Victoria Pottle remembers feeling like she was in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy when a routine doctor’s visit revealed she had two vaginas.
“I remember that so clearly. I felt like I was on some TV show where they have some medical condition,” she told Women’s Day of the routine gynecological exam that showed she had two uteruses and two cervixes. “I’d never heard of it at all. I wasn’t married and I wasn’t in the mindset of having kids or anything, so it wasn’t really something I ever thought about.”
Doctors told her she’d never have kids, but the Canadian woman is now mom to three children, two girls and a boy.
Her story isn’t that uncommon. About one in 3,000 women are born with standard uterus didelphys, or two vaginas that include two uteruses and, often two cervixes, according to the World Health Organization. Women with uterus didelphys typically don’t know they have it until problems come up, like a difficult pregnancy or an unusually heavy period that doesn’t stop even when wearing a tampon.
Most women with the condition are also misdiagnosed as having Bicornuate uterus, or heart-shaped uterus characterized by two “horns.”
“Bicornuate uterus is a similar condition but another problem goes on in development, and that’s called a rudimentary uterine horn,” Robert Zurawin, M.D., obstetrician and gynecologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, told the magazine. “What happens in the rudimentary uterine horn is that one of the two uteruses doesn’t even develop much at all. Instead of them being two equal, normal uteruses like in uterus didelphys, one of the sides doesn’t develop.”
Though two vaginas isn’t necessarily a barrier to pregnant — Pottle got pregnant on her first try — staying pregnant is and moms-to-be need to be closely monitored to make sure their babies are healthy. “The issues come later on when it comes to keeping the baby until term, as the baby can also run out of space in an incompetent cervix,” Pottle told the magazine. She delivered two of her children vaginally, though a few weeks early.
She — and other mothers like her — are speaking out to help other women feel more comfortable with their condition, as well as answer some of the questions they get from people.
“It’s just your body, the way it works and the way it is; it’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Pottle says.
“I would tell people to not live in fear in thinking that they can’t have kids if there’s this abnormality,” adds Laurie Martino, another mother with uterus didelphys. “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.”