most of everything had revolved around the operation. The four meter high wall in a long obstacle course. From there, there were tiny little ditches to cross. Slow de-escalations of medicines. Clear goals for when some of them would be completely excluded. Uterine and blood flow checks that went from weekly to monthly…

Coming home to a warm and embedded apartment was a nice step into the familiar. Something firm and reliable in the overthrow. (Putting on your shoes when going home felt literally like being on land again after a long time at sea.) Walk barefoot on a creaky wooden floor. Light lots of scented candles. Take a long hot shower. All over sudden, all the anxiety disappeared. And the sharp scent of antiseptic. Shaving your legs has never felt so liberating. It is hard to feel like a vibrant woman wearing only a shabby hospital gown and knee-long compression stocking with shaggy legs underneath.

I had a big need to cook in the beginning (not so fond of it usually). A tremendous craving for familiar flavours. Longed for rich stews and creamy pasta sauces. The shaking of the legs made it difficult to remain still. So I kept me busy tidying out and cleaning every inch of the home. (As good as possible with bent back and sore stomach.) Tried to get in place. The psychologist of the team once said that I “restored the fluff in the brain”. Soon enough, the shaking faded. To return again when I got pregnant. The shaking in my legs has become a significant expression of when my body is extremely stressed.

The soul played several tricks on me, autumn 2012. As if I was in the middle of some kind of catharsis. For instance, I had difficulty being outdoors and among large crowds. Looked over my shoulder once and twice before crossing the street, well aware of all the dangers. Physically and mentally I carried a precious cargo. I who normally get caught up in every hospital series, had to turn off every time there was a surgical procedure on the TV. When the movie Avatar went one night, I couldn’t watch it. Panicked a little because the main character was strapped into an incubator-like box. (Also, that he was chairbound was too synonymous with my own unreliable legs.) Strange it was. 

Slowly along the autumn, however, I returned to normal. On the other side of the cleansing. Like the season, my soul changed one tiny shade at a time. Prepared itself. Colors got a wider spectrum. Smells and flavours got an additional ingredient. Reassurance.

This autumn I’m going through something similar. A heavy blanket of weariness, compounded by feelings such as inadequacy and frustration (becoming a parent has been the toughest challenge of my life – for several reasons) has been lifted and the struggle to get to know your child and your new self have matured into a confidence and optimism. It’ll be fine. We are a family now. We find our own way.

(Speaking of reboot, I’m looking for new exciting freelance assignments. Feel free to tip me if you know anyone who needs a Swedish writer or virtual assistant ;))

If someone had told my younger self that it would be long before I became a mother and that the road to it would be a long tangled trail, I probably would have been very unhappy. Now I wouldn’t want it any other way. Today, in addition to a time of recovery, autumn is also a stamp of everything wonderful that has happened to me and our family. In the autumn, we think about the day my husband and I once became a couple, and the day we got married. In the autumn, we notice the day my mother and I were operated on and remember the disappointed embryo transfer the year after. In the autumn we celebrate our son’s birthday.

And that I became a mother (almost) in the autumn of age has become a sign of how much I love autumn.

“Mom, why do the trees lose their leaves?”
“They are preparing for what’s coming”

Things that bloom again. Another thing I’ve come to appreciate as I’ve gotten older.

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Something called cancer gets in the way

The cancer came somewhere between breakfast cereals and evening snacks. Between work and house dreams. Between love and … life. I was unsuspecting.

A pap smear in 2002 shows an atypia which is “difficult to interpret”. Something in my vaginal parts differs from the usual. The sample is retaken after a week and it comes back as normal. I think, that sounds quite weird. But buy entirely the explanation that it “sometimes happens”. At age 23, of course nothing bad happens to you. 

Three years later, I have a new appointment with a pap smear. Before the routine check, I have troubles with a stubbornly aching abdominal pain. I have also sought help for bleeding and irritation in my lower abdomen that feels strange. Then I get the answer that I have an “easily annoyed cervix”, which also seems reasonable. The midwife who does the test this time raises her eyebrows a little surprised when I now have pain and bleed heavily. ”Come back if you get a fever”.

(After those words, I still find it difficult to take midwives seriously. With a few exceptions)

A week later, I call the gynecologist reception at the hospital. I get hospitalized and get antibiotics intravenously for a severe infection on the cervix. The doctor’s test also shows cell changes. The general surgeon is called in and examines me. He plans for an operation where the cervix is to be laser irradiated. A psychologist comes into my room, sits on the side of the bed with her head tilted and puts her hand on my leg. The family is visiting, worried. I calmly explain what is about to happen and what has been indited to me by the doctors. “Cell changes are not dangerous”. It is even a little exciting to be sedated for the first time.

On the post-op are other girls who have undergone the same procedure. They go home after a couple of hours, I am being rolled up to the ward again. At that time, an invasive cervical tumor has taken root in the body, but doctors cleverly avoid the word cancer. Afterwards, I have understood that the staff very well knew what was expected and that cell changes were just a small pretext for the operation. The term “happily unaware” is shoved down the throat. When the doctor enters my room after the operation and wants to talk about his findings, I am completely unprepared. I’m being paralyzed.

We sit in a cell-like minimal room, me and my partner. I see the lips of the doctor moving, but do not understand what he is saying. Thoughts wanders off. I am bothered by the psychologist’s red lipstick and aunty hairstyle. And I think to myself that it is a strange thought to be having when the doctor tells me that I have cancer.

My case is taken over by the Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, where the doctor does an examination under anesthesia. The general surgeon at the town hospital is confident and assures me that he has probably removed everything when he did the radiating. “This is just a routine procedure”. Once again, I’m being fooled. The second time in a short while I am lying in a post-op. I see the doctor who examined me walking around to the other women and talking reassuringly to them, they are smiling relieved. Me, she walks just past, without wanting to face me. The fear grabs me, instinctively I know what that means. Quiet tears aches within me. I hold my breath for two days.

I’m back in the hospital on a Wednesday. In an as small room as the last one. In sweeps a storm of disaster, disguised to my doctor. As scaled-down and light-hearted as announsing what´s for dinner, she gives me the information I have feared. “As I suspected, the cancer remains, so we will remove it”. Cervix, lymph nodes, tissue and uterus. Everything will be removed. It takes a while to realize what she says. Within me, an abyss opens. I have hold my breath for so long that I no longer can breathe. Out comes a scream and the beginning of a flood of ​​dammed and uncontrolled crying. The doctor is confused, “I thought you were informed”.

I leave the hospital shocked and mentally turned off. In the car home, me and my partner sit quiet. The tears run down my face, I don’t even care to wipe them. In the luggage there is a drying rack for the bathroom, which we had intended to return at Ikea after the conversation with the doctor. How incredible stupid. It is no longer possible to ignore the problem, this is really happening. On Tuesday I will be operated. For five days I cry constantly, there is not more time. The partner says the right things in the moment, but deep down I know this will not last. Not because I am playing martyrs and feel sorry for myself. Because I just know. Our relationship is not built to cope with this disaster. We have just moved to a house, it is now that life with plans for family should take over. Something called cancer gets in the way. My life will not be the same.

April 12, 2005, at 6.10 am, I am outside the hospital gate. I haven’t slept all night. I do not understand how the body is steered into the hospital when the panic and predator within me scream to run away. I have such anxiety that it feels like I’m going to fall apart. I am 10 minutes late and I get a scolding from a stodgy nurse. I feel like I want to kill her.

With thin drapes in between we are lined up. Like cattle on their way to slaughter. One after the other we are rolled away, sometimes there is a slight traffic jam in the hub into the operating rooms. Someone screams in anxiety – “I don’t want this!”. It could have been me. If it wasn’t because I’m afraid of losing it. Even in the worst time of my life, I am too well behaved to be troublesome.

The surgery goes well. The test results are positive. As quick as I was with cancer, as quick it is removed from me. I never even felt sick. Left is a scar on the stomach, which reminds me the days I wake up and supposedly believe that everything is like it was before. That everything was just a nightmare. And that I could still be a mother. Left is also an indescribable anger that the universe and one of Sweden’s foremost hospitals deprived me of the most sacred. Afterwards, they leave the anxiety of not understanding why I, by a gathering of older women, is the only 25-year-old at the ward. A nurse wants to talk about how I look inside after the surgery, wants to give me the tools to process. But I’m not there. I do not know how to explain that the doctors dug a larger hole within me than the size of a uterus. Surely I will regret that I do not listen, but I just want to go home. Establishe a strategy to cope with the days in the hospital, one minute at a time. I bury the psychological pain in a safe place deep within me where no one can access it. Cancer is gone. Outwards, everything is just fine.

Two months after I first received the diagnosis, I am back at work. Everyone seem relieved that I take everything so well. I talk about everything that has happened and I feel invincible. Feed of the attention I get. I tell myself that I am indeed strong and that I got away lightly. “There are always those who have it worse”. The partner moves out and I bury myself in work. What defined me up to the cancer has been an insatiable energy and demands of performance. I’m not going to stop now. Fight bravely not to change. It works for a while. As people move on from what has happened to me and the everyday is back to normale, the emptiness within me grows larger. At lunch breaks, I pull away from the others. Can’t bear to listen to their talk about families anymore. Can’t bear to keep up the facade for their staring eyes. I’m not the same anymore. My rescue becomes a fatigue depression, one year after the surgery, which is piercing everything. Only then, I let go of the control over my feelings.

No one told me what the little plastic cups were for

The transplant reception on floor 6 feels at first sight as a slightly scary place. Here we shall, after we have been released, turn up for regular check ups. Initially, it is twice a week, but over time the visits becomes more sparse. We meet them in the corridor and in the check-in. We see them sitting in the waiting room with their notes. The others who have got an implanted organ. Now we are one of them. The transplanted. Kidney transplanted, liver transplanted and uterine transplanted in a peculiar mixture. It’s all peculiar.

The first time I am there, one of them starts talking to me. “Liver or kidney?”, he asks. Half panicky, I respond “well, I am a uterine transplanted”. It’s the first time I say it out loud. And with the scary propaganda I have been provided with, I expect him to call the press directly and tell them that here is the girl who is first in Sweden to have received a uterine transplant. He does not. He rather feels embarrassed by the answer and hurries to finish the conversation. Or is it me? In any case, I note to myself to avoid the sofas in the waiting room from now on.

A friendly nurse, who immediately becomes my favourite in the herd of nurses, gives me a tour. The room with four small stalls with each patient chair, in which the nurse sticks a needle into the arm and supplies herself with blood to a certain number of tubes. The kitchen where you as a patient can arrange any food after leaving the blood sample. (To most of the blood samples that the doctors check the health status with, it is necessary to be fasting. You must also wait to take the daily immunosuppressive tablets.) The small “box” slightly opposite the sampling room which can best be described as one of those popular smoking rooms back the old days (in it you sit to inhale a medicine that prevents a certain kind of pneumonia). And the toilets. One frequently used toilet (by the looks of it) directly to the waiting room, one a little further down the corridor and one inside a patient’s room that can be used unless the room is occupied. It is a good idea to be in need of peeing when you arrive to the reception since it every time, one or two tubes also must be filled with urine. And when you are in the toilet, you can take the opportunity to drink a mouth or two from the small white plastic cups that are stacked in a container on the wall. Practical!

Then the round tour is over. Nothing more to see. Not so scary really.

After a while it becomes a routine. Take the elevator up to the sixth floor, push out a number patch and sit on one of the chairs outside the sampling room (instead of in the waiting room). Smile a little when the nurse takes the blood samples, bring the tube to the urine sample into the toilet, do your thing and then leave the tube in the refrigerator. Then go down to fourth floor and end up with the others.

In the beginning we are the unbeatable four. Me and S operated on September 15 and 16, 2012. And another two women operated one month later. We become a group. A band. (A little further on, five more women are operated. They form other groups.) We sit in the dayroom of the ward where we once were cared for – eating our breakfast sandwich from Seven Eleven, taking our medicine and sharing our life stories – while we wait for Dr. Liza to examine us. After a while S disappears. She gets an infection that cannot be cured and the uterus is taken out. Our unbeatable quartet becomes a trio. The three Musketeers.

The moments in the dayroom are, when I look back, some of the best moments of the year after the operation. The sisterhood. How we tense get through month by month, before we get an embryo inserted into our transplanted uterus. There is so much to talk about. We and our partners, who are almost always there with us. Where we come from, what journeys we made and what awaits us in the future. The grief, the disappointments and now the expectations. There is so much to laugh about. We laugh at entanglements and embarrassments. Gynecology examinations and sperm samples delivered in a patient shower. They laugh at me when I complain about the small tubes we have to fill with urine. ”Like, how do you as a woman do to hit the hole?!”.

“That’s what the white plastic cups are for”.


Mother of Life

2013. In the starting of the new womb life

”Sometimes I think I can feel it. Not so much physical. More spiritual. In the sense that I feel it lives inside me. Like talking to me. It immediately told me that something was wrong when I got sick after the surgery. I hardly got used to being at home before I was back in the hospital. Now it’s different. Now it says “I am fine in here. I’m ready for my purpose. We can do wonders, you and I.”

Mom calls it our uterus. The organ that once was hers and who shaped me and my two younger sisters. My first home. Now it’s my uterus. I didn’t know it then, in the early 2013, but the same uterus would also give life to my two children. Having been useless for a woman for over 20 years, it could be given to another woman – her daughter – and be reused to create a fourth and fifth child. One womb – three generations.

On the outside, there is not so much difference. Apart from a scar on the stomach, I look and behave as I did before the transplant. On the inside it is a profound difference. I’ve got my fertility back, the one who was brutally taken away from me 10 years ago. I’m like other women – again. With the same opportunity and chance of having children. A family of my own. I want to shout it out loud from the roof top. But I keep it quiet to myself. As a secret. Just me and my womb who know. We have our own language. Our own alliance.

I have tried to imagine what she looks like. The uterus. Mother of life. The anatomical images do not really make her justice. For me, she is more of a big warm heart that gives the rest of the body a spiritual peace and harmony. Places that were hibernated, thoughts and feelings that were buried – everything is brought back to life again. By this heart. Symbolically, our son was born with a heart in his forehead. A stork bite that fades over time but which will always have a great significance for us.

(In swedish, the word for ”uterus” is ”livmoder”. Directly translated it means ”lifemother”. Many years ago, before transplantation became real, I wrote an article about my story. The editor of the magazine gave it the title Mother of Life. I liked that expression. Carried it with me and wrote it several years later in my diary.)

A winter vacation at home

Our Christmas holiday disappeared in the flu. Which we made up for with an extra week’s winter vacation now in February. Two weeks at home with nothing but stay-at-home-cosiness. It goes surprisingly smoothly.

The first week of vacation starts with a snowstorm, whereupon travel by car is abandon. Instead, we go bobbing one day and plod in the non ploughed city environment to the bowling alley another day. (One thing we never thought we would do. Plod in snow when you don’t have to, that is). The kids play for a while but then think it is more fun to jump up and down on a seat cushion. Unfortunately, the lack of perseverance seems to be a trait inherited from me. My first series goes pretty well, the rest goes less well. That was probably why I ended up with bowling once in a while. I wasn’t good enough in series three and four.

The kids are at Dad’s job one day. Which if you ask them is the most enjoyable thing with any leave. To go loose completely on a lot of instruments. Drum, marimba, chimes – everything that you can bang on is of course highly appreciated. I love that my children get to grow up surrounded by music. And that Vera exclaims “I love music” is of course music in my husband’s ears.

Henry loves to be at home he. But then of course he misses his best friend E. Which we to Henry’s happiness deal with that dad and Henry go home to E and play for a while. Vera and I instead go to the playground and swing, to her happiness. “Higher mother, higher”. To our happiness, the children sleep one hour longer than usual the next day.

We go to the coffee house. Henry wants a brownie with cream instead of his standard, the chocolate ball. Parents of children with selective eating disorder (yep, it’s a real thing), you understand how big this is. That he chooses something else. That he tastes something for him, brand new. And it doesn’t stop there. Before the vacation has come to an end, he has tasted both orange and homemade pizza. I am still completely shocked. But cautiously optimistic. Is it now, the winter vacation 2019, things are beginning to turn?

We relax a lot. Watch movies and play restaurant and shop. Henry plays Mario Kart, Mario Party and Mario Odessey, Vera paints. Tint pens, ink pens, watercolor, acrylic paint. She has a thousand ideas and every idea she performs with equally great dedication and determination. Don’t dare to interrupt her when she is in her flow.

The husband uses the vacation to practises his trumpet little every day. I use it to read books and clear wardrobes, two activities of equal enjoyment. A dentist’s appointment and a eye infection book their way into my winter vacation. And suddenly two weeks have gone by. The snow that lay in drifts on the streets is practically gone and it is almost spring in the air. Very and little can happen in two weeks.

4 things I learned about my transplanted uterus

My mother’s womb was operated into me. Here are 4 things I learned about it after the transplant.

1. It was not noticed

Remove thoughts from the movie Alien. This was nothing like it. In other words, no uterus that fervently tried to break out of my belly. Most of the time, my new uterus lived peacefully inside me without making so much fuss of it. Physically, there was not so much difference to before. I would think that the uterus accepted its new destiny just like any other transplanted organ. As part of a new body.

However, this was groundbreaking research and the first time a woman could actually compare the experience of a congenital uterus with a transplanted. So maybe it was not so strange that people asked “does the uterus feel like your own?” I replied that it feels … quite natural. So yes, like my own.

2. It bled HEAVILY

My own period I remember as quite “kind”. I sometimes had a rather intense menstrual pain, which I got tablets for. The bleeding was a bit more abundant the first few days, as usual, but then  ordinary panty protection served just fine to catch the last dripping. The bleeding I received after the transplant was f a r  a w a y from nice.

The first seven days of each menstruation I had to keep myself indoors. I simply couldn’t be too far away from a toilet. The alternative would otherwise have been to bring a pack of extra pants. I worked out a system where I walked around half-pinched and once every half hour went to the toilet to ”drain” myself. What came out was a whole cataract. Such a flood of blood was enough to bleed through everything I had on me. On the plus side, I didn’t have any menstrual pain.

The doctors argued that it is likely that the womb bleeds more the older it gets (and that I might have had more abundant bleeding if I had my own uterus left). I myself am quite convinced that with my mother’s womb I also got her bleeding. Mom told me that in the end (on the way into menopause) she had such severe bleeding that she had to wear four sanitary pads at the same time when she was at work. And that wasn’t enough.

My theory was confirmed six months after the transplant, when it felt like the bleeding stabilized somewhat. It became a little more manageable. I believe that the mucous membranes of the uterus simply needed time to adjust to my hormones and that the first menstrual periods followed moms’ patterns.

Photographer: Lennart Wiman

3. It enhanced hormones

Hormones, yes. If you ask the doctors, they would stubbornly maintain that the uterus is not a hormonal organ. It is in the ovaries that the woman’s hormones exist. Which is exactly correct. However, I would say that the uterus is a larger supporter of the ovaries than you might think.

Without a uterus, I was rather clueless. I didn’t know where in the menstrual cycle I was, nor was I affected by it. With a uterus however, it was something completely else. Sore breasts, swelling, irritation, fatigue, cravings and depression fluctuated faster in the body than I could keep up with. Classic symptoms of PMS that should technically occur even without the uterus, were suddenly v e r y tangible. Anxiety and other mood changes were experienced both stronger and more intensely. My sweet clueless life had been changed to a long roller coaster of tricky hormonal conditions. If the ovaries were to be described as two speakers, the uterus appears to be a powerful enhancer.

After removing the uterus a second time, I can say that I overall feel much better without the uterus. In the past, I could, in between ovulation, PMS and menstruation, at the most have 4-5 good solid days per month. Now they are considerably more. The body no longer feels like a hormonal yo-yo. I am not a doctor, but for me it feels like you could help substantially women with difficult PMS problems – just by removing the uterus.

4. It did certainly express kicks

For a long time, the majority of the team believed that with a transplanted uterus, we could not feel pain, let alone kicks and contractions. They were wrong. Despite cut veins and cut nerve fibers, the uterus found a way to still express what it experienced. I felt when the gynecologist snipped a little bit wrong in the os uteri for the tissue samples. I sure felt every time the IVF doctor inserted the instruments to place the embryos in the uterus. And each time the doctors were equally amazed.

I knew my kids long before they came out. I felt their first kicks, their hiccups and other small movements and peculiarities that are still typical of them. I’m pretty sure I felt contractions at the end of pregnancy. I just did not know that it was in fact, the contractions I felt. Because the doctors were so confident that I would not feel anything, no one thought of asking or informing me about them.


The ways we connect

A dull November morning when I left the children at the day care, I meet with one of the teachers. She has been on sick leave for a long time and the staff has been quite secretive about why she is absent. I had my suspicions though.

I see it in her eyes when she comes out of the personnel entrance. Somehow I just know. She starts to tell. About the bleeding from nowhere and the doctors who thought it could be cancer. About the scare. About the anxiety. The fear of perhaps having to leave her children. She was operated on and the doctors could thankfully say that it was a false alarm. There was no cancer.

Now she is without a womb. Puzzled. But incredibly grateful to be alive. Not having cancer. Shaken by the experience, she can continue to be a mother. I’m listening. Recognize so well what she tells me. The frighten. To no longer take anything for granted. The terrible in not having control over your life and your body. Much of what I have experienced, I have put behind me, of course thanks to the children. But also because I didn’t want to be someone who identifies herself with cancer. Surprisingly, however, much will come back when you have reason to be reminded of it.

It feels good to tell

She is only a few years older than I am. She could have been my sister, my friend. At this precise moment when we stand at the gate to the day care, it feels like I´m very close to her. There is so much I want to tell her. That I know what it is like to go from “deadly ill” to healthy again from one moment to another. What it does to you. That I know how it feels when something big within one has changed but everyone else live their lives as usual. How frustrating it sometimes is. And that I understand the need to talk, talk, talk. Let the world know what you have been through.

So I tell her. My story. That I also got my uterus removed. She is puzzled. How does that work? “I saw you when you were pregnant”. So I tell her that too. That I got my mother’s womb. She gets tears in her eyes. Obviously, I affect her. I try to convey her though that I am not telling her to overtake her story. But for her to know that I understand her. 

Because in fact she affects me. Although our stories are relatively similar, there is a big difference. She is a mom when all the terrible things happen. I have touched on the thought a couple of times. Now it becomes more difficult to defend myself against it. What if it had been the other way around? That the children came first and the cancer afterwards. What if it hadn’t been possible to remove it? I feel it in a completely different way now. The fear. The power of it is merciless.

She tells. I tell. It feels good.

Not a day too soon
First baby born to woman with uterus transplanted from deceased donor

Not a day too soon

The first time they transplant an organ successfully, it´s said to have have been in 1954. The first time they try to transplant a uterus is far later, in year 2000. Still, most people in the field say that the attempt is done way too early and without sufficient knowledge. This because the attempt fails. In 2007, the Sahlgrenska Academy in Sweden invites researchers and experts worldwide to “The First International Symposium on Uterine Transplantation”. I’m there. During the meeting, they discuss all possible aspects of uterine transplantation – rejection mechanisms, immunosuppression, surgical technique, pregnancy and everything there in between. It is clear that there is a lot of research that remains before a human transplant can be carried out.

After more than ten years of research, the Swedish team feels ready. In September 2012, they operate for the first time on a woman. Me. The unique thing in their research project is that the transplanted uterus comes from a living donor. My mom. The operation is followed by a further eight. In total, there are nine transplant cases in their study, all involving living donors. The majority of the world’s scientists would rather see that a uterine transplant is done using a deceased donor. The operation is simpler and does not need to take the donor into account. It also makes more wombs available to women who need them. The disadvantage is that it is impossible to get a complete overview and history of both the donor and uterus.

A race within the race

Sweden is the first to report on the first successful uterine transplant. However, it could have been Turkey. A Turkish plastic surgeon wants to try to make the historic breakthrough and operate a few years before Sweden. He uses a deceased donor. An American transplant surgeon who participates in the Swedish operations also decides to operate with a deceased donor. None of them has so far succeeded. For the thing with uterine transplant (and quite different from any other transplant), is that the surgery is not successful until the patient becomes pregnant and gives birth to a child.

At a medical congress in 2017, scientists gather again to share their worldwide experience of uterine transplants. This time they are significantly more. It’s a loaded and somewhat secretive atmosphere in the room. Several countries have made attempts with transplants and rumors say that some of the women may even be pregnant. It’s a lot of prestige. A race. Everyone wants to be the one who is first across the finish line and with results that impress the others. Nobody wants to be the one who makes a fool of himself. 

Another team in the United States has done operations. So even countries such as Mexico, Brazil, China, Germany, the Czech Republic and Serbia. In addition to Turkey, which only transplanted one woman, most seem to have followed on Sweden’s example and involved a series of women in the study. It is a little too much by chance that it would be successful in one single woman. Some have used live donors, some deceased. Some have even done both. In order to really compare. To the research group in the United States, Dr. Liza from Sweden have been handpicked to maximize their chances. They do not become the first in the world to succeed in having a child after a uterine transplant, but later on the first in the United States. That´s not too bad. They are very quick to announce the news.

> Learn more: First U.S baby born after a uterus transplant

Brazil and several others do their homework before their surgery and do a study visit at the Swedish doctors. They, in return, gladly share their experiences. It’s nice. In Serbia, they are even included in the operation. The donated uterus comes from the patient’s twin sister and the transplant is unique in that way that no rejection medicine is required, since the twins have completely identical tissue antigens. Serbia becomes the country reporting the world’s first child after a uterine transplant between identical twins.

It’s good that it is done

The 21st century seems undeniable be the century when uterine transplant is finally on the agenda. I wish the treatment had come earlier. Listening to the doctors’ successes, I can not help getting a little sad for all the women who have not got the chance. Where the dream of children died because there was no uterus. But I’m also glad. I am glad that in those cases where research has taken time, it has also been well done. I’m glad that uterine transplants are done today. Happy for the future and all women who will be able to get a completely different starting point when their own womb fails them.

And right… At the 2017 Congress, Brazil announced that they, in fact, have a pregnancy. They have succeeded with what three before them failed. They have done the first uterine transplant, with a deceased donor, where the woman has become pregnant. They have been so busy concentrating on their research that they have not communicated it to the world until now. It honors them.

> Learn more: First baby born to woman with uterus transplanted from deceased donor

4 years of love, happiness and togetherness

(“Togetherness” is not a word, I know. It should be though :))

It’s our son’s birthday. For birthday present he has wished for a red racing car. Unclear what kind.  After a half-hearted searching, he instead got a Super Mario game and two floorball sticks. It was also ok. For his birthday party this weekend he wants to have balloons and an ice-cream cake of the King brand, because his friend had this on his party. Of course he gets it.

The big 4-year-old-day could not come fast enough, according to the son. I myself begin to experience what all parents are talking about, that the life with children goes by so fast. Up to now, everyday life has advanced so quickly that we sometimes have difficulty keeping ourselves above the water level. Between sleeplessness and diaper changes, there is no time for rest or reflection. It is nice to now approach some kind of calm, with more room for afterthoughts.

***

Miranda Hobbes in Sex and the City explains it well when she holds her baby after birth: “It’s like an elephant walked into the room”. It’s a very weird feeling to see your child for the first time. It’s not possible to take in. It’s also strange that the experience of me giving birth is happening in a room full of spectators, but I myself am staring into a green sheet on an operating table, with little ability to move.

Four years ago today at 09.38 he was placed 46 centimeters long on my chest. Henry. There and then we were parents. I cried. Not the rampant cry of happiness. But a trembling cry of relief when a giant tension lets go in the body. For my husband, there were a couple of tumultuous first days at the hospital by taking care of both of us, leaping back and forth between the wards. I was treated for my Caesarean section but also a nasty spinal leakage that made the whole environment feel like a crowded pounding engine room. Henry was treated for two not fully developed lungs that made it difficult for him to breathe. Skin against skin, with a lot of tubes around them, my husband sat for hours and held our son. Promised to always protect him.

It took me a few weeks before I really felt the bond. He lay next to me on the couch and I could not stop looking at him. My very own baby. His steady eyes looked deep into me and opened a stream of emotional feelings. After all we had been through – transplantation, IVF, embryo insertion, a 35-week-long pregnancy (which I did not really dare to believe) – it finally hit me. I am mom now. Tears of happiness ran down my cheeks and I whispered over and over again, “you are mine.”

It´s been four eventful years. Intense. Challenging. Joyful. Henry is, to say the least, a determined and persistent little guy. Stubborn. Emotional. Born with the greatest integrity and sense of right and wrong I have ever met with a child. He is careful, thoughtful, wise and incredibly loving – when he wants to be. Early we discovered that simply telling him what to do did not work, he needs to be in control of everything he does. He loves pasta, Super Mario and dressing up nicely in a shirt and tie. What he does not like are pushy people or when something differs from the ordinary. Most things of his everyday life must therefore be prepared and foreseen. Or encouraged. He requires a lot. But he also gives incredible much. In many ways Henry is completely unique – and in others he is just like any other child. Most is he … Henry. An amazing guy with a great mind of his own.

The little we knew about parenting when he was born, we were soon reassessed. Methods that work on most children simply failed to apply on Henry. In the beginning we were stumped, but today I am grateful. He has taught me patience. He has taught me about humility and respect even to the little people. Strengths and weaknesses in myself. Things I did not even think I would learn. Still, he makes me question everything I’ve ever believed in – in a good way. Being a mom to him is by far the best thing that has happened to me.

Today it’s hard to imagine what life would look like without him. Gone are mornings sleeping in and a relatively carefree life. Taking care of yourself. Gone, on the other hand, is also the void in the soul, the life as infertil. The anxiety about not become a parent. The twoness and being one with your partner have been replaced by a constant sacrificing of yourself. At dinner, he gets the last of everything although I’m still hungry and at tea time he gets the biggest cinnamon buns. When I’m tired or sick and the body wants nothing else but to lie flat on the couch, I’m sitting on the floor and playing with cars. Because he asks me to.

The same is with his little sister. The two are my world. My meaning. My love for them is unconditional and infinite. And my task as a mother is to always back them up. That and to fix balloons and ice-cream cake with candles, though I hate birthday parties. But I know it’s worthwhile when I see the happiness in my 4-year-old son’s eyes.

Happy birthday, my beloved heart <3 

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