Laurie Martino was 26 years old and in the middle of giving birth to her first child when she discovered she had two uteruses. Her doctor tried and failed twice to manually breech her son. He decided on an emergency C-section and was surprised to find two uteruses.
Martino was shocked, but knew it explained some health issues from her past: an onslaught of urinary tract infections that caused kidney reflux disorder, severe cramping periods, etc.
"Doctors should have caught my condition when I was little, every time I had a sonogram," she told Woman's Day. "We have absolutely no idea how they didn't."
Her anomalous congenital condition is known as uterus didelphys, and it affects around one in every 2,000 women — and many of them aren't even aware of their condition. It occurs during the embryonic stage of human development, when a female has more than one "uterine horn." If the two tubes, called Müllerian ducts, fail to fuse together, the uterus does not come together, likely due to an error in the signal instructing cells to migrate. The result: a double uterus with two cervixes and, sometimes, a double vagina.
See Krista Schwab and Victoria Pottle. Both women are 33 years old and have two uteruses. Both were told they wouldn't ever have children naturally, but Schwab is now in the final trimester of a healthy baby boy, and Pottle is a proud mom of three. Schwab has two uteruses, two cervixes, one functioning ovary on the right side, and a vagina separated into two canals by a septum. Pottle also has two uteruses, two cervixes, and one ovary, but she has fallopian tubes on both sides. She had a thin vaginal septum like Schwab, but it tore and dissolved during her first childbirth.
All three women discovered that they had two uteruses later in life — something that's not uncommon for women with uterus didelphys, according to Dr. Robert Zurawin, M.D., obstetrician and gynecologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.
"There would be no reason for them to [know]," Dr. Zurawin told Woman's Day. "It's asymptomatic, but gynecologists should be able to detect it anyway."
Although Dr. Zurawin says uterus didelphys is asymptomatic, some women, like Martino, may experience pain or other symptoms — which most likely means they're an exception to the no-symptoms rule.
"My doctor said it's closest to uterus didelphys, but it is very different than most — that could be why I experienced pain," Martino, now 28, told Woman's Day.
Uterus didelphys doesn't exactly cause problems with getting pregnant — the issues pop up after conception. While you may think the vaginal septum could cause issues obstructing intercourse or expelling blood and discharge (which it totally can), one side of the septum can actually stretch, and become the preferred side.
Women with the condition usually try their luck on both sides of their vaginal septums. It's possible that both uteruses could get pregnant (and go into labor) at the same time, but it's not possible for one uterus to get pregnant after the other already is, simply because the body stops ovulating.
Dr. Zurawin says women with uterus didelphys do not always have fully developed uterine linings, which is where implantation of a fertilized egg and the attachment of the placenta (which supplies oxygen and nutrients to the fetus) occurs. Another issue pregnant women with two uteruses run into is when the uterus is irregularly shaped, preventing it from stretching to accommodate a growing fetus, a factor that could cause a breech birth.
Now that doctors are learning more about the condition, diagnosed women are using social media to connect, share stories and offer support to one another. In fact, Martino started a private Facebook group after she was diagnosed.
"Once I started telling people about it, a friend knew [another woman with the condition]," Martino says. "I got her number and texted her one day and said, 'Hey, I heard that you have two uteruses,' and then we became good friends."
Both Schwab and Pottle rely on Martino's Facebook group for support.
"There are things that my doctor wanted to do like pap smears and cultures that you don't do if you have my condition," Schwab told Woman's Day, explaining that cultures could scrape the already thin cervix. "My doctor wasn't aware and she was going to do it; if it weren't for that Facebook group, I could have possibly lost the baby."
Both of Martino's pregnancies were happy, healthy surprises; she was even able to find a high-risk doctor trained in vaginal birth after Caesarian or VBACs so she didn't have to undergo another surgery after the birth of her first son.
"I would tell people to not live in fear in thinking that they can't have kids if there's this abnormality," she says. "So many doctors will plant that in your head. I want to encourage other women: If [your reproductive system] is different, don't live in fear. There's a reason we're created how we are."