By Sola Ogundipe
Elizabeth Amoaa, a Ghanaian woman who lives in the UK recently revealed she was born with two vaginas and two uteruses (wombs), a rare condition known as uterus didelphys.
Amoaa, 35, told Saturday Health that before she was 10 years old, she’d already been “in and out of hospitals” with recurring yeast infections. As she got older, she started having extreme pain with her periods, to the point where she would sometimes faint. Uterus didelphys is so rare and often has no clear symptoms; it typically goes undetected, as it did in Amoaa’s case.
She educates young girls and ladies about gynaecological conditions that affect them every day.
In 2008, she was diagnosed with uterine fibroids, non-cancerous growths in the wall of the uterus that can cause excessive bleeding and pain. She quickly realized she had something more than just fibroids, however, because no matter what treatment she tried, her period symptoms continued. In 2010, she gave birth to a premature baby girl.
It wasn’t until 2015, that she had an MRI and was finally diagnosed with uterus didelphys.
Uterus didelphys, or “double uterus,” occurs during fetal development, when the two tubes that normally form one uterus instead become two separate structures, according to the Mayo Clinic. A double uterus may have one cervix that opens into one vagina, or each separate uterine cavity may have an individual cervix and vagina, leaving a woman with two vaginas, as Amoaa has.
Having uterus didelphys doesn’t mean a woman can’t enjoy a normal sex life and experience a healthy pregnancy. On the other hand, the condition does make women more susceptible to developing fibroids, endometriosis, and ovarian cysts. It can also lead to infertility, miscarriage, and premature birth.
Besides fibroids, Amoaa has also been diagnosed with ovarian cysts and endometriosis. Her first baby was born premature, and she lost a second baby in 2016 to miscarriage.
It’s not clear why some women are born with the disorder, and there’s no cure or quick fix for uterus didelphys. To manage the complications of having two vaginas and two uteruses, Amoaa has had about seven surgeries.
Amoaa says her story is ongoing, and she’s not sure where it will take her from here. But she is sure that there’s a silver lining to her struggles. In 2017, she founded the Special Lady Foundation—an organisation that aims to educate young women about gynecological conditions. She travels to Ghana multiple times a year to speak to women who live in a culture where ob-gyn issues are seen as taboo.
“It’s been kind of a blessing in disguise, to be able to use my experience to help other women,” she says. Her number one piece of advice: Never ignore any symptoms, no matter how small. “Don’t keep it to yourself.”
Women with double uteruses like Amoaa are rare and less than 100 have been known to ever been simultaneously pregnant with one baby in each womb. Fewer carried one or both babies close to term. In December 2006, three babies were born in the UK, from two separate wombs inside the same woman—Hannah Kersey. She was 23 at that time.
The probability of a woman with two wombs being pregnant with three babies—two in one womb, one in the other—is about 25 million to one. And the chances of all three babies surviving are even slimmer. Hannah Kersey’s three daughters might be the only ones, at least in recorded medical history.
Hannah’s three daughters were delivered seven weeks early by Cesarean Section and spent two months in the hospital finishing their development. In December 2006, all three went home in good health with their parents.
According to BBC News, a woman in Brazil with uterus didelphys delivered two healthy babies, one from each womb, in May 2003; and in 2002, Xinhua reported on a similar case in China.
With advances in medical technology, the odds of successfully delivering babies from simultaneous pregnancies in two wombs may be getting a lot better.
Just 26 days after delivering a premature boy, 20-year-old Arifa Sultana from Bangladesh, a woman with two wombs miraculously gave to twins. She had returned to the hospital— complaining of stomach pain. Doctors quickly realized that Sultana had a second uterus—and was pregnant with twins. They performed an emergency CS and she and her babies were discharged with zero complications.
The gynecologist who performed the CS, Dr. Sheila Poddar, told BBC News she was “shocked” when she heard two heartbeats.
“When the patient came in we performed an ultrasound on her and found there were twin babies. We were very shocked and surprised. I have never observed something like this before.
She had no idea that she had two other babies. We carried out a Caesarean and she delivered twins, one male and female.”
A double uterus is a rare abnormality that develops when a baby girl is in her mother’s womb. As they begin to develop, they usually fuse together to form one uterus. But in rare cases, the tubes remain separate and become two uteri.
Sometimes there is only one cervix for both wombs, other times each womb has a cervix. Often the vagina in women with a double uterus is divided into two separate openings by a thin membrane.
It’s entirely possible for women with a double uterus to carry a baby to term. However, the condition does come with an increased risk of miscarriage or premature labour.
Experts say it’s quite common for a woman with a double uterus to experience no symptoms whatsoever. A doctor may discover the condition during a routine pelvic examination. Otherwise, it’s usually found when investigating the cause of recurrent miscarriages.
The condition is a congenital abnormality but it’s not known exactly what causes this to happen. A genetic link is suspected as the condition has been known to run in families. Surgery is possible to correct a double uterus, but it’s rarely needed. For women who have a double uterus but are experiencing no symptoms, there is no need to treat the condition. Those who experience recurrent miscarriages that have no other medical explanation may be offered the surgery. It’s possible that the surgery will help them to sustain a successful pregnancy.