Even through the fog of hospital narcotics, Kayla Edwards could still hear the welcome sound of rushing blood.
Tubes coming from Edwards’ abdomen were hooked to a Doppler blood flow monitor. The 27-year-old Vancouver native had successfully undergone a nine-hour uterine transplant surgery at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, and the constant swooshing she heard amplified by the Doppler machine was a sign she had good blood flow to her new organ.
“That was the coolest sound to me. It would put me to sleep, just knowing I had a uterus,” Edwards said. “You wake up one day not having the ability to possibly carry a child and then seven hours later you have this wonderful organ inside of you that is going to hopefully bring life into the world. It’s surreal.”
Edwards was born with a genetic condition that affects around one in 4,500 women. She lacked a uterus, cervix and fallopian tubes, which meant that giving birth wasn’t possible.
However, in recent years, uterine transplants have been rising in success and relevance. According to a 2018 CNN story, women with transplanted uteruses have borne more than a dozen children in the U.S., Sweden and Serbia. The first baby birthed in the U.S. came at Baylor in 2017. Now Edwards, who first met her husband Lance, 27, at Silver Star Elementary School in Vancouver, is 25 weeks pregnant and part of a small historic group of mothers.
“Most days I feel like I won the lottery because it’s so brand new and it’s groundbreaking,” Edwards said. “It’s not something where you can just walk into a hospital and be like, ‘I want this done.’”
Edwards found out she had Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser syndrome as a teenager. At the time that diagnosis didn’t bother her much, but then she fell in love with Lance.
“When you fall in love with someone, you want to have a family and you start thinking about what the other person will look like in a child form,” she said. “You just want to share that love. It got very intense when I married him.”
Edwards said she would search the internet to see if there were ways she could get pregnant, and around the time of her marriage in 2014, she saw that Sweden was having uterine transplant trials. She figured a procedure would become available in the U.S. within five to 10 years. That’s what happened at Baylor University, where Edwards applied for the procedure and was one of 10 women chosen among a field of about 200 applicants for the first uterine transplant trial. A second trial is now underway.
To participate, Edwards and her husband moved from Vancouver to Texas, where Baylor is located.
It was a difficult time. The couple didn’t know anyone in the Dallas area. Two weeks after their move, their dog died. Then the couple were informed that Edwards’ potential organ donor didn’t qualify for the procedure.
“That year tested us a lot because we had our life on hold,” Edwards said. “We didn’t know if the surgery was going to happen, so it was like a lot of faith-based … and knowing we were there for a purpose.”
Edwards got a job as a 911 dispatcher and her husband was hired for a construction job. They waited a year to be matched with a new donor. And once Edwards had a uterus, it still took four tries for doctors to transplant an embryo that led to pregnancy.
Edwards admits she’s a serial pregnancy test-taker, and that she came to an agreement with her husband to temper the test-taking with the fourth embryo, because the negative tests had affected her mood. Still, Edwards couldn’t stop herself. She used the last test kit she had left. Before looking at the result, Edwards shoved the test in a drawer and told herself she would ignore it. That lasted about 30 minutes until she peeked at the results, which were positive.
She greeted her husband in their driveway, holding the digital pregnancy test up to his car window. The couple promptly bought another handful of pregnancy tests, and their joy was confirmed.
Edwards may choose to have another child with the uterus, but doctors eventually will remove it so she can stop taking immunosuppression drugs, which fight the body’s instinct to reject a transplanted organ.
Edwards said she partially pursued a transplant because she views it as opening up another route for women like herself. Adoption is another possibility in the future, Edwards said, but right now she’s focusing on her first child: Indy Pearl Edwards. The name Indy is for her grandfather, who died about a decade ago. He loved car racing. Pearl was chosen just because it’s old-fashioned.
Edwards and her husband want to return to Vancouver to raise Indy. They celebrated her baby shower back home in Clark County last Saturday.
“It’s just really awesome,” Edwards said. “It feels like I’m living a dream and I don’t think I’m actually going to believe it until she’s here in my arms, but it’s really cool to just celebrate with family because I never thought I’d get this opportunity.”