Three years ago, a Swedish mother made history by giving birth to the first baby born from a transplanted uterus. Malin Stenberg spoke out about her experience for the first time in 2015 to give hope to families in similar situations.
Stenberg was born without a womb or a vagina due to Rokitansky syndrome, a rare DNA mutation that attacks the inner genitalia and renders the sufferer infertile. She was 15 when she initially found out about her disorder, and the news was devastating. “I wasn’t ready to hear it, I couldn’t take it in,’ she told Swedish newspaper Dagens Industri. “It felt so unfair. I loved kids and babies and I wanted to know what I had done to deserve this. I felt so alone.’”
After many years of believing that she would not be able to have biological children, Stenberg and partner Claes Nilsson joined a pilot project aimed at allowing women with the syndrome to give birth. The project, conducted at nearby Gothenburg University, implanted donor wombs in nine young women. The procedure was specifically targeted at those with Rokitansky syndrome because, while they are missing their vagina and uterus, their ovaries are typically unaffected.
Most of the women had wombs donated by their own mothers or sisters, but Sternberg’s donor womb came from a family friend. 61-year-old Ewa Rosen already had two children and four grandchildren of her own, so she donated her uterus to her younger friend. “She’s incredible,” Sternberg told the Industri. “She’s really made a great contribution to other people in taking this step to be a donor without any payments or anything: just good will.”
Stenberg had IVF treatments after the womb was transplanted, and became pregnant on her first treatment. Their son was born two months premature, through a C-Section, but has since grown to be a healthy young boy. Although he was one of four successful births in the study, his early delivery made him the first baby to be born via donated uterus.
Since then, researchers have continued studying the treatment. The first uterus transplants performed in the US took place in 2016 and, although three of the transplants failed, the fourth one succeeded. British doctors also believe that, within ten years, they will be capable of transplanting functional uteri into transgender women.
In the three years since her surgery, Stenberg and her partner are “more than happy” with the treatment’s outcome. Little Vincent was named after a Latin root word that means “to conquer,” in honor of the difficulty that the family experienced in having him. “When I held him for the first time, it was just amazing,” Sternberg told the Industri. “I felt immediately that he was my baby. It just felt so natural. We truly are a family now.’
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