A woman who gave birth thanks to a rare uterus transplant in 2021 is celebrating a new milestone: She just had her second baby.
Chelsea Jovanovich thought she would never be able to carry a baby because her uterus never fully formed, due to a congenital condition called MRKH. But an experimental procedure made her dream of having a baby come true.
“The first time I got pregnant, it was unreal,” Jovanovich told TODAY’s Sheinelle Jones. “It was really hard for me to accept that I was pregnant, so I didn’t savor it as much. So, the second pregnancy I … wasn’t as worried. So, I was able to enjoy it a little bit more. Yeah, it was nice being pregnant again.”Since Jovanovich was young, she wanted to be a mother. When she first learned at age 15 that she couldn’t have a baby, she thought little of it. As she aged, she understood what that meant, and she felt sad.
“It got really hard going to my friends’ baby showers, seeing my friends get married and have families of their own,” she said. “I wanted to be a mom ever since I was little. So, it was devastating.”
She and her husband, Jake, researched surrogacy, but it didn’t work out for them. They almost lost hope, but then Jovanovich applied for a uterus transplant from Penn Medicine in Philadelphia
“My mom saw a story about having the uterus transplants. And she said, ‘You know, there is hope. You know, you should look into this. You might be able to have a baby,’” Jovanovich recalled. “I decided to take a chance. And here I am today, which is still a dream.”
After she learned that she qualified for the program, she and Jake moved from Montana to outside Philadelphia to be closer to her doctors. In February of 2020, she underwent a 12-hour uterus transplant surgery with Dr. Kathleen O’Neill, the lead investigator for the uterus transplant program.
“Taking care of them has truly been an unmitigated pleasure — and that’s not to say that there have not been challenges along the way,” O’Neill told TODAY. “Here’s this woman who thinks she will never carry a child. And now I look at her with her two children that she carried, and she did well. And she is like any other mom at this point and Jake’s like any other dad. I mean, they’re just a family. That is really professionally and personally one of the best things I’ve done.”
Jovanovich needed to take immunosuppressing drug so that her body wouldn’t reject the new organ. It caused her some side effects, including hair loss, tremors and headaches. While uterus transplants are still considered experimental, O’Neill said they offer choices to women without a uterus or who have uterine problems.
“These women have ovaries, they have eggs, they just don’t have the uterus to gestate the pregnancy,” O’Neill said in 2021. “Once we’re able to give them that uterus, the vast majority get pregnant and have babies.”
O’Neill said that after a person delivers a second baby, they remove the uterus.
“We want these women to be able to stop taking … that immunosuppressive regimen that can have long term effects,” she said. “With uterus transplant, when they have completed their childbearing, we take the uterus out. They’re able to stop their medications. And then life goes relatively back to normal for them.”
Uterus transplants are still new, and O’Neill estimates that only about 70 have been performed worldwide. Her team follows the babies for about two years after birth to learn more about the children born from a transplanted uterus.
“The limited information that we have shows that the live birth rates are comparable to what we see in IVF,” she said. “The congenital anomalies are the same.”
This program uses uteri from both living and deceased donors. Jovanovich met her donor, Cheryl Urban, and they became friends.
“I was just mind blown they could do this,” Urban said in 2021. “I had two great pregnancies. I’ve enjoyed pregnancy. I enjoyed the feeling of my own kids. So, I just wanted to be able to give that to somebody else. And I’m so glad I did.”
Pregnancy after transplant
After Jovanovich recovered for six weeks following her transplant surgery, doctors implanted an embryo, which didn’t take. But the second one did, and Jovanovich was pregnant. In May 2021, she gave birth to a baby boy named Telden, now a year and a half old.
“It’s been great, being a mom. Telden is growing fast. I can’t believe how fast it went,” she said. “He’s very rambunctious. He’s jumping off couches, running around, talking. It’s been great.”
Jovanovich wanted another baby and gave birth to son, Stetson, in October 2022.
“I wanted to give Telden a sibling,” she said. “Here we are with two boys and … it’s a miracle.”
O’Neill agrees that Stetson is worth celebrating.
“Stetson is the 25th baby born to a woman who had a uterus transplant in the United States,” O’Neill said. “So (it’s) very special.”
However, it took Telden some time to adjust to being a big brother.
“Telden didn’t talk to me for a couple of weeks after I had Stetson,” she said. “He was very unsure of him.”
Jovanovich and Jake are moving back to Montana, and look forward to family gatherings and seeing their parents enjoy their roles as grandparents. Even the most mundane mothering tasks makes Jovanovich feel lucky.
“I look in my rear-view mirror and there’s little feet back there,” she says. “I don’t take for granted all the toys that I pick up. Every little toy, you know at night, I’m picking up toys and I’m like, ‘Thank you, God.’ You know, this is what I wanted. And now, I get to do it.”