Double the vagina, double the fun?
Not in the beginning, says 34-year-old Lauren Cotter, who was born with uterus didelphys, a birth defect that results in two reproductive systems in one body: a womb, cervix and vagina split down the middle, each half the size of one healthy uterus.
She’s now the smiling mom of four kids ranging from 15 months to five years old — even though doctors warned her it might not ever happen. According to researchers, about one in every 3,000 women is born with a double uterus.
The elementary school teacher from Melbourne, Australia, received her unusual diagnosis at age 16, after two years of agonizing periods that began when she was 14. When an ultrasound revealed she had the rare condition, her doctor informed her that bearing children was unlikely.
Still, she went forward with surgery to remove the dividing wall through her vagina, which allowed her to have a more normal sex life. But her uterus remained split, which left an increased likelihood of miscarriage and stillbirth.
She met her future husband at 17 and knew she had to be honest with the would-be father after they were married in 2012.
“From quite early on, Ben and I discussed having children and it was clear that he really wanted to be a dad,” she told PA Real Life. “I knew I had to be open and honest and tell him that might not be a possibility for me.”
Ben said he’d be supportive no matter the outcome. Nevertheless, just a year into their marriage, the couple went to work on getting pregnant — though they didn’t have to try for long.
“But actually, we have found it easy to fall pregnant,” she said. “I am not sure why, or if it has anything to do with my two vaginas.”
It was just one month before the couple realized in October 2013 that they were having a baby.
“We knew it might be a bumpy road and tried not to get our hopes up too much,” said Lauren, who added that she took a week’s worth of pregnancy tests to be absolutely certain her wishes had come true. “Each day the line got darker and darker until I was sure — we were pregnant.”
In June 2014, the Cotters delivered their eldest daughter, Amelie, via Caesarean section. The healthy baby girl weighed 6 pounds, 13 ounces.
A year and a half later, they decided they wanted another and again had no fertility troubles, becoming pregnant with their son Harvey after just two months. Harvey grew in Lauren’s left uterus, unlike her firstborn.
“I carried Amelie in my right, and just assumed the left one was a dud,” said Lauren, referring to each side of her divided womb. Her first son was born prematurely via a Caesarean section at 33 weeks. Although he weighed only 4 pounds, 12 ounces at birth, and had difficulty swallowing early on, he was released from the hospital after just three weeks.
Not long after Harvey was born, Lauren decided to opt for contraception — an implant, which doctors recommended based on her medical history.
“The [birth control] pill was giving me migraines and I couldn’t use [an IUD] coil, so in the end, the implant was the only option left,” she said.
While the US Department of Health and Human Services claims the contraceptive implant is over 99 per cent effective, Lauren was pregnant with twins within three weeks of going on birth control.
“‘Shocked’ doesn’t begin to cover it,” said Lauren. “During 17 years together, Ben and I had only ever got pregnant when we’d planned it. Now, here we were, having surprise twins.”
She may have successfully carried one child, but doctors feared two babies growing from one shrunken uterus would be especially dangerous for the mom and her unborn children.
“My doctor was very honest and said he couldn’t know how the pregnancy was going to play out,” she said. They ordered strict bed rest beginning at 19 weeks.
But right on time at 37 weeks, twin girls Maya and Evie were born in June of last year, weighing five pounds, 13 ounces and five pounds, four ounces, respectively. Initially, Evie struggled to survive due to a congenital diaphragmatic hernia, meaning her diaphragm has failed to keep her intestines in their proper place. At just five days old, she had surgery, which doctors said would give her a 50 per cent chance of survival.
Now, at 15 months old, the Cotters’ twins are leading healthy childhoods along with older siblings Amelie, now 5, and Harvey, 3.
The mum of four — who requested that her fallopian tubes be removed during her last C-section to prevent any more surprises — added, “Ben and I are one super-fertile couple, and now we’re happy with things just as they are.”