Kayla Edwards’ daughter, Indy Pearl, was born through a donated uterus transplant at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas. (Photo: Angi Penix Photography)
Kayla Edwards first read about uterus transplants in Sweden. Born without a uterus, she considered moving there.
Instead, she and her husband, Lance, left family, friends, a newly purchased house and secure jobs in Vancouver, Washington, to move for an experimental procedure in Dallas.
It wasn’t bravery. It was love, said Lance, 27.
“For Kayla to even potentially have the thought of carrying her own child – just seeing the light in her eyes,” he said. “The last thing I want to do is regret not making that decision, I didn’t want to think, ‘Why didn’t we even try?’ “
Kayla, 28, is one of 20 uterine transplants at Baylor University Medical Center. Her child is the fourth born at the hospital through the procedure, and though other families preferred anonymity, she wanted to share her story.
“Hearing other people’s stories when I was first diagnosed gave me a lot of hope, and I just wanted to be that person now,” Kayla said.
A pregnancy of ‘constant worry’
Indy Pearl Edwards was born Sept. 10, weighing 6 pounds, 5 ounces. She is as peaceful a baby as can be, just as she was during Kayla’s pregnancy – which caused her concern.
She texted three other pregnant moms with uterus transplants at Baylor. Were their babies kicking and active? Her little one was so mellow. And Kayla had zero nausea.
“The first four months, every day, she was in constant worry. It was hard for her to get excited about it. ‘She’s not moving,’ ” Lance recalled his wife saying. “Having everything go so smoothly is also a worry.”
Women in the trial spend five hours on the operating table to receive a uterus, then they must receive drugs, so the organ is not rejected. Once a woman recovers, doctors wait to see whether a woman achieves menstruation. If the transplant is successful, women undergo in vitro fertilization within three to five months after the surgery.
There is no cost to the uterus donor and transplant recipient as part of the trial, and the cost outside the trial is still to be determined, according to Baylor.
Should the cost be similar to that of other abdominal transplants, the price tag could reach hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Not a ‘light decision’: Mom who struggled years with infertility donates uterus, so another woman can have a child
Born without a uterus
One in 4,500 women worldwide have Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome, a condition that causes the uterus to be underdeveloped or absent. The uterus is the organ where babies grow – the womb. Kayla, like others with MRKH, has functional ovaries and is able to produce eggs. When she learned this at 16, she didn’t comprehend the full implications and worried more that the condition made her “weird.”
Later, she worried how to tell Lance, but she did so on their third date.
“He was so wonderful and just told me, ‘What kind of man would I be if I walked away just because of this?’ So he was the person I wanted to spend my life with,” she said.
Lance was always Googling about how it might be possible for her to carry a baby. That’s how she learned in 2014 about the first medical team in Sweden to transplant uteruses into women so they could give birth. In March 2016, Lance and Kayla learned they were accepted for the trial at the Baylor Scott & White Research Institute.
Six months later, they were on their way to Texas.
“It was a long journey,” Kayla recalled. “We literally got a phone call while still driving that their first couple of transplants didn’t work. My (uterus) donor didn’t qualify anymore, and they would have to go back and figure out a new donor for me.”
‘1 egg left’ and ‘no guarantee’
The couple had four fertilized embryos. The first three embryos failed.
“Like I said, it was a long journey,” Kayla said. “I didn’t get pregnant as easily as some other women did. We had one egg left. The doctors told me from the start there was no guarantee. But I thought at least maybe I’ll be able to help others learn from this.”
Kayla blogged to share her MRKH and infertility struggles and figured although she hadn’t posted in a while, she could let her community know what happened.
Finally, in January 2019, the couple learned that the last embryo took, and they were pregnant.
“I didn’t believe them when they told me,” Kayla said. “We were crying together, and we asked if they triple-checked that test.”
“She is a miracle baby,” Kayla Edwards said of her daughter, Pearl, born through a donated transplanted uterus. (Photo: Shannon Faulk Photography)
When their “miracle baby” was born, 30 doctors and specialists were in the room, “cheering and crying with us,” Kayla said.
Liza Johannesson, medical director of uterus transplantation at Baylor University Medical Center, said a birth is every bit as emotional for the medical team.
“We know them almost like friends. We know their story. We know how devastated they have been by the infertility,” Johannesson said. “Following them through the pregnancy and just being there and being able to deliver – it’s the best day of their life. And it’s also one of the best days of our life. It’s absolutely amazing just to see the look in their eyes when we hold that baby up.”
Indy, named after Kayla’s family’s love of racing, rarely cries, the couple say. She doesn’t like to be swaddled, but she does like to be held. A lot. That’s OK with them.
Kayla could carry a second baby after undergoing IVF another time with the donated uterus, and they are considering it. Eventually, they hope to meet the uterus donor. For now, they exchange letters with the anonymous donor and sign their initials, as per Baylor policy. They can meet when the uterus is removed.
“I constantly think of her,” Kayla said. “It gets me emotional. I hope one day we can meet and I can lay Indy in her arms and tell her how grateful we are.”
Another woman shares her story
This month, Peyton Meave, 24, the third woman to deliver a baby after a uterus transplant, decided to join Kayla in sharing her journey.
She spoke about the experimental procedure during a news conference alongside her 3-month-old daughter, Emersyn Rae.
During the news conference, the two new moms, Kayla and Peyton, held their little miracles, offering hope to others who might be struggling with infertility.
Kayla intends to keep speaking on her blog, “Beautifully Barren,” and anywhere else because she remembers when she was alone and Googling and considering a move to Sweden.
“I have a lot of girls born with my condition reaching out to me, and it’s an honor to be able to share with them and talk to them and answer all their questions,” she said. “I just hope that my story inspires them. When I was first diagnosed, I had no one and nothing to look at.
“Maybe they’ll see me and our baby. Everything we went through will have all been worth it to me.”
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