My best friend Marie-Claire recently asked me to be godmother to her four-month-old daughter, Eva. I was thrilled and, I’m not ashamed to admit, we cried on each other quite a bit. We spent ages excitedly chatting about the christening, what the baby would wear and how I was going to be the best Auntie Lauren ever. But when I got home, I had another little cry, because underneath my joy and happiness for my friend is the heartache of my own situation.
I have a condition called MRKH [Mayer Rokitansky Küster Hauser – named after the doctors who discovered it], which means I was born without the upper part of my vagina, uterus and cervix. It affects one in 5,000 women. I have all the right hormones, I have ovaries that are producing eggs, but I’ve always been told by medics that I will never be able to carry a baby because I don’t have a womb in which it can grow.
I first knew something was wrong when I was 15. While my friends were all starting their periods, there was no sign of mine. My mum took me to the GP, where I was referred to a gynaecologist and eventually I had laparoscopic surgery, a keyhole procedure in which a surgeon goes into the abdomen. It was then that doctors saw there were parts missing. Leaving hospital that evening, I felt sick as we drove home and, when we got there, my mum and I sat in the driveway for a bit. She reached over and hugged me, whispering into my hair that everything would be OK. But I knew it wouldn’t be. How could it? I felt like a freak. I was a month away from my 16th birthday and I’d just been told I’d never carry my own child.
That night, I experienced the first of months of nightmares where I would wake up screaming in a cold sweat. Back then I was about to sit my GCSEs, but couldn’t summon the motivation to care about my schoolwork and struggled to talk to friends about my condition. Doctors suggested counselling and I began specialist sessions, which did slowly help me come to terms with my condition. I decided that the most empowering thing I could do was read as much as possible about MRKH and join support groups where I could confide in other women experiencing the same issue and, slowly, I came to terms with it.
But everything got a lot scarier in 2012, when I met my fiancé Matt. I really liked him immediately and, unlike past boyfriends, I felt I could trust him. But I was still so nervous when I sat him down, only a week after our first date. I knew I had to be upfront, even if it meant losing him. It was such a relief when he said it didn’t matter to him – that we would just take each day as it comes. He’s amazing and I couldn’t ask for more than that. But it didn’t stop that hollow feeling every time I thought about my future.
Then everything changed earlier this month, when the Health Research Authority gave the green light for 10 womb transplants to be carried out here in the UK next spring, after the procedure was successful in Sweden. I’m one of 104 women on the shortlist for one of just 10 transplants, so it’s tough odds. And if I’m chosen, it would then be a gruelling process for my body. I would have to take medication to increase my egg count and stimulate my ovaries for harvesting my eggs, then doctors would perform the transplant – the womb comes from a donor who has died but whose heart has been kept beating. Afterwards, I would have to take immunosuppressant drugs for 12 months to ensure my body doesn’t reject the organ. Doctors would then implant an embryo. If I have a successful pregnancy, I’ll be asked if I want to try for another baby, and if I don’t, the womb will be removed.
Of course, the procedure carries risks and that makes Matt and my family anxious. But they know how important this is to me. It’s a long shot, but it’s my only hope. My diagnosis has meant that I had to face up to my fertility much earlier in life than most women. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been desperate to be a mum. I work as a children’s ward auxiliary nurse and people often ask how I can bear it. The truth is, I find it fulfilling to be around children. It fills the gap and means I don’t have a totally child-deprived life. I also have two nieces – Ashleigh, three, and Sophie, one – who I’m incredibly close to. I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t bother me that my sister and friends have been through pregnancy, childbirth and the joy of bringing up children, but I can’t let those thoughts take over. I have to stay positive and this womb transplant list has given me so much hope.
Until I know whether or not I’ve been selected for a transplant, I’m in limbo, and Matt and I talk about what we’ll do if I’m not chosen. I think we’d try and have a child through a surrogate, but ultimately, I’m desperate to carry my own child. I want this to happen so much. It’s funny, when I had hospital visits as a teenager, I remember one doctor telling me that by the time I wanted to be a mother, maybe womb transplants could be a reality. I hope it can be my reality.