Yesterday, I woke up to the news of the first live birth resulting from successful uterine transplant in the United States.
To most readers, that probably sounds like an incredible but not especially personal story. Modern medicine is miraculous in some spectacularly typical ways: We can transplant hearts and lungs and kidneys… and now uteri. (Is uteri the proper plural of uterus? I’m not sure. Whatever.)
For me, though, the story was as potentially earth-shattering as the news I received upon waking up in ICU on May 7, 2011, 12 hours after my son was born via emergency c-section.
I had bled. A lot. Over the course of a many-hours surgery, I’d lost and received over 20 units of blood transfusions. (For reference, the average human body contains about 10 units of blood at any given time.) After seven hours of standard labor and two hours of absolute hell, my son’s heartbeat was lost on the monitor and they cut him out of me. Then the hemorrhaging began, and didn’t stop until they took my uterus.
The finality of simultaneously having your first baby and learning you will never have another is indescribably painful. It is not secondary fertility that may be helped by treatments; it’s not a “try a little longer” or a “miracles happen!” situation. (To be clear: there is a special kind of grief to how secondary infertility offers no finality either way. Living in a “what if” or “could be” or “keep trying” is a hell all its own.)
I blogged often in the months that followed about how blunt that final blow is. It’s just… done. Over. It is a door slammed shut. It is death to be grieved. (Which I did, often through song.)
So to learn a few years later that Sweden had successfully transplanted a uterus resulting in a live birth, and then, that these clinical trials were coming to America… This was a sliver of hope in an utterly hopeless situation.
I wasn’t holding my breath, nor was I certain I was even interested in opening that door again. But the possibility was breathtaking, and I couldn’t keep myself from wondering. But that first U.S. trial I inquired about at the Cleveland Clinic had already been closed to new patients due to initial failure.
So when I read about the Baylor Baby, I immediately checked trial information only to learn that the study – while successful – is only open to women aged 20-35.
I am three months late.
And it is final — again.
This is who I am — a mother who has grieved the loss of the children I’ll never have multiple times. A woman bereaved, fumbling to figure out if there’s a God and where She fits in everything and what that even means. A sister weeping with and holding space for others who know this emptiness.
This is what chose me, and I still don’t know what to do with or how much power to give it.
But I’m also a mother who has just one son and one chance to do this right.
One world in which to raise him.
One context in which to raise a brave, bold, fearless accomplice for justice and peace.
One shot at raising a white man who will use his privilege to throw bombs in systems of oppression and inequality; To empower and amplify the experiences of people of color and first nations and immigrants and women and the LGBTQIA community and religious minorities and, and, and…
But to raise him well, this is who I must choose to be first: A wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend, empath, advocate, accomplice who doesn’t always believe in God but really wants to believe She’s there, that all will be made right in the end, and that making things right is something I – we – choose either to actively participate in or passively reject.
So, welcome to my story.