She was devastated when she learnt as a teen that she wouldn’t be able to have children but, after undergoing a 10-hour uterus transplant, Jennifer Gobrecht’s motherhood dreams came true
Sitting in the car with her mum, Jennifer Gobrecht was sobbing uncontrollably.
She was just 17, but coming from a close, loving family, she had always dreamed of having the same for herself one day.
Jennifer Gobrecht was 17 when doctors told her that she would never carry her own child!
But what the doctor had just told her meant that becoming a mum wasn’t just going to be difficult, or unlikely, but impossible. For they had just discovered she had been born without a womb.
“I would never be able to carry my own child,” recalls Jennifer.
“I’d grown up believing that one day I would have a baby and experience pregnancy. So, it was devastating. I sat in the car with my mum and couldn’t stop crying.”
But thanks to an incredible gift from a stranger, those tears of despair now seem like they were from a different lifetime.
Because 16 years on from her devastating diagnosis, Jennifer now has her dream family after all – after having a womb transplant from a deceased donor.
She was the second in her country and thought to be just the third in the world to give birth after having the procedure.
And as “miracle” baby Benjamin, now 10 months, toddles towards his first birthday, Jennifer is sharing her story to prove there is hope to others like her.
“I never thought in a million years that we would be here,” she beams. “For me to be the one who carried our child was an incredible experience, just pure joy. That he was finally here was a miracle.”
Jennifer, 34, has Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser syndrome, a congenital condition which occurs in 1 in every 14,500 women.
She had no idea there was anything different about her until she hadn’t started her periods at 17. She went to the doctors and was sent for a scan which revealed the devastating diagnosis.
It was not only something she had to face but something which could be a factor in any future relationship.
A couple of years later, she met student Drew. They became friends, but two years later gave into their feelings and started dating.
“I was upfront about it,” says Jennifer.
“It meant that when we started dating, he knew what he was signing up for! He accepted me for who I was. That really made me fall in love with him even more.”
The pair married in 2014. But while family and close friends knew about Jennifer’s MRKH, others didn’t. It meant the couple, from Pennsylvania, both faced the inevitable questions about babies whenever they met other couples.
“People meant well,” explains Jennifer. “But it’s so hard to know what to say when they ask when we were going to have a baby. It was tough.
“Growing up, I dreamed of how it would feel to grow a baby in my womb, to feel them kick inside me, and those dreams disappeared when I was 17.
“The hardest moments were always when someone tells you they were pregnant. It’s so bittersweet. I’d think ‘I’m so excited that they’re expecting a child’ but there’s the sadness that I won’t ever be able to go through that.”
Drew, 32, had to watch the woman he loved the struggle. “When she was feeling real despair and helplessness, those were the hardest times.
“It was my job to make her feel better, but there’s nothing I could do, other than just being there,” he says.
“Some people even said to me ‘You could have chosen differently.’ But it’s Jen I want to be with, no matter what.”
They both knew from the start they wanted children so started IVF in 2016, creating 10 frozen embryos. They even started talking to surrogate agencies.
But then Jennifer read about a new medical trial. “I’d read about some research into uterus transplants, never thinking in a million years it could be a possibility for us,” she says.
“Then in 2017, I read that there was a clinical research trial starting at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, just around the corner.
“They were looking for volunteers to receive a uterus transplant. I said, super excited, ‘How wild is this? I think I’m going to apply’.”
But Drew was less enthusiastic.
He says: “I was worried Jen was going to get her hopes really high, and then be crushed if something went wrong. I told her to apply but not get her hopes set on this. It was such a long shot.”
The trial was a partnership between medical director Dr Kathleen O’Neill and surgical director Dr Paige Porrett.
The criteria included being between 21 and 40, having normal kidney function, being a non-smoker and having absolute uterine infertility.
Jen ticked every box and three days after filling in the form, the phone rang.
“It was Dr O’Neill, saying that she wanted to meet with us. It was so exciting,” she says.
The doctor explained to the couple the risks of the procedure included bleeding and infection, as the patient would need a series of surgeries.
“I kept thinking about all the things that might not work,” Drew says.
“The chances of this working were so slim. Did we really want to put ourselves through this?”
Then Jen said something that changed his mind. He explains: “She said, ‘even if at the end of this we don’t have a baby, I will still feel good about having participated because they could learn something from me that could help someone else.’ She was trying to help other women. That’s what convinced me.”
The first baby ever born after a womb transplant was to a Swedish woman in 2014. However, she had a transplant from a live donor.
The first child born from a womb transplanted from a deceased donor was in 2017 in Brazil.
More than 750 women have already enquired about womb transplants in the UK, and the Daily Mirror’s Change the Law for Life campaign could help increase the number of donors.
Jennifer and Drew got the call that they had been approved to begin on May 1, 2018, and then had a nervous wait for a uterus to become available.
Jennifer Gobrecht and her husband Drew were asked to be part of a revolutionary trial when they were looking into IVF
When that day finally came, Jen said goodbye to Drew as she was wheeled in for the 10-hour operation.
It took six months to recover before an embryo could be implanted.
An “excruciating” two-week wait followed until it was confirmed she was pregnant as they sat at the table.
“We couldn’t stop the tears,” says Jen. “Sixteen years before I’d been told I would never carry my own child. But here I was. It was unbelievable.
I loved being pregnant, even the tiredness. Every twinge and kick. It was a miracle just to be able to just experience those things.”
At eight months, Jen had a cae-sarian section with Drew at her side. “Drew said, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s a boy!’,” recalls Jen. “There were so many tears. Benjamin looked absolutely perfect, Drew’s tiny twin. He’s our miracle.”
Asked if it felt strange that the transplant came for a deceased donor, Jennifer says: “It was something I wanted to be a part of, for all the women who have the condition and may not ever carry a child.”