Study finds sense of unreality in mothers after uterus transplantation

Gothenburg: According to a study by the University of Gothenburg, new mothers have a feeling of unreality after giving birth due to getting a uterus transplant which wasn’t possible for a decade.

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The research has been published in the ‘Human Reproduction Journal’.

The first author was Stina Jarvholm, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Gothenburg and a clinical psychologist at Sahlgrenska University Hospital.

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Jarvholm belongs to the uterus-transplantation”>uterus transplantation research group that has attracted international attention for its medical advances and has also distinguished itself for its research and publications on the long-term psychological impact of transplantation on donors, recipients, and partners.

The present study comprised seven women who had either lacked a uterus since birth or needed to have it surgically removed. All seven had lived in the belief that they would never be birth parents. When they received a uterus transplant in 2013, their average age was 29 years.

The results, based on annual interviews with the women up to 2018, clearly showed that in many ways they experienced their situation similar to most other mothers. Becoming a mother felt both thrilling and challenging, and couple relationships were put to the test.

Simultaneously, the women had worries connected with the actual procedure. Some had fears about the baby being adversely affected during the pregnancy, and some felt the pregnancy was not truly their own, given the extensive medical supervision they were under.

“I wonder if you love your child in a different way, for the very reason that it came into being as it did,” one woman reflected in an interview.

Another woman laughed a little when she related how sometimes when she was out shopping with her child, she would suddenly think, “What have I done?” and “What if people around me knew?”

“Psychologically, becoming a mother after a uterus transplant seems to be a mixture of feeling just like anyone else and, at the same time, struggling with a sense of unreality,” stated Stina Jarvholm.

The uterus transplants from living donors in 2013 were part of the world’s first systematic, science-based research project in this area. It was led by Mats Brannstrom, the University of Gothenburg Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Sahlgrenska Academy and Chief Physician at Sahlgrenska University Hospital.

After the first birth in Gothenburg in 2014, another seven births followed before a woman outside Sweden gave birth to a child after a uterus transplant. To date, 12 babies have been born within the framework of the Swedish research project, while the worldwide total is about 40.

Jarvholm emphasized that transplanting the uterus is an advanced form of infertility treatment that extended over many years and included recipients, parties and donors alike.

“The findings help us to provide psychological support at times when the women are under extra strain — when, for instance, they are repeatedly attempting to get pregnant without success or having miscarriages — and for those who need to leave the project without becoming parents in the way they’d hoped,” Jarvholm said.

“The knowledge we’ve gained is also useful for people who meet these women while they’re pregnant. It helps them to provide good support based on the women’s specific needs and to understand that what was previously impossible is becoming a reality,” she concluded.

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