At 17, Emma Johns was plagued with vomiting and diarrhoea for a few days every month around her period. Wanting to understand why, she visited her doctor and was offered an internal examination – her first one ever. But it was when the doctor started to exam her cervix, she realised that Emma actually had two of them. Emma, now 27, was diagnosed with uterus didelphys – when the womb fails to fuse properly during gestation and forms two chambers.
And as she learned more about her diagnosis, she discovered it could cause problems getting pregnant and carrying a baby. Still a teenager, Emma was upset but having a family seemed like a long way off. Now a bit older, she and her HGV driver fiancé Marc Kirkby, 29, started trying for a baby at the start of 2019, to give them time to consider alternatives like IVF if they failed – but fell pregnant just a month after they stopped using contraception. Giving birth to 7lb 2oz baby Olive at Hull Royal Infirmary on 1 November last year, property consultant Emma, of Goole, East Yorkshire, said: ‘I really do see her as a miracle. I never thought I’d have a baby after the diagnosis. Now here she is and she’s completely perfect.’
When the regular vomiting and diarrhoea started, Emma thought she had a recurring bug at first. ‘It was about a year before I realised the sickness would come on around the same time as my period,’ she explained. ‘I’d come down with the sweats and shakes. If it fell on a school day, I’d have to go home.’ She saw her doctor who prescribed the Pill and gave her an internal examination to rule out any other causes. Emma said: ‘I’d never had an internal examination before, so that in itself was daunting. ‘Then the GP said, “I think I can see two cervices.” I don’t even think I knew what a cervix was at the time, let alone what it meant to have two. ‘She told me she couldn’t be sure, but it could be a lot harder for me to fall pregnant, to carry a baby full-term and it might increase my chances of miscarrying. ‘Ever since I was a little girl I’d wanted to have babies, so it was hard to hear.’
Referred first to Goole and District Hospital and then Grimsby’s Princess of Wales Hospital for scans, doctors confirmed she had uterus didelphys – a condition affecting around one in 3,000 women globally, according to miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth charity Tommy’s. ‘It was such a confusing time and all these words I didn’t understand were being thrown around,’ said Emma. ‘A big question I had was why I didn’t have two periods, but the doctors explained that each month the different ovaries alternate, releasing an egg. ‘As a result, I was told it would be a lot harder to fall pregnant. If one month the egg was released into the right womb, the sperm would need to go and find it there and the reverse, if it was released into the left. ‘Doctors told me my chances of conceiving were halved.’
Emma put the diagnosis to the back of her mind but in 2017, she met Marc through Plenty of Fish. Three months into their relationship, after broaching the subject of having children, Emma told Marc she had uterus didelphys. ‘I didn’t want to spring it on him right away,’ she said. ‘Instead, we were talking about whether we wanted children and I explained it could be difficult for me. ‘He laughed and said we’d just have to try harder.’ Moving in together in September 2018, initially they were going to leave it for at least a year to start trying for a baby. But, realising the odds could be against her, the couple then decided to start earlier, so they had more time in case they had to look into other options, like IVF.
Coming off the Pill in January 2019, just a month later, she had a positive test. She said: ‘I told Marc I was running a hot bath, as I didn’t want to disappoint him if it was negative. ‘Then I came downstairs holding the stick saying, “I’ve got a surprise for you.”‘ The 12-week scan showed the baby was growing in her right womb, but doctors warned that she would need regular check-ups with a consultant every four weeks to keep an eye on the pregnancy. ‘The consultant felt my stomach and told me it would most likely look a bit wonky, because the baby was growing on the right hand side,’ she recalled. ‘He was quite positive, but told me to keep my sights on reaching 24 weeks – when a baby is viable.’
Alarmingly, on the day she turned 24 weeks, she noticed she was bleeding. She said: ‘I was weeping and panicking. The doctors got me an ultrasound right away and the midwife found the baby’s heartbeat. It was such a relief.’ Continuing to have regular check-ups, doctors planned to induce Emma on November 3 – a week before her due date – to avoid any potential complications. But, two days beforehand, she woke up in the early hours of the morning having contractions. Arriving at the hospital at 3am on November 1, seven hours later, Emma delivered baby Olive naturally. ‘We were so lucky,’ she said. ‘I had a small episiotomy – a surgical cut between the vagina and anus – to help Olive come out, but that was it.’
They left hospital the next day and since then, the family has been doing really well. ‘For the most part, my pregnancy experience felt entirely normal – something I thought I’d never have,’ she said. ‘The past nine months have been brilliant – Olive is perfect.