A woman in Bangladesh gave birth to a baby—and then, weeks later, after going back to the hospital because of stomach pains, gave birth to two more healthy babies from a second uterus she didn’t even know she had. This is as much a case of medical access as it is medical marvel: The woman lives in a rural village and didn’t have an ultrasound during her pregnancy, which would have detected the second organ. You probably have questions. We have answers.
Are these … triplets?
In some senses of the word, yes. The dictionary definition of triplets is “three offspring produced in the same pregnancy,” and this was, loosely, one pregnancy. “[It’s likely that] three eggs ovulated and were fertilized at the same time during her fertile period which resulted in three embryos,” as Christopher Ng, a gynecologist at the GynaeMD Clinic, told the BBC. But since these babies don’t share a birthday, and did experience pregnancy in separate locations and at different lengths, they’re also, arguably, not triplets. Many reports are referring to the second set of babies as “twins.”
How common are double uteruses? (Two-teruses?)
Estimates vary, but it’s about 1 in 2,000 women, according to Robert Zurawin, an OB-GYN speaking to Scientific American.
How does this happen?
When a female fetus is in utero, the uterus develops as two tubes, which eventually merge together to form the uterus, according to the Mayo Clinic. Sometimes the merging goes awry. These two uteruses are small, so they don’t take up additional space, which means people often don’t learn about them until late in the game. It’s possible that this failure to totally merge is genetic, but it’s hard to tell.
What does it look like?
Do two uteruses mean four ovaries?
It does not—each has its own ovary.
Has the babies-in-two-separate-wombs thing happened before?
Yes! In fact, in 2006, a woman in the U.K. had a similar case to the current one; she gave birth to one baby from one womb, and two from another. These were more firmly triplets, as they were all delivered at the same time, though, as the mom later told the BBC, “Gracie seems to be the ringleader—maybe because she grew up in her own womb.” In reporting that story, the BBC put the odds of a woman with two wombs carrying triplets in this configuration at 25 million to one, and the odds for a woman with two wombs carrying a baby in each at 5 million to one.
One time, a-baby-in-each-uterus scenario happened on purpose, sort of. In a case reported in the Journal of the Chinese Medical Association in 2015, a woman with two uteruses underwent in vitro fertilization. A doctor implanted embryos in each uterus to increase the chances of conception, which resulted in one baby per uterus. They were delivered successfully via C-section.
Is developing in a double-uterus OK for the baby?
Pretty much. “The issue is preterm labor, because it is a smaller cavity. It’s half the uterus,” Peter Greenspan told CNN in 2010, when another woman was pregnant with babies in separate uteruses. They “can’t remain pregnant when they get to a certain point because the uterus is too small or too tight.”
When you’re not pregnant, is it painful to walk around with two uteruses?
Generally, no, and this is why it can go undetected. It can be a bit harder to get pregnant, though. There are also cases in which the two uteruses develop two cervices, and the vagina also has a divider, too, and folks with this can experience cramping or painful sex.
Wait, a double vagina?
The more technical term is longitudinal vaginal septum. It’s not, like, an extra vagina—it’s a vagina with a wall of tissue. Also, this tissue doesn’t necessarily run the length of the vagina. Like the uterus thing, this isn’t necessarily painful; an old paper examining 202 case reports found that fewer than half were bothersome enough to require surgery. There’s also such a thing as a transverse vaginal septum, which means a horizontal wall divides the vagina. This requires a little more intervention.
Would I know if I had a double vagina?
Probably. If you have a menstrual cycle, and have used tampons just fine, you almost certainly do not.
How are those new babies doing?
All three babies and the mother seem to be doing well.