As a young child growing up in Sweden, Lolita Carlerup loved babies .
She would stuff a ball down her jumper as a pretend bump and spend hours playing happy families, unaware of the cruel fact that she had been born without a womb.
At the age of 14 she learned the devastating news that, while she had been gifted with all the maternal instincts, she did not have the means to carry a child.
Lolita, 37, says: “I so wanted a baby I felt like I was dying with grief.”
But her sister Linda Wästerlund was determined to help, and when they learned that Sweden was at the forefront of research into womb transplants , she agreed to give Lolita her uterus.
Linda, 42, says: “This was the most perfect gift I could have given.”
The world’s first womb transplant was carried out in Sweden in 2013, and Lolita had the operation in March that year.
It allowed her to carry a longed-for baby of her own – and that child, Cash-Douglas, will be three on June 27.
Today, he is playing Superman, bossily telling his auntie Linda to let him rescue her. He is the world’s fourth womb transplant baby, and his mum was the first to receive a uterus from a sister.
Lolita says: “It’s as if I borrowed a T-shirt from her. I know it sounds crazy. I just hope this will become normal for lots of families in lots of countries now.
“It has completely transformed my life. A uterus is an organ you can live without, it is not a heart, but I didn’t feel like a woman. This is a hard journey, there was a lot of pain, tears and worries. But it has been life-saving for me.”
Linda, who has four children, says she did not hesitate to give her sister the chance of motherhood, especially as her youngest daughter, Angelina, now 10, was also born without a womb.
Hopefully, she will never suffer the depression her aunt did, as Linda and Lolita’s younger sister, Lizette, 36, has already offered to donate her uterus.
Linda says: “I can honestly say I feel more like a woman without my uterus than I did with it. Because I have done something for my sister as a sister, and as a mother for my daughter. I have spoken to women online, some in Britain, who are considering this. I urge them to go for it.”
Three British women will, in the next few months, become the first in this country to receive wombs transplanted from their mothers or sisters.
They could give birth as early as 2020. And by 2022, the procedure could become available on the NHS.
Eleven babies have been born worldwide from 42 transplants undertaken, mostly in Sweden, but also in the US and the Middle East.
Lolita, 37, was one of the first to receive a transplant.
The nurse, from Norrtälje, near Stockholm, was 14 when she discovered she had Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome, a rare condition which meant she had no womb among other symptoms. She sank into depression. She says: “I had always loved babies, played happy families.”
Ironically, Linda had never been particularly maternal, yet got pregnant unplanned at 21.
She struggled to tell Lolita, but finally did, in a card asking her to be godmother.
Lolita says: “I was angry, it felt unfair.” She said nothing for two or three months.
Linda says: “Finally, she said she had two choices – to turn her back, or welcome my son.” Lolita chose the latter path and was there to support Linda, who in turn vowed to help Lolita become a mother if she possibly could.
In 1999, they first saw a report on research into womb donation in Sweden. But it was not until 2011 the family read of it again and made contact with the team, led by Professor Mats Brännström.
Lolita’s partner Patrik was supportive, and from there the sisters faced a series of physical and psychological tests.
Lolita and Patrik had IVF, producing 10 embryos. In March 2013, Linda’s uterus was removed, and sewn into Lolita’s body. Linda says: “They said it could be life-risking. This was an experiment, but they were professionals.”
Both sisters endured a painful recovery, but the following month Lolita experienced her first-ever period. Linda laughs as she recalls Lolita calling her in fright. Lolita says: “I had always dreamed of it, but I didn’t like it.”
Five embryos failed, but the sixth was successfully implanted.
Lolita says: “I was throwing up, I couldn’t sleep, my stomach was so big, but I couldn’t realise it. I was talking and singing to my baby – but it was finally at the baby shower the reality hit.”
Cash-Douglas was delivered by C-section at 37 weeks, weighing 7lbs.
Lolita says: “I was a mum, I couldn’t believe it.” When Linda met her nephew, she cried with joy.
She says: “I would say to other women, don’t be afraid of doing this. It was just the most lovely thing.”
The three women selected for womb transplant in the UK were picked from a waiting list of 50. For Richard Smith, a surgeon at Imperial College London, their transplants will be the culmination of 20 years of work.
The operations, which will take place at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, cannot be funded by the NHS because it is too experimental. Instead, the £30,000 cost per patient is being funded by charity Womb Transplant UK.
Lolita had hoped for a second child but, sadly, the uterus had to be removed because of complications caused by her condition.
But she is content, grateful for her beautiful little boy.
She says: “I look at him and think, he is my miracle.”
- To make a donation, visit wombtransplantuk.org
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