Thursday, March 10, 2016

American woman has uterus transplant that fails. The Internet goes berserk.

Last night, just before closing my eyes for the day, I ran across this article from The New York Times. It's about a 26 year old woman from Texas named Lindsey who longed to have a baby naturally.  Born without a uterus, Lindsey had known since she was a teenager that she would never be able to carry a baby.  The news was clearly devastating.  Still, she grew up, got married to a man named Blake, and adopted three sons.

Lindsey is the first American woman to undergo a uterus transplant.  The transplant was done on February 24th in a nine hour operation at the Cleveland Clinic's hospital in Weston, Florida.  At first, the surgery was deemed a success.  Lindsey had received a uterus from a woman in her 30s who had died suddenly.  She was pictured sitting in a wheelchair, smiling... looking very hopeful, surrounded by benevolent looking doctors.  Though uterus implants are cutting edge medicine and are just now being explored in the United States, they have been done successfully before.  Swedish doctors have done the transplants on nine women resulting in five births.  Lindsey and her medical team had every reason to hope that she too would be successful.

Then, the day after that photo was taken, there were complications and the transplant failed.  Lindsey was suddenly back in the news.  The New York Times promptly reported the setback in a second article.

I will admit that the second article is the one I saw first.  I noticed the first one when it was first published, but never got around to reading it.  That first article included the information that Lindsey and Blake had already adopted/fostered three boys.  Still, the idea that she should adopt first never crossed my mind.  I figure everyone has the right to make their own family planning decisions, as long as those decisions don't harm other people.  Moreover, medical research has the potential to help many.  As long as patients are informed about the experimental nature of a new treatment and understand the risks, I can't help but admire the ones brave enough to be first.

I probably shouldn't have read the comments on the news article, though they did inspire me to read more about Lindsey and her brave decision to be a part of medical history.  So many people were saying that Lindsey should "just adopt", not realizing that she had already done that.  Even when they were made aware that Lindsey is already a mother and had adopted three kids who needed homes, a lot of them stubbornly derided her decision to try for the transplant.  Others suggested hiring a surrogate, which is another avenue that can be fraught with challenges.

I'll admit that it often pisses me off when people suggest adoption to people struggling with infertility, as if they've never considered it.  They make it sound like it's the easiest, cheapest, most perfect decision.  It's like they could just go to a child rescue and choose a kid whose picture "speaks to them", go home, and raise the child happily ever after.  It's not that simple.  Adoption is a big decision and comes with its own set of challenges.  Moreover, Lindsey had already adopted and wanted to try for a pregnancy.  She's an adult, living in a country that supposedly embraces personal freedom.  It's her body and presumably her money.  

A lot of people were saying that uterus transplants are somehow selfish and frivolous.  What I don't think they understand is that this kind of research could also be beneficial to other people.  Every time healthcare professionals are able to explore the human body, it helps them to learn about how it works.  Maybe the uterus transplant surgeries could help doctors understand even more about how transplants work and what causes failures and promotes successes.  Maybe more knowledge garnered during a uterus transplant surgery could lead to better understanding of heart transplants or lung transplants... you know, surgeries involving vital organs that support life.  Of course, a uterus also supports life; a life separate from its owner's.

I also noticed that many of the comments were being made by men.  So many flippant males, people who never expected to give birth themselves and don't understand that, to many women, having babies is a part of being female, felt the need to opine about Lindsey's family planning choices.  It's true that a lot of women never give birth and choose not to.  Quite a few women also only give birth once, because the experience of being pregnant is unpleasant for them.  But, for so many other women, being pregnant and having babies is a deep desire.  It's something that so many women can do with ease.  When you can't do it, for whatever reason, it hurts.  I wanted kids and presumably could have had them had I wanted to seek medical help (or a man who hadn't had a vasectomy reversal).  For me, the desire to be a mom was not that strong.  For other women, it's a very compelling drive.  I can't judge them for that.

I have a friend who endured many miscarriages.  She kept trying to get pregnant and would end up heartbroken time after time until doctors discovered that she had a hormonal imbalance.  She and her husband now have three beautiful sons.  It took years, lots of money, and plenty of patience, but they were able to achieve that dream and have that part of their lives fulfilled.  I wouldn't be surprised if some compassion challenged jackass said to them, "Jesus Christ!  Why not just adopt?  Look at all the kids who need homes!  The world is overpopulated!"  It's as if they're saying, "Sorry lady.  Fate made you unable to have a baby, so you should just suck it up and deal with it.  To hell with your own plans and desires; God has spoken and you're defective."

My question is, who the fuck are these people to make these kinds of tone deaf comments to strangers?  Better yet, who are they to mention them to friends and family?  Why is it anyone else's business how an adult plans their family?  Even though I am no fan of the way the Duggars live their lives, I still maintain that it's their right to determine how large their family should be.  I would hope they wouldn't choose to adopt, mainly because I think an adopted child in that family would suffer.  But even if I personally disagreed with adoption in their case, I still think people should have the basic right to make family planning choices that work best for them.  What works for one person doesn't always work as well for someone else.

I, for one, applaud Lindsey's bravery.  I'm sure the doctors who worked on her learned new things and honed their skills.  I'm sure this setback is devastating enough for all of them without idiots on the Internet belittling them for trying to advance medical science.  I wish the best for Lindsey and all the other women who are struggling with infertility, a problem that hits close to home for me.

Many years ago, I read the book linked below.  It's fascinating reading for those interested in medical experimentation and research.


  1. I'm not sure exactly what people find so controversial about a uterine transplant. I suppose there would be the possibility of a mother's immune system reacting adversely to a fetus being carried in a transplant organ. Furthermore, would conception be safe with the drugs often required on a long-term basis to prevent organ rejection following transplant? Still,how is the person receiving the transplant harming anyone else?

  2. They think she should be grateful for her adopted kids.


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