A Ghanaian woman who lives in the U.K. recently went on a radio show to speak about a little-known medical disorder she’s dealt with her entire life. Elizabeth Amoaa is one of very few people born with two vaginas and two uteruses, a rare condition known as uterus didelphys.
Amoaa, 35, tells Health that before she was 10 years old, she’d already been “in and out of hospitals” with recurring yeast infections. As she got older, she started having extreme pain with her periods, to the point where she would sometimes faint. Because uterus didelphys is so rare and often has no clear symptoms, it typically goes undetected, as it did in Amoaa’s case.
In 2008, she was diagnosed with uterine fibroids, non-cancerous growths in the wall of the uterus that can cause excessive bleeding and pain. She quickly realized she had something more than just fibroids, however, because no matter what treatment she tried, her period symptoms continued. Then In 2010, she gave birth to a baby girl very prematurely.
It wasn’t until 2015 that she had an MRI and was finally diagnosed with uterus didelphys.
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Uterus didelphys, or “double uterus,” occurs during fetal development, when the two tubes that normally form one uterus instead become two separate structures, according to the Mayo Clinic. A double uterus may hae one cervix that opens into one vagina, or each separate uterine cavity may have an individual cervix and vagina, leaving a woman with two vaginas, as Amoaa has.
Having uterus didelphys doesn’t mean a woman can’t enjoy a normal sex life and experience a healthy pregnancy. On the other hand, the condition does makes women more susceptible to developing fibroids, endometriosis, and ovarian cysts. It can also lead to infertility, miscarriage, and premature birth.
Besides fibroids, Amoaa has also been diagnosed with ovarian cysts and endometriosis. Her first baby was born premature, and she lost a second baby in 2016 to miscarriage.
It’s not clear why some women are born with the disorder, and there’s no cure or quick fix for uterus didelphys. To manage the complications of having two vaginas and two uteruses, Amoaa has had about seven surgeries.
Amoaa says her story is ongoing, and she’s not sure where it will take her from here. But she is sure that there’s a silver lining to her struggles. In 2017, she founded the Special Lady Foundation, an organization that aims to educate young women about gynecological conditions. She travels to Ghana multiple times a year to speak to women who live in a culture where ob-gyn issues are seen as taboo.
“It’s been kind of a blessing in disguise, to be able to use my experience to help other women,” she says. Her number one piece of advice: Never ignore any symptoms, no matter how small. “Don’t keep it to yourself.”
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